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FreightWaves Classics delves into many topics in transportation and freight history — topics that have been subjects of substantial research. Historians, authors, museum curators and other experts help bring life to many stories of the past — the stories we love to tell here. 

If you are interested in a more long-form version of events like the ones we chronicle at FreightWaves Classics, we have compiled a list of five of the top books in transportation and freight history. Many of these books have either inspired or provided research for coverage here. 

In no particular order, this is a list of some of the most acclaimed books in the nonfiction historic genre that are not only great reads but offer deep insight into important events of our past.

“Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America” by Richard White

Railroad corporations in the 19th century were often built on ruthless business practices as the country began to spread out and the influence of corporations really began to take hold. It was a different type of business than the country had seen before. And it also changed the way goods were sold, connecting parts of that country that had not been as easily accessible before. 

In this book, Richard White, a professor of American history at Stanford University, gives a comprehensive look at the development of the transcontinental railroads. His account shows both the good and the bad in the political and economic environments at the time. It was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist in the history category. 

The Route 66 Encyclopedia” by Jim Hinckley

FreightWaves Classics recently covered the exciting history of Route 66 and how the first cross-country highway changed the United States for good. 

But our article only touches the surface of the factoids and stories that make up this interstate’s history. This book by Jim Hinckley, a speaker and consultant for historic America, is a fun coffee table read that presents numerous stories throughout Route 66’s history from its inception to becoming a piece of Americana. Hinckley refers to his book as “a time capsule, a travel guide, a history book, a memorial, a testimonial, and a chronicle of almost a century of societal evolution.”

“The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914” by David McCullough

The Panama Canal is a monumental part of maritime history and shipping in general. This “epic chronicle of the creation of the Panama Canal,” as described by Simon & Schuster, by late historian David Mcullough exhibits the drama of the iconic landmark’s construction. The story has both tragic and touching moments, despite being an engineering narrative. Numerous legends that span different legs of the canal’s creation make this nonfiction history book read almost like a novel.

“The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” by Marc Levinson

The shipping container is one of the most influential inventions in the shipping industry, and FreightWaves Classics covered founding father Malcom McLean in a recent article. But this important equipment of the logistics world has a much more storied history than just its beginning. This box is said to be responsible for changing the landscape of shipping forever. 

Economist Marc Levinson’s telling of the account relies on sources that were previously ignored, bringing a more comprehensive look at how the invention changed dramatically for both good and bad. It appears on numerous lists and is even touted by Bill Gates as one of the best he’s read.

“The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways” by Earl Swift 

Much like Route 66 and railroads, the U.S. interstate highway system changed the face of the country and its shipping processes, but we often take these roads for granted. This book tells the origin stories of a system that completely altered the way Americans lived over time. The book will change how readers look at these roads through its compelling collection of stories about monumental manmade feats.

FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter!

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