|The 2019 George W. and Constance Hilton Book Award Committee consisted of Kurt Bell, John Atherton, and Keith Bryant, who served as chair.
The books nominated for the award were: Simon Cordery, The Iron Road in the Prairie State: The Story of Illinois Railroading; Blake Marnell and Dan Marnell, Pennsylvania Railroad: Shamokin Branch; Michael Bezilla and Luther Gette, Branch Line Empires: The Pennsylvania and the New York Central Railroads. The award committee found all three books to be of very high quality, making the decision difficult.
The 2019 Hilton Book Award goes to Simon Cordery for The Iron Road in the Prairie State. This volume is a model for studies of railroads in a state or region. It represents an innovative use of economic, business, labor, social, and cultural history to demonstrate how the railroads of Illinois became and remain the hub of the national network. The conceptualization is unique, the research is broad, and the narrative is well-wrought prose.
Cordery places the history of railroading in the Prairie State in a larger framework while addressing the integration of the state’s growing economy into the national structure. His clear organization moves the story forward smoothly. Cordery notes the importance of Chicago in the rise of the rail network, but he also points to rural areas and the county-seat towns as helping to propel the creation of the system.
The theses are stated concisely and argued with substantial documentation. The volume is an interesting read as Cordery addresses major issues within the context of the Prairie State’s vast rail network.
The committee unanimously selected Cordery’s volume for the 2019 Hilton Book Award.
Cordery is chair of the history department at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
—Keith L. Bryant, Jr.