On the morning of May 10, 1869, a gang of Irish immigrants met a party of Chinese laborers on a windy bluff northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. Tired to the bone, the two groups laid down the last of countless wooden ties, bought at the exorbitant cost of six dollars apiece, and thus joined two great rail lines, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, to form a single transcontinental route. That rail line made possible the mass settlement of the West, and, as those who conceived it well knew, it changed the course of American history.
David Haward Bain's superb narrative of westward rail history, weighing in at 800 pages, ends not with this great achievement but with the political and financial scandal that would almost overshadow it. Along the way Bain looks closely at the entrepreneurial men who foresaw the possibilities of a vast nation joined by a steel ribbon--most memorably the hit-and-miss businessman Asa Whitney, who proposed to Congress an ingenious scheme to fund the building of the railroad through commercializing the right of way. Some of the men who came after Whitney, such as Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington, and Leland Stanford, amassed great fortunes in realizing this dream. Others died penniless and nearly forgotten in the wake of political maneuverings and bad deals. Bain's vigorous, well-written narrative does much to restore those overlooked actors to history. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Uniting the country by a transcontinental railroad had a special resonance for the generation that had recently fought the Civil War. Bain's comprehensive study starts with the visionaries who conceived the idea during the two decades before the war (a mere 40 years after the Lewis and Clark expedition). As Bain (Whose Woods These Are) explains, the dreamers gave way to the engineers and entrepreneurs who fixed the route, assembled financing, drafted a work force and launched the two lines toward the eventual meeting point at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869. The story alternates between the Union Pacific driving west from Omaha and the Central Pacific blasting through the mountains from California. About a score of the principal players appear throughout the book, their triumphs and depredations interwoven in a richly (sometimes overly) detailed composition. Bain specifies his heroes and villains, and does not neglect the political fixers who infested Washington, D.C., emptying their satchels of money as they circulated through Congress. The writing is particularly evocative as Bain examines the impact of the railroad on the Plains Indians, whose traditional way of life was eradicated by the line. Bain also deals knowledgeably with the imported Chinese workers, the "Celestials," who were unsurpassed in their tenacity and work ethic. Displaying energetic research and enthusiasm for the subject matter, Bain brings the linking of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and the era that produced it, back to life. Maps. History Book Club selection; BOMC selection; 8-city author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Writing this review is not totally necessary as the existing 69 reviews pretty much tell you what to expect. Read morePublished 20 days ago by Bruce
The book as purchased as a gift for a train enthusiast who was into AMC's "Hell on Wheels" series---the building of the first transcontinental railroad. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Bgnortsmra
In trying to explain the United States to a guest from overseas, I gave him a copy of this book and the Ken Burns "Civil War" series. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Norman Crum
As some of the reviews have stated this book has a lot of detail and NOT a lot of maps to help you keep on top of areas that are described. Read morePublished 6 months ago by "socal" kwsw
Great book to read to learn about corporate manipulation of government monies. Tough to "follow the money" sometimes but a great overview of a project of national... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Michael James
A comprehensive and fascinating history of an important segment of western expansion in the 19th C.Published 10 months ago by jean burn
This is a huge book and I'm wading through it as we speak. I'm a few hundred pages into it and still fascinated. Writing is crisp and even humorous in a sly way. Read morePublished 11 months ago by M. Alexander