- Paperback: 848 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books (August 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140084991
- ISBN-13: 978-0140084993
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 82 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #612,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad Paperback – September 1, 2000
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"Rich with scandal, tragedy, and visionary characters".
-- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
From the Back Cover
Beginning in 1842 with a visionary's dream to span the continent with twin bands of iron, Empire Express captures three dramatic decades in which the United States effectively doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national identity. From self-made entrepreneurs such as the Union Pacific's Thomas Durant and the Central Pacific's Collis Huntington, to era-defining figures such as President Lincoln, Generals Grant and Sherman, Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman, to the thousands of nameless laborers -- especially the Irish and Chines -- whose backbreaking work made the railroad possible, this extraordinary narrative summons an astonishing array of voices to give new dimension, not only to this monumental endeavor, but also to the culture, political struggles, and social conflicts of an unforgettable period in American history.
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People interested in this topic might also read "Nothing Like It in the World" by Steven Ambrose which is less of a challenge and a fun read. In addition, the TV series "Hell on Wheels" (on AMC) tells a entertaining fictional story set in the context of the Wild West environment that surrounded the "end of the track" towns that popped to service the railroad workers.
Simply put, this book is a real chore to read with WAY too many details of minutiae that often really doesn't directly pertain to the main storyline. One of example of the "side trips" the author takes the reader on are details of battles with various Native American tribes that really had nothing to do with building the railroad. I truly believe this book could have been cut in half and with judicious editing, one could have still gotten the point of the story across. Or in the alternative, perhaps it should have been put forth as a two volume set, one volume focusing on the actual building and engineering challenges of the transcontinental railroad, and the other volume could have been about the political and financial machinations going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately Empire Express focuses way too much on the latter and not enough on the former.
Ultimately I gave up and was unable to finish the book. A damned shame too, as I have an interest in this subject matter, I picked the book up the Golden Spike National Historic site, and I love the AMC show Hell On Wheels. (Imagine my surprise to learn the character Thomas Durant was based on an actual person.) But the storyline just become overwhelming with minutiae and not at all enjoyable to read. This from someone who loves all manner of history books.
In summary, this is a very scholarly work that serious historians or students doing a research project would find invaluable. But for the average reader, the person reading for his own entertainment, or self enrichment, it just becomes too painful to try to take it all in. A shame too, because there is some very good information in there, but it will take a lot of time and patience to find it. If you have a lot time to sit down and read uninterrupted for long stretches, you may enjoy this book. If have more limited time, or only a passing interest in the subject matter, you probably want to pass on this title.
Good book though...Makes you want to take a good cross country rail trip to experience some of the vistas these guys saw and worked in.... Especially through the Sierras.
Gave it 3 stars for lack of maps to go with the text.