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The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993

Southwestern Hzstorical Quarterly

We Took The Train. By H. Roger Grant. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University
Press, 1990. Pp. xxx+ 175. Preface, introduction, acknowledgments, black-
and-white photographs, illustrations, index. $29.50.)
"We took the train." In the 199os, these words sound quaint, for we are a
people who "drive automobiles," "fly," but rarely "take the train." Yet in the
not-so-distant past the railroad was of such pervasive impact on the life and
times of Americans as to earn the label "steamcar civilization." During that pe-
riod railroads owned a virtual lock on transportation: if one traveled short dis-
tances or long, one used the railroad; if an item was shipped, it moved by rail.
The near modal monopoly came under competitive attack early in the twen-
tieth century as the traveling public turned to automobiles, buses, and even the
lowly bicycle. The move to alternate forms accelerated when governments at all
levels undertook to build and maintain a massive system of public roadways
and as aeronautical technology matured. The need for conservation during
World War II and the pent-up need for durable goods in the postwar period
put people back on trains, but railroad dominance in passenger carriage faded
forever with interstate highways, with abundant low-cost fuel, with enthusiastic
tax support for highway and air modes, and with the jet aircraft. Today rails ac-
count for about 1 percent of intercity passenger miles in the United States.
This book is a collection of essays-thoughtfully assembled, arranged, and
introduced-that serve to explain and interpret that time in our past when "we
took the train." Some pieces generate nostalgia, but that is not the purpose of
the book. The editor, a well-known railroad historian, not only selected essays
with great skill, but he also succeeded in stitching them together in a mean-
ingful way and in articulating the story in proper historical context. The result
is a good read-one that simultaneously entertains and instructs.
St. Cloud State Universzty DON L. HOFSOMMER
Material Dreams: Southern Calzfornia Through the 192os. By Kevin Starr. (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Pp. xiv+451. Preface, illustrations,
epilogue, notes, bibliographical essay, acknowledgments, index. $24.95.)
Los Angeles has found its bard, no matter that he's been borrowed from the
Bay area. In this volume on southern California in the 192os Kevin Starr dis-
plays a masterful command of the region's history during a crucial decade of
change. The author's mastery of the historic record has allowed him to pene-
trate the metaphors, rearrange the causal relationships, and propose unex-
pected juxtapositions. The result is a luminous and wide-ranging exposition
that sometimes startles but also makes the reader grateful for the inspired in-
sight. No precursor, for example, has been alert to the striking parallels in the
development of the University of Southern California and a contemporary in-
stitution, the Department of Water and Power. Both, the author observes, were
delivery agencies, equally defiant of limiting realities, and both were intensely
committed to attaining a measure of greatness.
Again, in defiance of traditional historical accounts, Starr focuses on early
aviation and film-making efforts in Santa Barbara. The ultimate development

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/. Accessed May 5, 2015.