How Railroads Changed American Government

12 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2013 Last revised: 13 Nov 2015

See all articles by Alasdair S. Roberts

Alasdair S. Roberts

University of Massachusetts Amherst - School of Public Policy

Date Written: December 7, 2013


Review of: Wolmar, Christian (2013). The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America. New York, PublicAffairs. Anyone reading the scholarly literature on the "e-government revolution" might be tempted to think that technological change has never affected American government so profoundly as it does today. Christian Wolmar's The Great Railroad Revolution provides an invaluable corrective to this sort of thinking. The advent of the railroad was probably a more important technological shock, and Wolmar's book provides an unusual opportunity to examine how it affected the role and structure of American government. The current fashion is to emphasize the ways in which ideology and institutional inertia constrain the governmental response to such shocks. But Wolmar tells a different story. In the long run, The Great Railroad Revolution suggests, the governmental response to this innovation was pragmatic, hard-headed, and flexible.

Suggested Citation

Roberts, Alasdair S., How Railroads Changed American Government (December 7, 2013). Forthcoming in Public Administration Review, Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 13-41, Available at SSRN:

Alasdair S. Roberts (Contact Author)

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