The best books to read to get inspired to ride a train

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an American writer who lives in Switzerland, in the vineyards outside Geneva, but I grew up in the 1960s riding night trains around the United States in the company of my father, who loved trains and rode them for his work. From the soaring columns of New York’s Pennsylvania Station, we took trains to Chicago, Wyoming, Denver, Albuquerque, New Orleans, and beyond. In my adult writing life, I've taken trains across Russia, China, India, Australia, the Middle East, Japan, and just about every corner of Europe. Once, I rode all the trains in East Africa between Nairobi and Johannesburg, during which excursion the Tazara Express was three days late into Kapiri Mposhi, Tanzania.


I wrote...

Reading the Rails

By Matthew Stevenson,

Book cover of Reading the Rails

What is my book about?

At one level this book is about my rail journeys across Europe, Russia, China, and the United States; but at another level, it’s a book about the books that I carried and read on those journeys. Some books are histories, others are novels, but each informed me about the landscapes of my travels. This book is also, in part, a memoir about my father, who when I was writing it, was living out his last years in Princeton, New Jersey. Very often, when we were together and sitting in front of his fireplace, we would recall great journeys that we had made—some together, others separately, but always on the same trains of thought.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of All Aboard With E.M. Frimbo: World's Greatest Railroad Buff

Matthew Stevenson Why did I love this book?

Sadly, much of Mr. Frimbo’s train world no longer exists, at least in the United States, but this book—a collection of delightful essays from train journeys—is a fitting legacy to a departed rail network. Whitaker was a copyeditor at The New Yorker. Later he traveled with Tony Hiss, also at The New Yorker, and the two have preserved in print the quirkiness and greatness of what were America’s passenger trains, from the Twentieth Century Limited to long-forgotten branch lines.

By Rogers E. M. Whitaker, Tony Hiss, Mark Livingston (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All Aboard With E.M. Frimbo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

International in scope, this series of non-fiction trade paperbacks offers books that explore the lives, customs and thoughts of peoples and cultures around the world.


Book cover of The Great Railway Bazaar

Matthew Stevenson Why did I love this book?

In the early 1970s, the prolific Paul Theroux decided to ride as many trains as he could find between London and Japan, and to come back on the Trans-Siberian from Vladivostok. There are a few gaps in his rail line (Afghanistan isn’t well served by trains but he does manage to catch a Kyber Pass local), but otherwise he stitches together an itinerary that takes him across the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia, and finally Japan. He chats up everyone he meets, and the book is a cross between a compelling account of numerous train journeys and novelistic dialogue with his fellow travelers (including poor Mr. Duffill who in Venice gets off and misses the train he and Theroux were on). Theroux can be cynical, but it is cynicism born of honesty, and it’s impossible to read this book and not want to ride night trains across India or Vietnam, both of which he inspired me to do.

By Paul Theroux,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Great Railway Bazaar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fired by a fascination with trains that stemmed from childhood, Paul Theroux set out one day with the intention of boarding every train that chugged into view from Victoria Station in London to Tokyo Central, and to come back again via the Trans-Siberian Express. This is his story.


Book cover of The Wreck of the Penn Central

Matthew Stevenson Why did I love this book?

If you have ever wondered what happened to the greatest passenger rail network in the world (yes, it was in the United States, which is now reduced to the crumbs of Amtrak), this account of the failed merger between the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central is for you. Earlier in their history, the two companies defined American corporate might, but in 1968, when the two roads combined, each was closer to bankruptcy than to the Fortune 500. The book is a fast-paced account of corporate failure. As was said of the doomed venture: “It wasn’t a merger so much as a death watch,” and by 1971 the Penn-Central, and the greatness of American passenger service, was gone. 

By Joseph R. Daughen, Peter Binzen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wreck of the Penn Central as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It took ten years of laborious planning and exhaustive negotiations to create the mammoth Penn Central Railroad, the largest railroad in United States history. When the leviathan was finally born of a merger between the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads on February 1, 1968, the event was hailed as a great day for railroading. But the baby giant survived only 367 days. The crash of the Penn Central set a new record, this time for the largest bankruptcy the United States had ever seen.

"The Wreck of the Penn Central" provides a close-up view of the events that brought…


Book cover of The Men Who Loved Trains: The Story of Men Who Battled Greed to Save an Ailing Industry

Matthew Stevenson Why did I love this book?

Loving was a business reporter for Fortune magazine, and among his beats was American railroads. Here he tells the compelling story of not just the failed merger between Pennsylvania and the New York Central, but of how in the late 1970s and 80s a group of dedicated railroad executives managed to salvage the rail freight industry. I know it doesn’t sound like a page-turning book, but it is, as Loving has the gift of writing deft profiles, and he describes the steps that lead to the creation of Conrail (itself not a success story) but then the deregulation of the railway freight industry that allowed companies such as the Burlington Northern (later BNSF) and the Union Pacific to thrive, yet again. Too bad they didn’t manage to save parlor cats.

By Rush Loving Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Men Who Loved Trains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A saga about one of the oldest and most romantic enterprises in the land - America's railroads - "The Men Who Loved Trains" introduces some of the most dynamic businessmen in America. Here are the chieftains who have run the railroads, including those who set about grabbing power and big salaries for themselves, and others who truly loved the industry. As a journalist and associate editor of "Fortune" magazine who covered the demise of Penn Central and the creation of Conrail, Rush Loving often had a front row seat to the foibles and follies of this group of men. He…


Book cover of European Rail Timetable Spring 2022

Matthew Stevenson Why did I love this book?

I scatter copies of this timetable all over my life. I have one at my bedside, another by the fireplace, and a third on my desk, and whenever I think about it, I decide that it’s time for me to order the latest edition, which comes with maps and timetables for most trains (and many ferries) on the planet. It used to be called Cook’s Timetable, and it came in a European and International edition. But since 2014, John Potter and his intrepid rail group in Peterborough have brought out the print timetable in one edition, which is perfect for all railroad dreams. How can you live without it? I cannot.

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Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

Book cover of Rip Current

Sharon Ward Author Of In Deep

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Even as a kid, I was intrigued by the underwater world, so as an adult, I learned to scuba dive. I took to it like a fish to water, and my husband and I spent the next several years traveling to tropical islands to experience the local dive conditions whenever possible. I loved learning how every island had a different culture and a different undersea environment. Since I love tropical islands, scuba diving, mysteries, and adventure stories, these books really hit my sweet spot.

Sharon's book list on mysteries set on a tropical island

What is my book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.

Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary. When a young internet influencer…

Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

What is this book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.
Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary.
Soon after a young internet…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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