History tends to be the story of the "important" people: the story of kings, of queens, of generals and of politicians. Yes, there were other people involved, but they tend to be treated collectively, rather than as individuals. In part this is because the people who feature large in history were mainly the people who drove it: the people whose decisions and actions, for better or worse, changed the flow and direction of the events around them. History also tends to focus on key individuals because these are the people whose lives were recorded in sufficient detail to allow later generations of historians to write books about them.
"From Land to Rail" is a wonderful exception to this tendency. Andrew Ramage was born in 1854 in East Lothian and died in 1917 in West Lothian. During his adult life he worked as a farm labourer, a dock worker, a lorry driver and a railwayman. He is without doubt one of those who history normally consigns to a background role, the sort of man who would usually be mentioned only as part of a class or group ("working class" or "farm workers") rather than as a named individual.
What sets Andrew Ramage apart was that from 1888, i.e. when he was 34 years old, until his death, he filled a series of notebooks with an account of his life. There were, presumably, many such notebooks, but only three survive, and their contents form the core of this book. The notebooks start with a memoir setting out a detailed account of Andrew's early life, dated 2 November 1888, and continue into a daily diary covering the period from November 1888 to April 1889. We then pick up Andrew's story in his own words in diary entries in two notebooks covering the period from July 1914 until June 1917. Knowing, or at least having good reason to believe, that so much was lost (or remains to be discovered) in the missing notebooks between April 1889 and July 1914 is a shame. But on the other hand, if the missing quarter century were present in the same detail as is available here, the result would have been a huge and unapproachable book. The vagaries of time and the lost diaries mean that what is left are highly enlightening snapshots of two different periods in the life of a fascinating man.