The Grand Central Crimean Railway was a seven-mile-long track built by British navvies to aid allied supply lines during the Crimean War. It played a part in the Crimean War that, until Cooke’s book was published, had been never been fully explained. His detailed account begins with why it was necessary to build the railway, discussing how freak weather, experienced during the months of winter, had resulted in local roads becoming unusable. Cooke then goes to explain that it was development of the central railway that came to the rescue of a despairing British army as it provided vital support through its ability to quickly move military and medical supplies to the front line.
The book is divided in to nine chapters which provide a chronological narrative of the railroad’s development. Their greater purpose however, is to facilitate Cooke’s debate; the importance of the railway in the outcome of the war. After all he does claim in his title that this railroad ‘won a war’ for the allies. He argues what opportunities the railway gave the British, how it provided them the capacity to win the war through superior supply.
Cooke’s book possesses many strengths, one including its originality. It covers a topic that is scarcely covered by others, for example in Kinglake’s eight volume history of the invasion of Crimea which gives the railway no more than a paragraph of mentioning, and provides a conclusive argument as to its importance. This argument is addressed throughout, but makes its greatest impact in the final chapter where he brings all his evidence together. Cooke explains that the railway was the only way in which the British could continue to fight after the first winter. How the war would, after this winter, shift from being fought as an infantry or cavalry war to a war of artillery. This would in turn require getting thousands of tonnes of ammunition to the front line, which only an incredible supply line like the railway could have managed.
The book does however have its weaknesses for example it does not include French influence in the war’s outcome. France were the main contributor of men to the war and won many important battles without the need of such a railway. Another weakness is its range of sources; the majority are from the British view. A wider context, for example its effect on future military railways, may have helped argue his case that this railway could have won a war.