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The Great Train Race: Railways and the Franco-German Rivalry, 1815-1914

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The Great Train Race

Railways and the Franco-German Rivalry, 1815-1914

Allan Mitchell†

356 pages, 8 maps, 22 tables, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-57181-166-0 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (September 2000)

ISBN  978-1-84545-136-3 $34.95/£27.95 Pb Published (March 2006)

eISBN 978-1-78238-197-6 eBook

Hb Pb   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


"The breadth of [this] comparative study of French and German railroad development - the largest and most important railway systems on the continent - is a signal achievement... A brief sketch of the book's trajectory does justice neither to the wealth of detail nor to the arresting insights that future historians will draw on for years to come."   · Central European History

"... a fine book. Indeed, it is a labour of love, informed by intensive research and a lifetime's interest. All historians of European railways will be greatly in its debt."   · The International History Review

"The Great Train Race is a well-researched book, full of useful comparative insights into French and German railway development, and doubtless an important contribution to the history of Franco-German rivalry before World War One ... [R]ecommended to economic historians as a study which shows, in well-balanced comparative perspective, the great importance of their field for understanding political history."  · Journal of Modern History

“For Mitchell, this was clearly a labor of love, and it is a pleasure to see a job well done. The book has a full scholarly apparatus along with vital charts and maps to keep things clear.”   ·  H-German

“Allan Mitchell is presenting, with The Great Train Race, a highly informed and ambitious study, in which the fundamental importance of trains for the societies of both countries has been convincingly argued.”   ·  Historische Zeitschrift

“...Presents a rich and understandable overview…The book provides an excellent model for researching and writing comparative railway histories. Such analyses of the relationship between state and railway are rare events.”   · The Journal of Transport History


From their origins, railways produced an intense competition between the two major continental systems in France and Germany. Fitting a new technology into existing political institutions and social habits, these two nations became inexorably involved in industrial and commercial rivalry that eventually escalated into the armed conflict of 1914. Based on many years of research in French and German archives, this study examines the adaptation of railroads and steam engines from Britain to the continent of Europe after the Napoleonic age. A fascinating example of how the same technology, borrowed at the same time from the same source, was assimilated differently by the two continental powers, this book offers a groundbreaking analysis of the crossroads of technology and politics during the first Industrial Revolution.

Allan Mitchell† was Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego. He served on the editorial boards of The American Historical Review and Central European History. Trained in both France and Germany, he became a distinguished proponent of comparative European History.

Subject: 18th/19th Century History 20th Century History
Area: France Germany


List of Illustrations

Introduction: The Conundrum of Comparative History


Chapter 1. France, 1815–1870

  • Liberalism and the Legrand Star
  • The Emergence of the Great Railway Companies
  • The Surge of the Second Empire
  • Trains and Free Trade
  • The Military Implications

Chapter 2. Germany, 1815–1870

  • The Dilemmas of Political Diversity
  • Particularism Unbound
  • Prussia and the Push for Unification
  • Before the Take-Off
  • Strategic Thought and Military Action

Chapter 3. Comparisons, 1815–1870

  • Administrative Organization
  • Economic Competition
  • Military Strategy


Chapter 4. France, 1870–1890

  • After the Fall
  • The Counterattack of the Companies
  • The Failure of Centralism
  • A Condition of Troubling Inferiority
  • Railways and the Republican Army

Chapter 5. Germany, 1870–1890

  • Bismarck’s Railroad Policy
  • The Reassertion of States’ Rights
  • Germany Transformed
  • The Age of St. Gotthard
  • The Consolidation of Military Predominance

Chapter 6. Comparisons, 1870–1890

  • Administrative Organization
  • Economic Competition
  • Military Strategy


Chapter 7. France, 1890–1914

  • Recovery and Controversy
  • The Companies Face Nationalization
  • Private Enterprise or Public Service?
  • The Long Stagnation
  • France Prepares for War

Chapter 8. Germany, 1890–1914

  • The Specter of Prussification
  • Flirting with Unification
  • Low Expectations and High Finance
  • Railroads and the German Take-Off
  • The Consequences of Escalation

Chapter 9. Comparisons, 1890–1914

  • Administrative Organization
  • Economic Competition
  • Military Strategy

Epilogue: From Trains to Trenches

List of Abbreviations
Name Index
Subject Index

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