Briefly Noted: We Often Dream of Trains


Although its text is thin (and, according to some aficionados, error-prone), Robert S. Schleicher's coffee table history The Lionel Legend: An American Icon (Voyageur Press) suggests why industries grow more politically potent as they become less important to the economy. The rapturous color photos reveal an enchanting world that a generation of man-children yearned to enter during the postwar period—the very time when cars permanently displaced trains as the real world's ground transportation.

As a style, a sentiment, and an idea of how small-town America ought to look, railroad culture is hard to top—something worth remembering as the tentacles of Vice President Joe Biden's high-speed colossus enfold an unwilling nation. Mostly bypassing Lionel's century-long corporate history, Schleicher gives voice to the romance of rail—a romance that depends on those limitations that make trains suboptimal in reality.