Armed with his 19th-century Appleton's guidebook to the United States and Canada, Michael Portillo embarks on a 1,100-mile railroad journey from Boston, Massachusetts, across the border to Toronto in theCanadian province of Ontario. Along the way, he encounters revolutionaries and feminists, pilgrims and witches and rides some of the oldest and most breathtaking railroads in the world.
At risk of being uncovered as a Tory spy, Michael joins the Sons of Liberty aboard ship in Boston harbour. Will he help rebels jettison 112 crates of East India Company tea? Michael rides America's first subway and sups oysters in Boston's oldest restaurant. Heading out of the city along the route of one of the earliest railroads in the United States, Michael reaches Lowell, renowned as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. An historic streetcar conveys him to the Boott Cotton Mills, where he discovers a flagrant act of industrial espionage and militancy among the thousands of women and girls who worked there.
Michael's guide sets him on the trail of the second largest organ in the world, located now in Haverhill. He is rewarded with a rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, courtesy of the 19th-century Handel and Haydn Choir.