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Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad Paperback – Illustrated, May 5, 2020
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WINNER OF THE CHINESE AMERICAN LIBRARIANS ASSOCIATION BEST BOOK AWARD
“Gripping . . . Chang has accomplished the seemingly impossible . . . He has written a remarkably rich, human, and compelling story of the railroad Chinese.” — Peter Cozzens, Wall Street Journal
“The lived experience of the Railroad Chinese has long been elusive . . . Chang’s book is a moving effort to recover their stories and honor their indispensable contribution to the building of modern America.” — New York Times
“A revelatory narrative… sweeping yet intimate… Chang sets out redress what has been an elemental failure of imagination—a pattern of prejudicial and myopic history-making that has marginalized Chinese railroad workers through amnesia, insults and elisions, effectively ghosting them from American history… Chang’s committed, imaginative, grounded, and reverent narrative ultimately pays proper respect to the ghosts of Gold Mountain, allowing us to see and appreciate their lives.” — Reviews in American History
“A valuable contribution to the history of the Chinese in North America.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Ambitious . . . [Chang’s] writing is vibrant and passionate.” — Publishers Weekly
“This epic account will stand as the definitive history of how Chinese laborers, including members of my own family, did monumental work under some of the most difficult physical circumstances imaginable on a project that would eventually transform our country. Fascinating and heartbreaking, Ghosts of Gold Mountain is a must-read.” — Lisa See, New York Times best-selling author of On Gold Mountain and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
“Under Gordon Chang’s inspired pen, the unheralded contribution of Chinese laborers in building America’s first transcontinental railroad bursts into daylight like a mighty locomotive rushing from a mountain tunnel. These ‘Railroad Chinese’ left a rich legacy of herculean construction throughout the American West, and by ably sifting through frequently elusive sources, Dr. Chang brings their individual stories and culture into illuminating focus.” — Walter R. Borneman, author of Iron Horses: America’s Race to Bring the Railroads West
“America is forever indebted to the roughly twenty thousand Chinese workers who built the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Yet their momentous journeys, their dreams and travails, the racism that they endured, and their ultimate triumphs and tragedies have remained only dimly understood and recognized until now. Gordon Chang has finally told their story in a vivid, insightful, and deeply human way.” — Andrés Reséndez, author of The Other Slavery
“Ghosts of Gold Mountain is a treasure trove of stories, and of exciting scholarship that answers questions many of us have asked for decades. In this profound and inspiring book, Chang reveals at last how the West was truly won: by Railroad Chinese who literally united these American states.” — David Henry Hwang, author of the Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly
“Gordon Chang leaves no boulder unturned, nor tunnel unexplored, as he brings vital detail to the lives of the Chinese railroad workers: ‘ghosts’ who are no longer missing in history, thanks to his meticulous research. After a hundred and fifty years, this book sets the record straight.” — Helen Zia, author of Last Boat out of Shanghai
About the Author
- Publisher : Mariner; Illustrated edition (May 5, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0358331811
- ISBN-13 : 978-0358331810
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #71,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Ghosts of Gold Mountain is a pretty definitive history of the "Railroad Chinese" who built the Transcontinental Railroad. As definitive as it can be considering there are no first-hand accounts themselves from the workers. It would seem that no journals, letters, etc. have yet been found to hear their side of the story. So we are left with historical accounts from newspapers, interviews with white Americans, and other non-first person basis. But despite this lack of information, Chang weaves a compelling narrative.
Imagine how hard it would have been to level out land and lay down track across the mountains. Now imagine doing that without any modern technology and only the strength of your back to do it. It is amazing what was accomplished. But it seems to have come at a high cost. An untold number of Chinese died creating the railroad. And since no records were kept well, the actual number will never be discovered.
Chang's writing is precise, but story-telling enough that you don't get bored with it. I found myself deeply engrossed and had a lot of trouble putting the book down. It was saddening (much like a look of most American history) but important. Why things like this aren't a part of our history classes I'll never fathom.
Review by M. Reynard 2019
"Ghosts of Gold Mountain" was a book that took six years in the making and the efforts by various institutions and fields of study outside of history. One of the most fascinating aspects about the book was how this narrative was constructed. With a careful eye and perspective each and every source that Chang utilized showed a history unraveled. One of the major and well-known photos by Andrew J. Russell "East and West Shake Hands" pictured James Strobridge shaking hands at the site where the last set of rail was laid at Promontory Summit in Utah. Instead of sifting through primary sources that historians usually probe and research such as diaries and letters, he had to look elsewhere due to the lack there of and this where for those that have had exciting ideas and topics and wanted to research the past but had very little to go by, he searched and discovered sources that were used on a daily basis during the period in which the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR) was built and by which workers; sources that included business reports and payroll records, family collections and memorabilia, government records, archaeological and anthropological remnants, and oral histories that were relevant. And to help to put each and every one into perspective a collaborate team of scholars and students and researchers from all over the world beyond Stanford University tirelessly worked. The result, Chang narrowed his focus to a community of people that emigrated from Guangzhou, China a small population of men of Siyi descendant that lived near the Pearl River, their history alone in China dates back to years after the end of the Han era 226 CE that centered its productivity upon seafaring trade and market economies. In addition, Chang recalls histories that have shared insight to the history of Chinese immigrants such as Huie Kin, a Chinese Minister, and Hun Wah that found their way to the US looking to gain wealth through gold mining and building the railroads, but he also debunks several myths. Many examples and stories are revealed in the book and readers may find quite enlightening, and there are also, the stories that will draw critical discussion.
After reading "Ghosts of Gold Mountain" the stories and the most interesting illustrations, maps, and photos and revisiting of the vast landscape and the challenges that one cannot imagine offers a better understanding of what the workers were against, the natural effects of the climate and disease and illness and intolerance. And once again, when reading about their experiences they achieved a tremendous feat that built a major form of transportation that initially stretched from San Francisco of the west coast and eventually to the east coast of Virginia's Newport News to New York. It was a once in a lifetime and historic event that may never be repeated. In essence, most will live to tell of their contributions thereafter that surpassed the building of the railroad but a melting pot of communities that are still evident today.
I think I'm fairly well-read and I am certainly aware of the Chinese immigrant contribution to the railorads - more than contribution, I might say after reading this...more like "creation of the railroads." - but this book took me much deeper than my knowledge had been before. I think the railroads would have been built no matter what, but it would have taken much longer, probably gone over different distances and would have turned out slightly differently. Ironically, and not to our credit, the fact that so much immigrant labor was used meant that the railroads could be more aggressive in their planning. A lot of what they did would not have worked with "regular American crews" who would not have taken the risks.
The book is necessairly dry; it's lack of primary sources means it can't ever get THAT personal. There will always be a distance from the subject, no matter how much Gordon Chang has invested - and I noticed that Chang has written academic books on this subject before. So this is an 'accessible' history for more "civilian" readers vs. the academic audience. Nevertheless, this is an intense, deep history that is not dumbed-down for a skimming reader (no offense to those readers - it's just not for everyone). If you're patient you'll learn a lot.
When you don't know these stories you don't really know the full-accounting of the country. When we don't give credit to these workers - who were not American, and really whose loyalty was probably elsewhere - we do a disservice to our history and ourselves. I don't know if I "enjoyed" this book and it's not a relaxing page-turner, that's for sure - but I came out of it with a more personal knowledge of a story where I only knew broad strokes before.