Railroad Reading

Take a trip on the railways. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has a new exhibition, Art in the Age of Steam: Europe, America and the Railway, 1830-1960, running through January 2009 and The Kansas City Public Library has a series of three programs planned in conjunction with this exhibition: Ian Kennedy: The Impressionists and the Railroad, David Lean and the Romance of Steam Locomotion, and Dreams of Empire: Kansas City and the Railroads. In addition, the Central Library will screen a series of train-oriented films every Saturday in November. Railroads have inspired more than art, check out some of these books and films.

Novels | Travel by Train | Photographs | Kansas City Connection |
For Kids | Feature Films


Murder on the Orient Express book jacket

Murder on the Orient Express
By Agatha Christie
En route to Paris, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot has booked winter passage on the fabled Orient Express. Among the curious assortment of passengers, a wealthy American is found dead in a night compartment. By dawn, 13 travelers, each with secrets, will find themselves suspect in the most ingenious crime Poirot has ever solved.

Iron Council
By China Miéville
It is a time of wars and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and rioting on the streets at home are pushing the teeming city to the brink. A mysterious masked figure spurs strange rebellion, while treachery and violence incubate in unexpected places.
In desperation, a small group of renegades steals a train and escapes from the city and crosses strange and alien continents in the search for a lost hope.

Stations: An Imagined Journey
By Michael Flanagan
This book uniquely tells a family's history through the “photo album” and diary of a 20th century brakeman on the railroad. The photographs are actually paintings by Flanagan.

Home Station
By Jeanne Williams
Kansas native Jeanne Williams depicts a woman's life as a railroad station master in this novel. Set in Bountiful, Kansas at the turn of the 20th century, Lesley Morland must take over her father's role as station master as the prospect of a new train line brings the potential for prosperity to this small town.

La Bête Humaine
By Émile Zola
Did possessing and killing amount to the same thing deep within the dark recesses of the human beast? La Bête Humaine (1890), the seventeenth novel in the Rougon-Macquart series, is one of Zola's most violent and explicit works. On one level a tale of murder, passion, and possession where a homicidal train engineer lusts for a stationmaster's wife, it is also a compassionate study of individuals derailed by atavistic forces beyond their control.

Travel by Train

Stranger on a Train book jacket

Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions
By Jenny Diski
Using two cross-country trips on Amtrak as her narrative vehicles, British writer Jenny Diski connects the humming rails, taking her into the heart of America with the track-like scars leading back to her own past. As in the highly acclaimed Skating to Antarctica, Diski has created a seamless and seemingly effortless amalgam of reflections and revelation in a unique combination of travelogue and memoir.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar
By Paul Theroux
Thirty years after his classic The Great Railway Bazaar, Theroux revisits Eastern Europe, Central Asia, India, China, Japan, and Siberia. Wherever he goes, his omnivorous curiosity and unerring eye for detail never fail to inspire, enlighten, inform, and entertain.

The Big Red Train Ride
By Eric Newby
Originally published in 1978, Newby writes about his seven-day train journey from Moscow to the Sea of Japan, chronicling his observations about Soviet life and its people.

Night Train to Turkistan: Modern Adventures along China's Ancient Silk Road
By Stuart Stevens
Published in 1988, this book provides the first account of travel in Chinese Turkistan, closed to foreigners since 1949. It shows a world where bureaucratic hazards often loom larger than geographical ones.

The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas
By Paul Theroux
Starting with a rush-hour subway ride to South Station in Boston to catch Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, Theroux takes readers on a train journey from New England to Patagonia in southernmost Argentina.


An American Journey book jacket

An American Journey: Images of Railroading during the Depression
By Mark S. Vandercook
This book contains black-and-white railroad photographs, from photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, who were employed by the Farm Security Administration between 1935 and 1940.

Iron Horses: The Illustrated History of the Tracks and Trains of North America
By Michael Del Vecchio
Containing over 150 color and black-and-white photographs, this book relives the days of the great steam engines and also includes a guide to preservation sites and museums.

Civil War Railroads: A Pictorial Story of the War Between the States, 1861-1865
By George B. Abdill
This book highlights the role played by trains and the railroad during the U.S. Civil War through over 220 black-and-white photographs.

Great American Rail Journeys: The Companion to the Public Television Programs
By John Grant
Grant celebrates the beauty and romance of train travel in this book. It depicts eight routes through North America that travel through scenic landscapes.

A Memory of Trains: The Boll Weevil and Others
By Louis D. Rubin, Jr.
This is the way that Louis D. Rubin, Jr. remembers steam railroading during the days when trains were still the dominant mode of American intercity travel. In the years after the Second World War, as a young newspaperman, he spent much of his time riding and photographing trains. Railfans and general readers alike will enjoy this memoir featuring more than one hundred of Rubin's photographs.

Kansas City Connection

Kansas City and the Railroads book jacket

Kansas City and the Railroads: Community Policy in the Growth of a Regional Metropolis
By Charles N. Glaab
In this urban study, Glaab illustrates the crucial role entrepreneurship and boosterism played in determining rail locations and consequently urban-growth patterns. First published in 1962, Kansas City and the Railroads remains highly regarded as a landmark study of the forces that shaped the growth of urban America.

The Trains in the Gully: Kansas City Railroading At the Turn of the Century
By William R. Luse
This large format book presents a snapshot of Kansas City railroading through illustrations by Luse and historical newspaper articles.

Heartland Traction: The Interurban Lines of Kansas City
By Edward A. Conrad
With over 200 photos and maps, this history covers the five electric Kansas City interurban lines in operation between 1900 and 1961 that traveled between Olathe, Lawrence, St. Joseph, Excelsior Springs, and other towns.

Missouri Pacific Northwest: A History of the Kansas City Northwestern Railroad
By I.E. Quastler
This book, illustrated by many black-and-white photos and maps, documents the railroad that ran northwestward from Kansas City to Nebraska from its creation to the time it was removed from service.

For Kids

I Saw an ant on the Railroad Track book jacket

I Saw an Ant on the Railroad Track
By Joshua Prince
The liveliest rhythm and rhyme, and really cool art, carry children off on a captivating journey along the railroad tracks with a hungry little ant and the gentle giant of a switchman who cares for him.

I Dream of Trains
By Angela Johnson
A two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winner and an acclaimed illustrator join forces for this heartbreaking yet uplifting picture book about a boy, his love of trains, and his hero, Casey Jones.

The Little Engine that Could
Retold by Watty Piper
It's Christmas Eve and Santa's reindeer have all come down with terrible colds. How will Santa deliver presents? Can The Little Engine That Could come to the rescue?

Bebop Express
By H.L. Panahi
Bold, powerful artwork by the New York Times bestselling illustrator team of Johnson and Fancher brings to life this adventure across America, as a train makes its way from jammin' New York to New Orleans, celebrating jazz music along the way.

Steam Locomotives book jacket

Steam Locomotives: Whistling, Chugging, Smoking Iron Horses of the Past
By Karl Zimmermann
Once they were a familiar sight: iron horses belching smoke and steam, chugging out of depots and racing across the countryside. Those spectacular steam locomotives are gone. But in this fascinating book, Karl Zimmermann, an authority on trains, takes young readers back to a colorful era of railroad history.

Hear That Train Whistle Blow!: How the Railroad Changed The World
By Milton Meltzer
From the very first passenger train to roll down the tracks in 1825 to the advent of today's high-speed trains, the railroad has been and is still one of the most vital forces in civilization. Focusing on American railroad history but touching on other countries, award-winning author Milton Meltzer shows how something as ubiquitous as the railroad is, in fact, a force that changed the world.

The Transcontinental Railroad: A Primary Source History of America's First Coast-To-Coast Railroad
By Gillian Houghton
In the beginning of the nineteenth century, America was waiting to be explored, and several thousand adventurous people accepted the challenge. As they stretched the rails in every direction, the railroad moguls of the nineteenth century changed the face of America forever. This book provides a fast-paced and exciting look at many aspects of the building of the transcontinental railroad.

Feature Films

The Polar Express book jacket

The Polar Express (2004)
Believing in Santa Claus isn't easy when all of your friends and family insist he's just make-believe. A boy's faith is rewarded one Christmas Eve when he's awakened by a steam train that pulls up in front of his house and takes him and other children to the North Pole to meet Santa.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
A New York advertising executive (Steve Martin) reluctantly teams up with a happy-go-lucky salesman (John Candy) in an attempt to get home for Thanksgiving. What he gets is a wild-goose chase, by plane, train and automobile.

Runaway Train (1985)
Escaped convicts (Jon Voight and Eric Roberts) and a stowaway girl ride an unmanned diesel speeding out of control through Alaska.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name, this movie stars Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Albert Finney, and Ingrid Bergman. In it, a sleuth, Hercule Poirot, solves a train stabbing.

Closely Watched Trains (1966)
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this movie depicts a young Czech railway trainee during the Nazi occupation in World War II. He is driven to a suicide attempt and becomes a hero of the resistance

The Narrow Margin book jacket

The Narrow Margin (1952)
Hit men board a train to kill a racketeer's widow being escorted and protected by a Los Angeles detective.

Brief Encounter (1946)
Based on a play by Noel Coward, this movie follows a British housewife and doctor who meet in a railway station, fall in love, and decide never to see each other again.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
In this film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a girl thinks her visiting uncle is the strangler dubbed the Merry Widow Murderer.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)
As an express train thunders across Europe, a little old lady disappears into thin air. When a young woman attempts to find her, the other passengers seem strangely unconcerned. Blending wit, invention, suspense and charm, this movie is one of Alfred Hitchcock's snappiest British films.

The General (1927)
Rejected by the Confederate Army as unfit and taken for a coward by his beloved Annabelle, Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) sets out to single-handedly win the war with his cherished locomotive. When Northern spies steal his train, the intrepid Confederate takes on the entire Union army to get it back.

Some book and film descriptions provided by BookLetters.