Review

Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America

by Sam Roberts

Sam Roberts, who has covered New York for the New York Daily News and New York Times for more than 40 years, does a wonderful job in telling the history of one of the most iconic travel “spots” on the planet.

Most people take it for granted; certainly those commuters who pass through it on a daily basis do, with their eyes cast downward or scanning a newspaper while balancing their coffee. But Grand Central Station is not just a railway terminal; for many years, it was the only way to travel across country (and, to my mind, still the most romantic). It was, in a sense, an extension of Ellis Island. Early travelers seeking life beyond the debarkation of their ocean voyage would board trains to, as Aldous Huxley implored, “Go West” (and north and south).

"The photos, illustrations, design, and even paper stock contribute to giving GRAND CENTRAL something of a mini coffee-table book flavor; the juxtaposition of light and shadow in the black-and-white shots are almost a metaphor for new opportunities."

Grand Central was the site of many a happy reunion and tearful parting, its coming and going promising adventures, whether for vacationers or people who came to make their fortunes in the ultimate “big city.”

And in such style. The planning that went into the design and implementation is the true definition of “form meets function” and rivaled the construction of any museum. Roberts reveals the story of the station (and how amusing is it that the title was released by Grand Central Publishing?) from conception to execution, through various renovations. He captures daring schemes and innovations (and, of course, the usual dollop of corruption) in a manner that’s fresh and inviting. The foreword by long-time New York journalist Pete Hamill goes a long way in adding credibility to this “biography” of the New York (and American) institution.

The photos, illustrations, design, and even paper stock contribute to giving GRAND CENTRAL something of a mini coffee-table book flavor; the juxtaposition of light and shadow in the black-and-white shots are almost a metaphor for new opportunities. Even in their small size, the images seem larger than life.

If there’s one complaint, it’s that the book’s trim is too small; this would work much better in a traditional layout, with large photos paying proper homage to the majesty of its subject. Given the cover price for the small version, one can only imagine how much more that might have been.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on January 31, 2013

Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America
by Sam Roberts