The Last Journey of William Huskisson
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The Last Journey of William Huskisson : How a Day of Triumph Became a Day of Despair at the Turn of a Wheel

  • Paperback
By (author) Simon Garfield

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The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the greatest engineering feat of its age. George and Robert Stevenson's "Rocket" was to become the most famous locomotive in history. William Huskisson was one of the greatest statesmen of his generation and certainly the most accident prone. On 15th September 1830, the three met for the first time. Huskisson's fateful accident, in which the "Rocket" crushed his leg and thigh, is an unforgettable image of the Industrial Revolution. But what really happened on that day? How did the opening of the world's first passenger railyway turn from a glorious morning into a tragic afternoon? This book is an entertaining tale of ambition, genius, rivalry and legend, plotting the eight-year struggle to build a railway with a cast of engineers, politicians, actresses, surgeons, socialites and breathtaking machines. It is a loud and evocative snapshot of the times, but above all it is a human story of one man's shocking and very gory demise.

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  • Paperback | 244 pages
  • 124 x 196 x 20mm | 181.44g
  • 19 May 2003
  • FABER & FABER
  • London
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 30 b&w illustrations
  • 0571216080
  • 9780571216086
  • 413,812

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Review text

Anybody with bad memories of tedious history lessons knows that the Industrial Revolution can potentially be one of the driest subjects known to man. A bewildering collection of important dates, political upheavals and weirdly named inventions, it's also the era that gave us the railways, and author Simon Garfield's follow-up to his acclaimed science history Mauve is a sprightly, assured tour around the stories and irrepressible characters behind the birth of the Age of Steam. Dealing with the construction of the pioneering Liverpool to Manchester railway, the first of its kind in the world, at the book's heart is the tragic tale of accident-prone statesman William Huskisson, one of the prime political architects of the railway who, in a horribly ironic turn of fate, also became its first victim. It was Huskisson who saw the potential for the railways to compete effectively with the canal trade, and it was Huskisson who fell beneath the wheels of George Stephenson's famed engine the Rocket on the Liverpool to Manchester line's opening day in 1830. Bringing an affecting level of detail to a story that's often viewed as simply an uncomfortable metaphor for progress, Garfield's account is accompanied by plenty of evocative black-and-white illustrations, and his efficient and often witty prose captures the energy and enthusiasm of a country on the verge of transformation. A self-confessed train obsessive, Garfield has obviously done his homework, adding a wealth of historical detail on the politics, inventions and engineering of the day while never losing sight of the human story. Once the detailed recreation of Huskisson's tragic accident arrives, the book packs an unexpected emotional wallop, and there are also some relevant points to be made about modern-day train safety. Intelligent and engaging, this is a surprisingly gripping slice of history. (Kirkus UK)

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