Acclaimed travel writer and essayist Matthew Mills Stevenson writes with wit and historical appreciation about what he sees, hears, and reads on his trans-continental train journeys along some of the most celebrated routes in the world but also on branch lines in Kosovo, Greece, Poland, and Transnistria ("Stalin's showroom").
In China, Stevenson goes in search of Port Arthur and the 1904 Russo-Japanese War ("On those tracks are the origins of many wars"). From Prague to Berlin, he writes about the origins of World War II ("The Sudetenland reminded me of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts"). On Amtrak across the United States, he despairs over the collapse of American passenger rail service ("Why hasn t the route map changed in forty years?").
Neither a travel book nor a conventional railroad history, Reading the Rails captures not just the romance of trains but also the politics, history, books, and tragedies that went along these great lines.The writing blends Stevenson's sense of irony and keen eye with his essayist s touch for events and historical passages.
Matthew Mills Stevenson was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island, attending Buckley Country Day School and Friends Academy. His university degrees are from Bucknell and Columbia universities, and he spent a year abroad with the Institute of European Studies in London and Vienna. He moved to Geneva, Switzerland in 1991 and worked in banking until 2004. He is a contributing editor to Harper's Magazine, and the host of The Travel Hour, a radio program. He was a panelist on World Radio Switzerland's Not So Foreign Affairs, a weekly broadcast. His articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and Europe. His books include: Letters of Transit, Mentioned in Dispatches, An April Across America, Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited, Whistle Stopping America, and Reading the Rails, a work of travel, history and politics. Recent books include Appalachia Spring, a drive across the coal belts of America; The Revolution as a Dinner Party: Across China with Edgar Snow, Mao Tse-tung, Joseph Stilwell, Chiang Kai-shek, and Sun Yat-sen; Biking with Bismarck: A Little Tour in France, a ride across French history; and Our Man in Iran, an account of travels in that troubled land.