21st Century Limited, by Kevin Baker

Empty cafe car near Tomah, Wisconsin, on the California Zephyr.

Empty cafe car near Tomah, Wisconsin, on the California Zephyr.

I just finished reading Kevin Baker‘s essay, “21st Century Limited:  The lost glory of America’s railroads” in the July issue of Harper’s Magazine.   I hope others will read it.

While reporting on passenger rail service in the United States, Baker reflects on overall themes of American politics and priorities, showing a smart nostalgia for a lost era when what we might call “American Exceptionalism” today really meant something in our past.

It turns out that railroads, especially passenger rail, is a good place to look at what once was and no longer is America, both good and bad.

It isn’t about preferences of cars and planes over trains, but more about our preferences generally which increasingly are personal rather than public, and increasingly present rather than reaching for the future.

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