the race undergroundThe Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that built America’s First Subway tells the story of the people who had a hand in designing, funding, trying to stop, and building the first successful subway system in America. Tales of previous subway disasters, elevated train tracks freezing, cable cars derailing, horses dying in the streets, and explosions litter the story of people from all over the world working to make travel safer and faster.

Two of the biggest influencers of the subway system were two brothers: Henry Melville Whitney from Boston and William Collins Whitney from New York. Both Henry and William were very competitive and wealthy industrialists who each had a vested interest in wanting their separate cities to come out on top of this development-heavy race. The author, Doug Most, describes the tension between the brothers, the many immigrants who worked underground for days on end, the political kingpins with a desire to control the money coming from this new endeavor, and the competition between the inventors who wanted their names attached to this historic achievement.

Join Most as he discovers how the rapid influx of immigrants into Boston and New York, combined with the perils of steam railways and economic upheaval, paved the way for contractors to blast their way through busy downtown thoroughfares both above and below ground at all times day and night.

With the last years’ worth of talk about passenger rail between here and Chicago, there is a vivid battle on our local papers’ comment pages between the “that would be nice” faction and the “they’re just trying to get re-elected, where will the money come from?” team.

Before taking a side, one might wish to peruse this fresh book by James McCommons, Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service.

This one isn’t gathering dust on our shelf.  People are using it no doubt to bolster their arguments.  That being said, how cool would it be for Cubs fans and the 75% of the University of Iowa students from Chicagoland? Or, nationally, anyone spending two hours riding the bus in Los Angeles for lack of infrastructure?

The Edge by Dick Francis is, as always, about horses, but this time the action takes place in Canada, instead of England.

Head of Security for the British Jockey Club, Tor Kelsey  travels to Canada for the Great Transcontinental Mystery  Race  Train. He works  undercover  as a waiter on the train so he can keep an eye one of the club’s Most Wanted  (an extortionist/horse owner they haven’t been able to catch red-handed,yet).

To add to the intrigue, there is a murder mystery group on the train – no one but Tor and his foe know that there is a real murderer on board.

Another railroad mystery is The Silk Train Murder by Sharon Rowse. A train that rushes silk from Vancouver to the east coast of Canada is the setting for a turn of the century romantic caper. Emily Turner is the liberated heroine who helps John Landsdowne Granville investigate a murder. Granville’s quest takes him to the seedier part of frontier towns (opium dens, brothels and dance halls).

The combination of strict Victorian morals and the rambunctious frontier provide a glimpse into a fascinating period of Canadian history.