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Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 Hardcover – August 29, 2000
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Building a transcontinental railroad, writes the prolific historian Stephen Ambrose, was second only to the abolition of slavery on Lincoln's presidential agenda. Through an ambitious program of land grants and low-interest government loans, he encouraged entrepreneurs such as California's "Big Four"--Charles Crocker, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Leland Stanford--to take on the task of stringing steel rails from ocean to ocean. The real work of doing so, of course, was on the shoulders of immigrant men and women, mostly Chinese and Irish. These often-overlooked actors and what a contemporary called their "dreadful vitality" figure prominently in Ambrose's narrative, alongside the great financiers and surveyors who populate the standard textbooks.
In the end, Ambrose writes, Lincoln's dream transformed the nation, marking "the first great triumph over time and space" and inaugurating what has come to be known as the American Century. David Haward Bain's Empire Express, which covers the same ground, is more substantial, but Ambrose provides an eminently readable study of a complex episode in American history. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Ambrose's cheerleading of the accomplishments of the common American man - he does it in his WWII books and others - makes him seem a little like the Tom Clancy of the history field. Clancy succeeds because of his terrific imagination and captivating style. Ambrose succeeds when he backs it up with good writing but in this book the poor scholarship and terrible editing is a real downer!
How can any modern historian state, "The Chinese . . . needed little or no instruction in handling black powder, which was a Chinese invention . . ." (p.156). Really now! Perhaps all Chinese are good at flower arranging as well.
How can an historian of Ambrose's stature totally invert a well known event of the Civil War as he does on p.292 with the statement that "George B. McClellan's uncoded orders were captured by the Confederates before the Battle of Antietam, giving Robert E. Lee a chance to read them." For those who are unfamiliar with this incident, it was Lee's orders that were discovered by Union troops near Frederick, MD, providing the bumbling McClellan with the information he needed to head off the attempt to invade Pennsylvania.
Ambrose needs a new editor if this is what his current handler does.Read more ›
Ambrose admitted in the introduction that he knew nothing about the subject. Is it any surprise then that he uncritically accepted and repeats fables about the construction of this railroad? But Ambrose can take credit for many original mistakes. He moves the California gold discovery site to the west of Sacramento, has the Humboldt River rise in northeast Utah, and stretches the Forty-Mile Desert to 100 miles. Theodore Judah is mistakenly credited with building the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls. Central Pacific construction supervisor J.H.Strobridge is presented making decisions for the rival Union Pacific.
Some mistakes--like the eight-foot long bunk cars for the workers, or the stories repeated in different chapters--might be the result of poor editing and proof reading. But other statements make one wonder if even the author read this book before sending it to the printer. Perhaps the most ludicrous image in the book is Ambrose's description of Central Pacific workers drilling holes in the granite for blasting. He tells us men standing on step ladders pounded away with sledge hammers on a long drill held steady by three men--one holding it as high as he could reach, another in the middle, and the third down by his toes.Read more ›
One of the best passages relates to the last (golden) spike, at Promontory Summit, Utah. The story is breathtaking. The reader expects the final hammering of the spike -like the whole world on May 10, 1869- from San Francisco to New York, Philadelphia, Boston and even London (via the telegraph). I will not say what happened (I do not want to run the climax of the story for the reader!)
In conclusion, I would strongly recommend the reading of "Nothing Like it In The World". Stephen E. Ambrose is at his best... and nobody can object with his conclusion that the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad is one of most important event of the American Nineteenth Century!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very interesting and informative about this major accomplishment. Very descriptive and well written.Published 11 days ago by Carol A. Berry
Excellent informative read - done in Abrose style - story format - with important details included. Highly reccomed book.Published 11 days ago by William A. Davis
This is a GREAT book. I couldn't put it down like all of Stephen Ambrose's books..Published 28 days ago by Robert G. Aubry
Going on the California Zephyr this summer and this is a must read.Published 2 months ago by Theresa Caver
Very well written. Held my attention, and the building of America without the Chinese and Irish would not have happened. Read morePublished 3 months ago by jime