A review of sorts for David Cable’s Rails Across…

Anyone that knows me personally knows I am not a train fanatic by any stretch of the
imagination. I grew up with a Thomas the Tank Engine train set and have since held a grudge towards my father for it (no matter how much I really loved it deep down – you know the one: wooden train tracks with the wide grooves, plastic trains with the magnetic dome to link with the carriages…)

So for me to review a ‘train book’ is a first. But all things considered, David Cable’s Rails Across series isn’t just your average collection of ‘train pictures’. I’m a sucker for National Geographic-esque photographs, the ones that exhibit such spectacular scenery you can’t help but investigate every tiny detail, and that’s exactly what you get with Cable’s books.

Of course though, you must bear in mind that the subject of each photo is a train (expect for in Rails Across Australia where the subject is a witch-looking tree, I guess you’ll have to buy the book to decide for yourself) and so for some readers it can get a little tedious – some of the photos only feature a specific engine without a fantastic backdrop – I didn’t like these.

At the beginning of each book Cable includes a short intro that looks into the history of the area, his involvement in the photo taking and who helped. It doesn’t go into great detail, but for the amateur reader it is plenty and gives a basic understanding for what they are looking at. Each photograph comes with a very short caption that identifies the locomotive and, sometimes, location. Thankfully for me, I wasn’t too bothered, being interested only in the photo, but I can see that for some this may not be enough.

I highly recommend these books to the train fanatic, the photographer and the landscape lover. It’s an incredible collection that documents the way of the land in a different, and sometimes very beautiful, way.

Bok 8.jpg

I haven’t reviewed each book in any particular order, but I have started with my favourite; Rails Across Canada.

There are 200 pages of glossy-paged photographs, and I have no doubt that readers will have chosen different images for different reasons. I have four that I absolutely love from this collection.

Being a young’n still, I love the advertisement on this 6424, decorated for the NFL Super Bowl in Ottawa ON, 1985. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
Oh man, just look at that powder against the bright orange and yellow. A spectacular shot. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
Just for the mountains and that crystal-blue river. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
It’s Christmas in one picture… (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)


Next up; Rails Across North America

The landscape featured in the photographs from Rails Across North America are not too dissimilar to Rails Across Canadaexcept that it seems the land is drier, more arid and agricultural. The Union Pacific reminds me of a Disney Pixar character.

I admire Cable’s eye and appreciate that he hasn’t just compiled a selection of books based on photographs of an engine; the composition of landscape and locomotion, in most cases, is incredible. The Chicago skyline (May 1993) and industrial-looking Amtrak F40Ph create a fascinating photo with the solid grey collection of skyscrapers, grey offices and stark blue sky.

Here’s Rails Across Australia. Don’t worry, there are no super-huge spiders or slithering snakes. Nor are there any Kangaroos, sorry.

The fact that there are only four photographs in this selection is absolutely no reflection on the book. It’s awash with amazing images showcasing a variety of landscapes and locations. Personally, I only liked these ones; one for it’s postcard potential (im. 3) and another because it looks like a miniature modelling scene (im. 4).

These photographs seem a lot less professional than in perhaps the other books, but I don’t feel like that takes anything away from them. In fact, it makes me like them more. The blurry, grainy texture gives them a retro feel. Cable explains that they were taken while he lived in South Australia between 1967 and 1973.

Lastly, Rails Across Europe: Northern and Western Europe. Now, this one is completely different to the other three. The landscape changes dramatically (obviously) and the photographs themselves focus more on the locomotive. Cable has explored Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Northern France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Latvia & Lithuania, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden. As you would expect from European architecture, some of the photographs are outstanding. In one, an AM86 EMU 914 awaits departure from Antwerp Centraal station back in 1991; the stark contrast of the grand architecture of the building makes the simple-looking locomotive stand out like a sore thumb.

Rails Across Europe: Eastern and Southern Europe continues across the continent, looking at Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Southern France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey (in Europe) and Ukraine. As you would expect, the photographs from Austria are just stunning; luscious green grass and snow-capped mountains. If there was a Rails Across that you had to add to the pile, it would be this one. It is due for release at the end of August, 2016 from Pen and Sword Books.

All other titles in the series are available to buy from Pen and Sword Books. RRP £25.

All photos have been published here with the permission of the publisher and not subject to redistribution without prior consent. I thank Pen & Sword Books for allowing me to publish them on this post.



Review: The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones…

… Confronting the New Age of Threat

Benjamin Wittes & Gabriella Blum

This book does exactly what it says on the tin. It covers new age threats from biowarfare to specialised robots with the prime purpose to kill. As the world faces new threats everyday, Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum open your eyes to killer insect drones, attack spider drones that equally match the agility of real-life arachnids, the simplicity of cyber warfare: no one is safe online, and how easily accessible a strain of DNA is – scarily so. If you weren’t paranoid about stepping outside your front door and being infected with a lethal virus, you will be after you read this book. The Washington Post’s review: “A lively and often terrifying exploration of the dark side of our technological age” is not far from the truth.

In 268 pages, the co-authors cover a lot, and impressively in-depth too. This book could almost benefit from being a trilogy, covering each topic singularly, rather than altogether. Its downfall is the chronology of events and topics – one minute you’re reading about the ILOVEYOU computer virus, the next something completely different. The four ‘threats’ get a little jumbled from time to time and can be difficult to follow.

Future of Violence

What this book does well is pose more questions than it answers. Whilst this might cause frustration for others, it allows for further research and heightens the interest in the subject.

By using everyday examples – part II, chapter 4 begins with an introduction to M’s character in James Bond – the ideas are put into perspective, allowing those less knowledgable on the subjects to have reference points, thus aiding a better understanding. However, some of the links between theories and threats are tenuous, for example, the Ancient Romans building roads: “a network of more than eighty thousand kilometers of passable stone roads…” (pg.177) are compared to new technologies of mass empowerment: “New platforms unleash human creativity and provide bases on which to build new frontiers of power and culture.” A simple and arguably well-linked idea, but a little far-fetched.

In reading this book, it appeared that it would be great as a reference, sifting through to find relevant chapters and theories rather than reading as a whole.

The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones not only has a very catchy title, it also cannot be criticised for its thorough research and in-depth study across history. This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the future of warfare.

Released: 10th March 2015
RRP: £16.99
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
Author: Benjamin Wittes & Gabriella Blum
Type: Paperback
ISBN: 9781445655932
Pages: 324