BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train

Editor: Murray Naylor

No. of Pages: 215

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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In the motor-vehicle dominated Twenty-first Century, the idea of travelling by train to a location with the expressed intention of viewing a Church is, for many people, ludicrous and ‘So Nineteenth Century’. No-one does that anymore; the motor vehicle is so much faster. For many, trains are ‘quaint’ and only to be used to commute to and from work.  Murray Naylor begs to differ.

In this well written and very-readable volume, the reader is taken through the length and breadth of England in pursuit of Church of England (Anglican) churches large and small. There are approximately 16000 such establishments within England’s borders, and of these the author has chosen thirty-two. In choosing these, he states ‘Some are great abbeys or priories…while others are…of no particular distinction but which provided a special interest for me’. To be chosen however, these churches had to fit certain specific criteria. The author wanted to use London as his base and, through the use of standard, scheduled railway services, make rail journeys over as wide a spread of England as he could. He also wanted to get to within 15 miles of each location by train, the remainder of the journey being made using either taxi or bus. With a single exception (that of Milton Abbey) these criteria were met, and the result is part railway narrative, part tourist guide, part history book and part picture book. When combined together the result is impressive.

An Acknowledgements section prefaces the book, with the author thanking those who assisted in its creation. This is followed by a Foreword by the Bishop of Carlisle, then a six-page List of Illustrations. A Summary of Railway Notes section then uses a single sentence format to précis the larger Railway Notes sections which appear within each chapter. An Author’s Note following the Summary of Railway Notes details the reasons for the book’s creation. A Preface (subtitled The Dissolution) is next. This provides an historical background to the creation of the Church of England and the Monarchy’s role within it. Finally, a two-page section titled The Journey provides helpful rail-related information for any reader wishing to visit the churches described within the volume. These sections are in turn followed by the 16 Chapters that comprise the main part of the book. These Chapters replicate England’s geographical regions (South East, Yorkshire, East Midlands etc.). Each Chapter is prefaced by a section titled Getting There. This provides clear rail-based instructions for a reader to reach the locations described within that Chapter. This section is followed by a Railway Notes section in which the author gives a ‘Presentation of information appropriate to railways…’  Sometimes a second Railway Notes section is also placed at the chapter’s end. The individual regions are subdivided into counties (Devon, Northumberland, Suffolk etc.). The chosen church or churches within that county are then described.

At the start of each descriptive section, two short passages précis the structure’s importance, physical location or other salient detail, together with its ‘Points of Note’ (windows, arches etc.). A more detailed description and history then follows.  An Epilogue is placed after the Chapters. Within it the author muses about the future of both the Churches within the book and the national railway network. A one-page Bibliography follows with an Index completing the volume. For unknown reasons, a map and an advertisement for the volume’s companion work are placed after the Index. Numerous colour photographs are provided, together with a small number of black and white images. Clear, well drawn, and easily interpreted maps appear throughout the work.

This reviewer’s only criticism of this book concerns the absence of a Glossary. As not every reader will be English, Anglican or an Architect, providing a list of the various Architectural and ‘Church’ terms used throughout the volume would have been helpful.

It is probable this volume will have wide appeal. At its simplest, and as an informative Tour Guide, it will appeal to the ‘Day Tripper’ with an interest in English history, who wants to travel by train and to see something different. Historians with an interest in Mediaeval and Tudor England, the English Monarchy and the evolution of the Church of England are likely to find this volume of interest. Architectural Historians may also find it of use. Those readers with a more general interest in the Kings of England, their times and tragedies may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour

Editor: David Cable

No. of Pages: 217

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 9, Text 5

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Between 1985 and 2015, the author of this volume attempted to photograph ‘…Virtually all the trains that… operated on the main lines of Great Britain…’  The result is a 217 page, A-4 sized, book of colour photographs that shows both the changing-face and use of railway rolling stock in Great Britain, and the evolving and multitudinous colour schemes carried by British trains during this time.

This book is of the ‘Railway picture book’ genre, with the photographs it contains being taken during the 1985- 2015 period. Although these images comprise the majority of this volume’s content, they are prefaced by a two-page Introduction which the author has written to provide background to what follows. It includes a short history of British railway operations and developments (described by the author as ‘…Some of the most dramatic changes to the British Railways system since its inception…). Within the photographic section, trains of many types and varieties appear. Of the 200 full-page photographs on display, 195 are of DMU’s and EMU’s and trains hauled by diesel-electric and electric locomotives. The final five images show trains hauled by steam locomotives, and were taken between 1991 and 2011. The images are presented in consecutive year-order with the number of pages allocated to each year varying from three (1985) to 15 (1986). Curiously, one image (on page 178) is un-dated, but presumably belongs to the year group (2010) within-which it has been placed. A detailed, several-sentence caption is placed beneath each image. The caption invariably provides details relating to the specific motive power appearing in the photograph, together with information concerning where the image was taken and the colour-scheme it carries. Where the author believes it to be necessary, additional facts are also given, although this does not occur in all the captions. No Index or Maps pages are provided. The photographs are not listed separately. No ‘Technical’ information is provided concerning the equipment or methods used when taking these images.

For this reviewer, this volume has three serious faults. Of these, two are ‘mechanical’ the third ‘political’. Of the two ‘mechanical’ faults, the most obvious is the lack of an Index or any means by which specific trains / locations / colour schemes (even years) can be found within its pages.  Without an Index to guide them, a reader is reduced to ‘flicking through pages’ in an at-times futile attempt to locate an image, a location, colour scheme or a locomotive. In addition, the lack of any Maps (even one of the national railway network), means that the reader has no idea as to where the images were photographed. This is particularly problematic for readers living outside Great Britain who cannot be expected to know the location of (for example) Llandevenny (Page 94). The ‘political’ fault previously-alluded to, occurs when the author, while writing his Introduction, sees fit to create a new political administration for Great Britain ‘…The Tory Government…’  As the Conservative and Unionist Party has not changed its name, the use of a derisive nickname for a formally-constituted political party lowered the tone of both the Introduction and the volume itself. This reviewer expected better.

This volume may appeal to several different groups of readers. Due to its very-specific time period, railway enthusiasts interested in British trains of the 1985-2015 era are likely to find it especially useful. For such individuals, it could become a standard reference work. Those railway enthusiasts with a more general interest in railways within Great Britain could also find it worth viewing, Artists and modellers portraying British railways rolling stock and stations during the 1985-2015 period may also find it useful for reference purposes.  As the book depicts the evolution of British railways over a very specific time-period, transport historians may also find it of interest. The images of steam locomotives could appeal to steam aficionados.

Although the photographs are beautiful, the lack of both Index and Maps, when combined with the unnecessary political jibe, affected the rating that this volume has received.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9;

the Text: 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour’

Book Review: ‘Storm Chaser’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Storm Chaser

Authors: Mike Olbinski

Total Number of Printed Pages: 192*

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): Photographs: 9, Text: 2

*There are no page numbers within this volume.

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If ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, then for many people, storms of any sort are not beautiful.  Instead, they are things of fear, destruction and general mayhem. ‘They are definitely not to be appreciated as ‘Things of beauty’. Mike Olbinski would beg to differ.

This volume is unashamedly a ‘Picture book of storms’: Dust storms, Electrical storms, Thunder storms and Tornadoes. Lightning strikes abound, as towering banks of clouds, many in full-colour and of immense dimensions.  The book is beautifully illustrated and although concentrating on storms in Arizona (the author’s home state) it also contains examples of storms photographed in the adjacent states of New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Colorado. If a reader is seeking beautiful and impressive photographs of cloudscapes, lightning strikes, dust storms and tornados in a western-American setting, then this book will certainly meet those requirements.

If however a reader is seeking details about (for example), storm formation, cameras and ‘how to chase storms’, this volume will be of little value.

Within the book a two-page Introduction appears before the photographic section which comprises the majority of the book’s content. In the Introduction, the author explains how he came to be internationally-known for his storm photographs and about his passion for his work.  The photographic section follows. This section’s format is one where (with four exceptions),  a full-page A4-sized photograph is placed on the right-hand page and text on the facing (left-hand) page. The latter invariably consists of personal reminiscences relative to the image and how it came to be photographed. In some instances a three-page sequence of images is provided. When this occurs, only the first page of the set follows the previously-mentioned format. The images that follow invariably fill the entire pages and do not contain captions. Several black and white images appear within the volume, largely to emphasise aspects of a specific storm. On the pages where the previously-mentioned ‘exceptions’ are located, a white border has been placed above and below the images. The reason for this is not known. The volume contains no Page Numbers, Table of Contents, Maps or Index. It is a ‘picture book’ pure and simple and no effort has been made to assist the reader in any way. No attempt is made to explain the meteorological causes of the various storms that have been photographed. A Glossary to explain the technical terms, abbreviations and terminology scattered throughout the book would have been helpful. Readers aspiring to emulate the author and chase storms in their own particular region or country will look in vain for any technical information concerning cameras or for ‘how-to’ tips concerning storm chasing.

Buyers who want beautiful pictures of clouds, lightning, tornadoes, thunderstorms and dust storms are likely to be well-pleased with this book.

That this volume has spectacular photographs of storms is undeniable, but for this reviewer it  lacks what he considers to be the most basic of items, Page Numbers being a case in point. It is on this basis that he has given it the rating appearing below:

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9, the text: 2.

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Book Review: ‘Storm Chaser’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britain’s Declining Secondary Railways Through the 1960s

Authors: Kevin McCormack and Martin Jenkins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 168

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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According to the song Big Yellow Taxi, ‘…You don’t know what you’ve got, til its gone’ and in many ways this volume is reflective of those words. It records the demise of Britain’s branch line railways in all their faded glory, and while so-doing-so, also unintentionally records the attributes of a society that is now but a fond and increasingly-distant memory.

The volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts picture-book’ genre and was the result of a very deliberate campaign by one Blake Paterson to record scenes from the branch-line railways  being closed as Dr. Beeching attempted  to rationalise Britain’s  railways by the removal of   uneconomic lines. The result of Mr. Paterson’s efforts is a series of beautiful and evocative photographs. These depict trains of all sizes, shapes and varieties, in railway settings that range over the entire British Isles and include both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. That in itself is commendable and an admirable record has resulted. . However, at least for this reviewer, even more commendable is the unintentional recording that occurred; the ‘background things’ that portrayed 1950’s and ‘60’s Great Britain.   The image of Blower’s Green on page 101 is a case in point. Unintentionally, the volume has become a document of social history and on that basis it is possible that the images may have greater value beyond being merely ‘pictures of trains’.

The book consists of a two-page Preface written by Blake Paterson (the photographer and source of the images that appear within this work). This provides details of Mr Paterson s quest, with an Author’s Note from Messers McCormack and Jenkins adding some additional information. This is followed by the photographs which form the main body of the work. A single-page Index appearing on the book’s last page provides page numbers for the stations appearing within it. The volume contains no maps.

Although the authors’ of this volume (actually ‘Compilers’ in this reviewer’s opinion), state that: ‘An attempt has been made to arrange the images … on a rough geographical basis’,  they have not provided any maps to assist in locating where the images were taken. Although to an ‘enthusiast’, this is likely to be of little consequence, many readers of this volume will not be familiar with the British railway network.  In addition, and despite the excellent captions accompanying the photographs, readers will also be unlikely to know exactly where the photographs were taken. This could well reduce the volume’s usefulness and desirability.

Regrettably, and despite the fact that he is the sole source of the images it contains, the book contains no biographical details about Blake Paterson,  The previously-referred-to Preface and Author’s Note provides details of the ‘How’ and ‘Why’, for the volume’s photographs, with full biographical details of the Authors / Compilers appearing on the dust jacket. Mr. Paterson is not however, given the same courtesy. Although useful as the source of the photographs, he remains anonymous. To know more about him, his methods and the equipment he used, would have been of value – especially to those interested in railway photography.

This work is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include railway enthusiasts, especially those with a specific interest in Branch Railways within the British Isles. Railway modellers with an interest in transition–era railways of the British Isles are also likely to find this volume of interest, while transport, social and political historians could find the images (especially what appears in the backgrounds) useful in their  researches.

As previously noted, the absence of both maps and biographical information about the photographer lessens this volume’s value, and for this reviewer, it is ultimately just a collection of very pretty pictures. Were that that was not so.

On that basis, and using a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘COMBAT AIRCRAFT OF THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE: RARE PHOTOGRAPHS FROM WARTIME ARCHIVES’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Combat Aircraft of the United States Air Force: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives

Author: Michael Green

Total Number of  Pages: 196

Total Number of Printed Pages: 72

Total Number of Photographic Pages: 124

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 3

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The United States Air Force (USAF) is currently the world’s most powerful air arm and performs a wide variety of tasks in a variety of locations around the globe. It has a long and colourful history, and has operated many different types of aircraft since its inception.  It has many admirers, amongst them the author of this volume.

This book is a soft-cover work of the ‘Aviation Monograph’ genre, and is essentially a ‘picture book’ of photographs, accompanied by a small amount of text. It is both a written and visual history of the USAF. The photographs it contains are from the author’s collection, although the majority are originally sourced from USAF archives, a fact that the author acknowledges. The volume is divided into six separate chapters, with each of these covering a specific time period. A well-researched and well-written section appears at the beginning of each chapter. Within this section the relevant information is presented under appropriately-worded subheadings. The written section is in turn followed by a photographic section showing aircraft of the era, the majority of these images being in colour. The photographs are clear and crisp, the colour images especially-so. The photographs appear to have been professionally-taken, and provide a level of detail and quality that few amateurs can match. If photographs (especially colour photographs) of USAF aeroplanes are what the purchaser requires, then this book will have few equals. The volume contains a Contents section together with a Dedication, Foreword, Acknowledgments and Notes to the Reader. There is however no Index, nor or a list of the aircraft-types that appear within its covers.  For those interested in a once-over-lightly review of the USAF and pictures of its aircraft, it is unlikely that the lack of the latter will be of any consequence.

However, the serious aviation enthusiast may not find this volume especially useful. As this reviewer has a  long-standing interest in the USAF, he was attracted  to the work by its promise of ‘Rare Photographs From Wartime Archives’, and the expectation that he would see some previously-unknown World War II images.

While there certainly were images from WWII, to this reviewer they were neither rare nor new.  In addition, although Chapter 3 is the section of this volume that specifically deals with USAF operations during WWII,  of the 60 images it contains, only 24 were actually taken during that period; the remaining 36 being Twenty-first Century photographs of preserved aircraft.  In the absence of the promised ‘Rare Photographs From Wartime Archives’ this reviewer felt that the title misrepresented its subject.  In this specific case it promised much, but did not deliver.

In precis, this work is something of a mixed bag; it has beautiful photographs (especially colour ones) and a well-researched and well-written text. As such it would be useful as an introduction to its subject, although whether or not it would be useful to serious students of the USAF will depend on individual assessments of its content. However, it also promises what it does not deliver, namely ‘ Rare Photographs From Wartime Archives’, a situation which this reviewer finds unacceptable. Were that it were not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 3.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘COMBAT AIRCRAFT OF THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE: RARE PHOTOGRAPHS FROM WARTIME ARCHIVES’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Ingenious Victorians: Weird and Wonderful Ideas from the Age of Innovation

Author: John Wade

Total Number of Printed Pages: 288

Total Number of Illustrations: 139

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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Many years ago, when discussing Victorian ‘inventiveness’ this reviewer was told that ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead  and did it anyway’. That, in essence, summarises this volume; the things that Victorians did because they didn’t know they couldn’t.

The author defines the ‘Victorian era’ as being the period 1837-1891 when Queen Victoria was Monarch  of both Great Britain and the lager British Empire,  this work  naturally tending to concentrate on the eccentricities, successes and failures of ‘inventive’ residents of Great Britain during this time.  As a result, the reader is introduced to such worthies as the builder of the Crystal Palace, the many inventors of the phonograph, and those involved in the design and construction of both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London.  Many other individuals, some perhaps eccentric, who did feats of daring do during this period, also make their appearance  In addition, the subjects covered include such wonders as the world’s biggest camera, electric submarines and London’s well-known Cleopatra’s Needle. Although largely Anglo-centric in its focus, inventors and creations from Germany, France and the United States of America also make their appearance, their relevance to the topic under discussion being explained clearly and objectively.

This book is well written in a clear, easily-read and informative style. It consists of an Introduction, followed by 28 Chapters, each focusing on a specific subject. Within the individual chapter, photographs and engraved images provide visual reference to the subject under discussion. A Bibliography and Index are also provided, while the sources of the images used within the work are noted in a separate Picture Credits section.

Within this volume’s covers, and on the basis of its title, this reviewer expected to find examples of ‘Victorian Inventiveness and Ingenuity’ from both the United Kingdom itself, and from within the larger British Empire. The Victorian ‘Age of Innovation’ was, after all, a time where, as already noted, ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead and did it anyway’. In this expectation he was disappointed, finding instead that the work had a very definite United Kingdom, European and North American focus.

In addition (and despite the title) the work ignores Victorian inventiveness in the field of international commerce. In this reviewer’s opinion, the absence of such items (of which there were many) reduces its appeal and potential audience. Rather than being an authoritative discourse celebrating the inventiveness that saw Victorian Ingenuity accomplish the impossible in many parts of the world, the volume is inclined toward the ‘quirky’ rather than the practical. What results is essentially a narrative of curiousities and oddities.

There will undoubtedly be those who will purchase this work on the basis of the ‘oddities’ that it contains. Such buyers will be seeking a detailed recitation of the more eccentric aspects of the Victorian era, and for them this volume will serve that purpose well. Despite the emphasis on the ‘unusual’, purchasers seeking examples of commercial ‘Victorian Ingenuity’ could also find some of the information of use. Ultimately and despite the promise inherent within the title, for this reviewer, the eccentric has triumphed over the innovative and while the result is an interesting treatise, it could have been so very, very much more.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent’.

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Reviewer: N Z Crown Mines

Title: Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent

Author: David Cable

Total No. of Pages: 258

Colour Pages: 248

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 8; The overall volume: 4.

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The volume Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent by David Cable, is of the genre known as ‘Enthusiasts’ picture books’ and contains 248 colour images of Australian trains and locomotives; some in preservation, but most in operating situations in a wide variety of locations across the continent.   The author travelled widely while resident in Australia, taking numerous photographs when doing so. He is a very competent photographer and some of the images can only be described as ‘stunning’. My personal favourite within the book is the ‘outback picture of ‘BHP CW60AC 6071 Chichester …pass Goldsworthy Junction …etc.’ (it’s a long caption) on page 142. This image is quintessentially ‘Australian’ in its content of blue sky, red dirt and a very, very long train. As an example of Mr. Cable’s photographic abilities it is excellent.

On this basis alone, some will find it worth purchasing.

However, the volume does have drawbacks, some major, some minor, with the most obvious a complete lack of maps of any sort. As a result, unless the reader is familiar with Australia and its railways, the locations and captions are largely meaningless.  As if this was not enough, no key is provided for the numerous abbreviations that appear within the work; again rendering them of little value. The reader should not have to guess what is meant.

The order of the photographs is also perplexing as it seems to follow no rhyme or reason. Locomotives and trains from different states are frequently placed opposite each other, rather than within sections applicable to their home railway systems and states. There is no apparent order for the locations. To this reviewer, it would have been logical to start with Queensland (in the north east of the country) and follow the population centres around until finally reaching Western Australia. This has not been done, reducing the volume’s usefulness.

The work has no Index, with the result being that should a specific location, train or locomotive be sought, a search through the entire volume becomes necessary; a very time-consuming and frustrating exercise.  There is no Table of Contents.

In precis, the images within this work are beautiful, the photography superb, and if that is what the purchaser is seeking, they will be well-satisfied. If however, a buyer is seeking some sort of ‘authoritative’ work (if only for random ‘dipping-type’ searching), then this work may not be what they require.

The inclusion of the additional items (Maps, Abbreviation Key etc.) could have made this work so much more; its potential may have been compromised by their absence.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give the photographs an 8, the overall volume, 4.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent’.