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Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69

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Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks. The U.S. government pitted two companies—the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads—against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes were shipped from the East through Panama or around South America to the West or lugged across the country to the Plains. In Ambrose's hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes vibrantly to life.


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Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks. The U.S. government pitted two companies—the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads—against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes were shipped from the East through Panama or around South America to the West or lugged across the country to the Plains. In Ambrose's hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes vibrantly to life.

30 review for Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    There is a vocal contingent of people who like to criticize Stephen Ambrose for his methods and style, who don't consider him a true historian, despite his academic credentials. As I have read more of his work, I agree that he doesn't sound like a trained historian, and I find that a good thing. He has made a few errors along the way, and his writing style is less meticulous than many academics today which has drawn widespread rancor from his peers. But Ambrose has been able to do something most There is a vocal contingent of people who like to criticize Stephen Ambrose for his methods and style, who don't consider him a true historian, despite his academic credentials. As I have read more of his work, I agree that he doesn't sound like a trained historian, and I find that a good thing. He has made a few errors along the way, and his writing style is less meticulous than many academics today which has drawn widespread rancor from his peers. But Ambrose has been able to do something most historians fail to do - he brings history to life and this book was no exception. Before picking up this book, I had no interest in the history of the transcontinental railroad, but after only a couple of chapters, this book was a page turner. This book entranced me with the details of how the west was conquered by the railroads, and I was even more taken with his description of the spirit of the men who did it. Once again, Ambrose has written a history that reads like a novel, and perhaps that's why other historians don't like him - people actually want to read what Ambrose has to say.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rob McMonigal

    Subtitled (incorrectly) "The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869", I knew I was taking a risk reading an Ambrose book, but the subject was compelling to me. I like trains, I like history, particularly 19th Century American History, so I figured I would give this a try. Not one of my better plans. It's pretty bad when the 20 minute animated Peanuts special on the same subject is more critical of the subject material than a book for adults. But sadly, this was the case. Rather than Subtitled (incorrectly) "The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869", I knew I was taking a risk reading an Ambrose book, but the subject was compelling to me. I like trains, I like history, particularly 19th Century American History, so I figured I would give this a try. Not one of my better plans. It's pretty bad when the 20 minute animated Peanuts special on the same subject is more critical of the subject material than a book for adults. But sadly, this was the case. Rather than be a historian, Ambrose is a cheerleader for men who swindled workers, contractors, and the government for what he considers a greater purpose (namely the railroad) but I consider a horrible purpose--their pocketbook. Oh sure, he will mention the excesses of the bosses, particularly Doc Durant, who was the Ken Lay of his day. But they are almost told as asides, as being off the point. Yeah, he screwed the Mormans, but who cares? They built into Utah! Hooray! For a history book written in the 1950s, this would be acceptable and forgivable. But the tome, written in 2000, has all the modern scholarship of a Bill O'Reilly book. Everyone is put in the best light possible, except for those pesky Irish demanding higher wages (how dare they?) and the Mormans demanding their money (the cads!). When the praised frequently for being docile and industrious Chinese threaten to strike, Ambrose is all about praising the bosses for using strong-arm tactics to end it. "Thus did Charles Crocker and his partners show other employers around the nation one way--theirs--of how to deal with strikes." (page 242) Thankfully, he does not mention African Americans or slavery that often, because, had the railroad been built by slaves, I could easily see him writing, "but that was the only way to get it done" just as he defends the actions of the bosses with that same lame excuse. It's obvious that Ambrose and I do not share political philosophies, and that's fine. He spends pages in his afterward decrying the way that the teachers condemn the bosses to their students. A lengthy quote from page 377 will explain why the book is written in this manner: "With regard to the government bonds, generations of American students have been offered a black and white view. The bonds when not only to the CP and the UP buy to six companies chartered to build the second, third, and so on Pacific railroads. In the textbooks, as in the lectures, the government was handing out a gift. Now, for those of us who were in college in the 1950s, the classes were taught by professors who had taken their own graduate training in the 1930s and had thus been brought up to blame big business for everything that went wrong, especially the Great Depression. Those professors who were not New Deal Democrats were socialists. They all knew that it helps then anti-big business case if you can call those bonds a gift." So yeah, this is the story of the Transcontinental Railroad as seen through the prism of Rush Limbaugh. Which is fine as far as it goes, but don't complain about black and white reporting when the only gray in your version is the faded uniforms worn by the Southern veterans who helped build the Union Pacific. Yes, there is far more to the story than just "owners evil, workers good"--I completely agree. The problem here is that Ambrose swings the pendulum so far the other way that he actually fails to see why it was wrong--by omitting any harsh words--for Huntington to be looking at the Congress to see whose vote was for sale! That's not Ronald Reagan conservatism, that's modern political "pro-business" talk, and it's sickening. Even if you are so radically pro-business that the above doesn't bother you, what will is the writing style. It feels like Ambrose dictated the text with no further editing, leaving us with so many short editorial sentences (which is why his lack of one about the bribery is so glaring) as to be distracting. This book reads like your elderly uncle telling a story after Thanksgiving dinner--long and rambling, circling back on itself, repeating information he just said a few chapters ago, and of course with no room for anyone else's opinion. Never in this book does Ambrose reference another historian's work directly (there are footnotes, but I am referring to a real quote). Never, other than his dismissive "New Deal and socialists" comment above, are other opinions given sway. And as a result of this, I find his protestations of being unable to find anything from the Chinese or Irish workers rather hollow. This is especially true because in the last ten years, there are all kinds of Civil War diaries popping up all over the place. You mean to tell me that no one who wasn't an engineer, surveyor, or boss kept a diary? Not a single one? That's Ambrose's stance, and while it may be true, his book and evidence of other, similar time periods doesn't make it very easy to believe. We are not, after all, writing a book about building the Roman Road--this is not even 150 years ago. All of this pales in comparison, however, to Ambrose's treatment of the Indians. They are never given a single chance to defend themselves. Drawing his history from Hollywood movies,. Ambrose paints them as savage terrorists (replace railroad for oil pipeline and Indian for Arab and this book wouldn't read very different, if at all) who are only shown raping, pillaging, and murdering every chance they get, except for the Pawnee, who are depicted as loving the ability to take scalps of the "bad" Indians. The Indians must submit or be eliminated in the minds of the men making the railroad and Ambrose goes right along with that, not even giving a second to go over treaties, violations, or any act of cruelty by the soldiers that might have provoked the Indians in any way. They are bad, bad, bad. It's sickening to read--a modern book, even one favorable to the railroad, should never stoop to that level. I was honestly surprised this book didn't come with a set of pop-pops in UP colors. It's all about how great America used to be, how we suck now, and how anything that got in the way of such a grand project should have just accepted the manifest destiny that was the railroad's progress. The idea that it had to be done this way, which appears to be Ambrose's view, is complete bunk. So, basically, is this book. (Library, 07/08) Trebby's Take: Take it away! Do not, I beg you, bother to read this. And please, tell me what I should read instead. I like the subject but this was really bad.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    Sweeping in the beginning and the end as Ambrose is wonderful giving context and meaning to the transcontinental railroad, but a SLOG in between. I don't think I highlighted anything in the middle 80%, and for my reading experience and as much as I have like a couple of Ambrose's other books, that is highly unusual. Sweeping in the beginning and the end as Ambrose is wonderful giving context and meaning to the transcontinental railroad, but a SLOG in between. I don't think I highlighted anything in the middle 80%, and for my reading experience and as much as I have like a couple of Ambrose's other books, that is highly unusual.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David Powell

    I tend to read others' reviews before I write my own, and, as is often the case when I come across a negative review to a book I liked, my first thought is "did you actually read it," followed by "can you read?" But, to put things in perspective, I remember going into a classroom a few years ago after having finished this book, and I enthusiastically shared with my high school seniors how great it was. One somewhat attentive student asked what it was about to which I replied "the building of the I tend to read others' reviews before I write my own, and, as is often the case when I come across a negative review to a book I liked, my first thought is "did you actually read it," followed by "can you read?" But, to put things in perspective, I remember going into a classroom a few years ago after having finished this book, and I enthusiastically shared with my high school seniors how great it was. One somewhat attentive student asked what it was about to which I replied "the building of the transcontinental railroad." The blank look on the majority of faces cued me in to the fact that, first, most of my students didn't know what the transcontinental railroad was, and, for those that did, it confirmed in their mind that I was crazy. That said, Ambrose makes a momentous singular accomplishment in American history come vividly alive. The vision of Lincoln and those who helped fulfill that vision were amazing, though often flawed, men. In some ways, the railroad may be the greatest testimony to the American spirit.

  5. 5 out of 5

    N.N. Light

    Absolutely brilliant. A must-read for historians and train lovers. My Rating: 5 stars Reviewed by: Mr. N

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    A good friend recommended this because he liked it. I think the attraction would be the details of the remarkable transcontinental railroad was built. No doubt it was an amazing engineering achievement and an audacious idea. If you like to know a lot about how a railroad of such magnitude could have been built essentially without power tools, this is the book for you. Frankly, I got a bit bored with all of the details and wanted more human interest. Also, something about Ambrose's writing makes m A good friend recommended this because he liked it. I think the attraction would be the details of the remarkable transcontinental railroad was built. No doubt it was an amazing engineering achievement and an audacious idea. If you like to know a lot about how a railroad of such magnitude could have been built essentially without power tools, this is the book for you. Frankly, I got a bit bored with all of the details and wanted more human interest. Also, something about Ambrose's writing makes me feel like he only wants to focus on the glorious engineering of the American and make light of some of its tragic consequence. It is subtle, to be sure. Ambrose acknowledges that he wanted to focus on how the railroad was built, rather than the broader issues, but I think that decision made the story bland. It is fair enough to build a story about an amazing effort that changed the country, and to honor those who made it happen. But it is equally important to recognize the some of the offsetting negatives that come with it and far more interesting to examine the human consequences and social forces involved. For example, he makes clear that the "Indians" were a "problem" and were viewed as "savages" (even using the word without quotes), but little more. He acknowledges that the Indian way of life was being destroyed, but moves on with no commentary. Another example: Ambrose made it clear that the work was grueling, with the gandy dancers exposed to the elements six days a week, doing everything manually, and many dying. But other than a journalistic mention of it, he doesn't seem to dive into the human toll and the social consequences of workers being treated that way.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brooks

    Ambrose makes non-fiction history an easy read with a similar writing style as John Grisham. The book is a very easy read but is filled with repeated anecdotes between chapters and in some cases missing context. The book covers the story of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, the men behind them, and the race to build the transcontinental railroad. It focuses on the men who risked their fortunes to make even greater fortunes with the railroad. Ambrose does not spend much time on th Ambrose makes non-fiction history an easy read with a similar writing style as John Grisham. The book is a very easy read but is filled with repeated anecdotes between chapters and in some cases missing context. The book covers the story of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, the men behind them, and the race to build the transcontinental railroad. It focuses on the men who risked their fortunes to make even greater fortunes with the railroad. Ambrose does not spend much time on the Credit Mobilier scandals and the dark side of the financing. I usually enjoy histories of engineering projects but Ambrose is a military historian and glosses over the technical aspects. He focuses on the former Civil War generals becoming construction bosses. It really was a massive undertaking involving 10,000 men on each railroad and one of the first industries that had to have complex management structures to handle the logistics and planning. However, Ambrose’s work is filled with false praise of how ground breaking and unique this was. I don’t buy it. Technically, America could have built the transcontinental RR in the 1840s but could not start because of the route choice was too controversial for Congress (slave vs free state route). The unique aspect was the government sanctioning two companies to compete on the route to speed up the work. It was terribly inefficient since they ended up double the grading for 300 miles until Congress fixed the meeting point.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Really great story, well told. I couldn't put it down. A great antidote for those who believe that our times are uniquely corrupt. The engineers and surveyors and foremen and workers are the heroes of this tale. The politicians and the businessmen -- most often the same crew -- are the villains. Even them Ambrose treats mostly with kindness. The progess across the Sierra, engineers and chinese laborers against the mountain and the snow, is spectacular. The personalities of Dodge and Judah are exp Really great story, well told. I couldn't put it down. A great antidote for those who believe that our times are uniquely corrupt. The engineers and surveyors and foremen and workers are the heroes of this tale. The politicians and the businessmen -- most often the same crew -- are the villains. Even them Ambrose treats mostly with kindness. The progess across the Sierra, engineers and chinese laborers against the mountain and the snow, is spectacular. The personalities of Dodge and Judah are expecially vivid in this telling. Are there people as big and as driven today? There must be. I'd guess they work at Google. The sheer number of worker deaths, through accident and Indian fight and pure drunken violence is a reminder of how civilized and soft we've become in the intervening 140 years. But this was the generation that fought at Gettysburg and Shiloh. A few hundred deaths seemed to trouble almost no one. Finally, I'm reminded that the US really wasn't a single nation until the line was completed. It took months for people, goods and information to go be steamer from New York to SanFrancisco. The risk of death from disease or shipwreck was high, as was the expense. The railroad cut the travel time to a week and knocked a "zero" off the price.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ Jenn Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ Schu

    Stephen Ambrose leaves no stone unturned in his piece on the building of the transcontinental railroad. If you want a comprehensive book on the building of the railroad, this is the book to choose. Ambrose covers the politics, the construction, the materials used, the conditions, the strikes, the corruption, the geography, the immigrant workers, the scheduling, the costs, really anything that you want to know about the 6 years of building one of the most important structures of the 19th century. Stephen Ambrose leaves no stone unturned in his piece on the building of the transcontinental railroad. If you want a comprehensive book on the building of the railroad, this is the book to choose. Ambrose covers the politics, the construction, the materials used, the conditions, the strikes, the corruption, the geography, the immigrant workers, the scheduling, the costs, really anything that you want to know about the 6 years of building one of the most important structures of the 19th century. My only constructive criticism for the author: don't interject your opinion on the politics, corporations, etc. In my opinion, a non-fiction piece should been as objective and unbiased as possible and this is possible as I've read numerous works that are. 4.5 Stars

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joel

    Enjoyed this book and learned a lot about how the Pacific Railroad was built. The author goes into a lot of detail about both the human and technical aspects and quotes extensively from original and secondary sources. As my second Ambrose book, I'm starting to get a feel for his style: he's above all a chronicler and a compiler. I understand why he's criticized by more serious historians: his role is to gather all the information in one place and tell it, rather than do critical and original res Enjoyed this book and learned a lot about how the Pacific Railroad was built. The author goes into a lot of detail about both the human and technical aspects and quotes extensively from original and secondary sources. As my second Ambrose book, I'm starting to get a feel for his style: he's above all a chronicler and a compiler. I understand why he's criticized by more serious historians: his role is to gather all the information in one place and tell it, rather than do critical and original research, and true, I did notice a couple of missing quotation marks, but I don't have a problem with that. He tells a cohesive story and covers lots of ground, and then some. I think the book could have been improved, though, if the author would have centred more around one or two main characters. That would have given the book more of a narrative arc and an attachment on the part of the reader to a few main characters. He seems to be trying to do that with Grenville Dodge, but he cuts in and out of his activities with so many different people: Collis Huntington, Doc Durant, The Casements, and so many others, that it's hard for the reader to be invested in any one character. If he would have chosen one figure from each of the two "fronts" - say Charles Crocker for the CP and Doc Durant for the UP, and treated them as "protagonists" in the literary sense, that would have made the book much more captivating. Come to think of it, I think his book Band of Brothers (the only other of his books I've read so far) suffered from the same weakness. Understandably, that book was supposed to be about the "Band of Brothers" rather than any one character, but it would also have benefitted if he would have centred it around Dick Winters, which is what the book ended up doing anyway, so why not just structure it that way from the start? Likewise, I also think the book fails to give you a sense of time and place. I got a hint of it in when the author describes "Hell on Wheels" or tunnelling through the summit near Donner Pass, but it still feels like something's lacking. I don't get a vivid enough sense of what it must have felt like at night on the endless prairies of Nebraska, or hanging off the cliffs at Cape Horn (in baskets, presumably). (Band of Brothers too - He does a good job with the "crossroads" on "The Island" and what it must have felt like on the road to Berchtesgaden, but most of the rest of the time, it feels like you're just "passing through.") But I am being overly picky. Overall, I think it would have been hard to beat Ambrose's ability to balance detail and readability. The book is quite thorough without being too tedious. It taught me lots about a period of history I did not know too much about before and instilled in me a small passion for steam engines and the Old West. Perhaps for my next family vacation, I should make a road trip to Cheyenne.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

    The transcontinental railroad is an incredible feat of American ingenuity and engineering. This book excellently highlighted the extreme skills of several of the key individuals who made the great iron road possible. Throughout the book Ambrose concisely sees the sweeping effects the railroad has on the country. He makes you feel proud of the accomplishment for what it is but explains how the big businesses often deceived the people. This book gave me a huge appreciation for the ignored Chinese The transcontinental railroad is an incredible feat of American ingenuity and engineering. This book excellently highlighted the extreme skills of several of the key individuals who made the great iron road possible. Throughout the book Ambrose concisely sees the sweeping effects the railroad has on the country. He makes you feel proud of the accomplishment for what it is but explains how the big businesses often deceived the people. This book gave me a huge appreciation for the ignored Chinese laborers who made the central Pacific possible. As well as the foresight of Lincoln and Grenville Dodge to begin the railroad to unite the east and west. The railroad made modern America possible. I'm not giving four stars because it is very repetitive. Each chapter is each company by year. Back and forth. The road itself was a repetitive process so I wish he would have focused more on some of the amazing stories than on the process of moving ties from Chicago to Utah. But I enjoyed the read and learned alot.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bailey Malbuff

    Although this book started a bit slow and had a lot of intricate economic information in the beginning, it was very interesting and I ended up learning a lot about this amazing feat. While I do like the author’s writing style for the most part, he does tend to randomly write very casual language that often does not fit with the rest of the book and can confuse the reader with the tone of the writing. I understand that the author is trying to make a book about history relatable, but I think that Although this book started a bit slow and had a lot of intricate economic information in the beginning, it was very interesting and I ended up learning a lot about this amazing feat. While I do like the author’s writing style for the most part, he does tend to randomly write very casual language that often does not fit with the rest of the book and can confuse the reader with the tone of the writing. I understand that the author is trying to make a book about history relatable, but I think that he could have done this without the breakdown of sentence structure and language. Overall, I am glad that I read this book, I just feel that there are parts that could have been improved upon.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dell Taylor

    My rating: 2.75 While the subject matter of this book is very interesting, the writing was not. Too much repetition and minutia. The parts I enjoyed the most were when he talked about the people who were involved in this incredible project. While, tedious, I did learn a lot and was glad I plowed through.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jan C

    I think I expected more from this book and Ambrose. Although - was this the book where it was questioned whether he lifted quotes? Not sure if it was this book or not. I read a couple of the reviews before picking this back up recently. I know, I always say that I never read them. And I usually don't. But since there was little/no suspense to the outcome of the book I thought, what could it hurt? The answer is: I don't know - because I looked. Anyway, I find I have to agree with some of them. It w I think I expected more from this book and Ambrose. Although - was this the book where it was questioned whether he lifted quotes? Not sure if it was this book or not. I read a couple of the reviews before picking this back up recently. I know, I always say that I never read them. And I usually don't. But since there was little/no suspense to the outcome of the book I thought, what could it hurt? The answer is: I don't know - because I looked. Anyway, I find I have to agree with some of them. It was a let down. And, he did seem to be letting the Big Four and the Ames brothers (not the singing group) and Durant off the hook. (view spoiler)[As soon as I read that they organized the Credit Mobilier to funnel funds through, I was reminded that it was one of the major scandals of the mid-late 19th century. He does touch on the exposé of the scandal but still lets them off the hook, because of what they accomplished. Of course, what they did was good but they could have paid people instead of holding on to the money and funneling it to their friends and congressmen to do their bidding. When I was in college I remember reading that some of the railroadmen were complaining about how the congressmen kept coming back and wanting more money. They shouldn't have started paying them in the first place. (hide spoiler)]

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    This is a very well researched book. The way in which the Transcontinental Railroad was built is an amazing feat for America in engineering as well as business and labor. The biggest flaw of this book (and why just the average rating) is that this book reads too much like a historical lecture. I know this is a book on the history but it was just too dry. I enjoy Ambrose's writing (author of Band of Brothers and multiple other books) I just thought the tone of the book was lacking. If you are rea This is a very well researched book. The way in which the Transcontinental Railroad was built is an amazing feat for America in engineering as well as business and labor. The biggest flaw of this book (and why just the average rating) is that this book reads too much like a historical lecture. I know this is a book on the history but it was just too dry. I enjoy Ambrose's writing (author of Band of Brothers and multiple other books) I just thought the tone of the book was lacking. If you are really into this particular part of history this book is probably a can't miss but if you are just looking for something interesting and engaging for this subject, I think this is a pass.

  16. 4 out of 5

    J.D.

    This was definitely a very interesting book about one of most important events of the nineteenth century--if not American history. I just feel it wasn't told as well as some of Ambrose's other books, like "Undaunted Courage" or "Band of Brothers." Here are a few of my complaints: 1) The narrative is VERY repetitive. It seems that Ambrose is constantly saying the same thing over and over again, especially with regards to how the U.P. was always strapped for cash, or how hard it was to dig tunnels This was definitely a very interesting book about one of most important events of the nineteenth century--if not American history. I just feel it wasn't told as well as some of Ambrose's other books, like "Undaunted Courage" or "Band of Brothers." Here are a few of my complaints: 1) The narrative is VERY repetitive. It seems that Ambrose is constantly saying the same thing over and over again, especially with regards to how the U.P. was always strapped for cash, or how hard it was to dig tunnels through mountains. 2) Pacing issues at the beginning made it hard to really get into the story. I realize financing of the transcontinental railroad is an important part of the story, but it is definitely the least interesting, narratively speaking. I would have LOVED a lot fewer pages on the Credit Mobilier, and a lot more on the Ten-Mile Day, hell-on-wheel towns, and the technology of the locomotives themselves (especially the early history of their use starting in Europe). Unfortunately the first half of the book is dedicated solely to conversations on bonds, subsidies, land grants, dividends, corporations, etc. 3) A lot of the railroad jargon isn't really explained. I remember having to look up "fishplate," "siding," "fireman," and others. I feel it is the author's job to explain these terms, not the reader to look them up. 4) There were many factual errors. Ambrose mentions the Utah state legislature, when it should be Utah territorial legislature. He refers to the the 1906 San Francisco fire, when he should've said 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I've been told there are actually many more. It makes you wonder why these weren't caught in editing. 5) Ambrose is WAY too much in love with the founders/owners of the UP and CP, almost to the point of being an apologist for these unscrupulous--though admittedly, visionary--men. Personally, I would've loved to have followed the journey of a particular Irish or Chinese laborer from their homeland to Promontory as a framing device for the narrative, instead of just reading of the financial cunning of greedy men, or the slave-driving supervisors constantly pushing laborers. Other than these few complaints, this was still a good book with some very fun parts. My personal favorites to read about were the insane task of building the summit tunnel through the Sierra Nevada, the stories of conflicts with the Indians, and especially how Jack Casement brutally cleaned up Julesburg (a Hell-on-Wheels town) of the gamblers who had overrun the place. Definitely a book worth picking up. FUN FACT: I actually purchased my copy of the book at the Golden Spike National Historic Monument in Promontory, Utah during the 150th anniversary celebration there last year.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard Brown

    As a railroad and history buff, I enjoyed reading this story of the building of the transcontinental railroad. I generally like Ambrose’s armchair conversational style and thought the story structure alternating between events on the Central Pacific and Union Pacific was appropriate. However, I feel he relied too much on quotations from other books and diaries and not enough personal narrative. This slowed down the pace of the book. The details regarding the shenanigans of the railway directors As a railroad and history buff, I enjoyed reading this story of the building of the transcontinental railroad. I generally like Ambrose’s armchair conversational style and thought the story structure alternating between events on the Central Pacific and Union Pacific was appropriate. However, I feel he relied too much on quotations from other books and diaries and not enough personal narrative. This slowed down the pace of the book. The details regarding the shenanigans of the railway directors and financiers and the recounting of the obstacles faced by the laborers were interesting and captured my imagination. However, I was disappointed in his heavy reliance on anecdotal information that has been attacked by a number of historians according to a recent Stanford University history project. In particular Edson Strobridge, a descendent of the CP construction manager, took him to task over his description of Chinese laborers being suspended from reed baskets over cliffs at Cape Horn. Although the workers had to build perpendicular rock cuts, the slope of the Cape was between 50 and 75 degrees and so they wouldn’t have been hanging from baskets. I also thought some of his conclusions were a bit over the top. Although the building of the transcontinental railroad was certainly an important event. Ambrose tried to say that it was the most significant accomplishment in the history of mankind, which is an overstatement to say the least. He published the book in 2000 and didn’t even mention the entry into the U.S. and Soviet space programs and astronauts landing on the moon when making comparisons. I think he made this exaggerated claim to reinforce his book title “Nothing Like it in the World” which was a quote he used from Silas Seymour, consulting engineer for the UP. Overall, this book doesn’t match other books I’ve read by Ambrose, such as Band of Brothers and Undaunted Courage, but it’s worth reading for fun by anyone interested in railroad history. Just know that everything written in it can’t be taken at face value.

  18. 5 out of 5

    J.A.

    The terminus of a lengthy train kick for me. I've read other books by Ambrose, but this one was a long slog. If his objective was to make the reader vicariously experience the arduous building of the transcontinental railroad then he succeeded. The interlocking stories of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads are well stocked with admirable heroes such as Theodore Judah (with whom I share a birthdate) and Grenville Dodge, as well as detestable villains like the Big Four and Doc Dur The terminus of a lengthy train kick for me. I've read other books by Ambrose, but this one was a long slog. If his objective was to make the reader vicariously experience the arduous building of the transcontinental railroad then he succeeded. The interlocking stories of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads are well stocked with admirable heroes such as Theodore Judah (with whom I share a birthdate) and Grenville Dodge, as well as detestable villains like the Big Four and Doc Durant. The surveyors, engineers, and thousands of workers who brought the railroad into being deserve more credit than history is able to afford them. As a feat of engineering it was without rival, and the symbolism of a united country so soon after the Civil War was paramount. There is fascinating history here, particularly for a lifelong resident of Utah such as myself, and Ambrose writes it well, if redundantly. Like riding the train cross country there are some spectacular vistas interspersed throughout the monotony.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Gerald

    I am fascinated with trains. They travel far and carry people and goods for countless other people. So it was with much interest that I started this book. I found it tedious at the start, as the abundance of technical details stumped my non-engineering mind. As I progressed, however, the narrative became better with the other nuances of the building of a railway that connects the East Coast and the West Coast of the USA. The seed of an idea; the organization of the Union Pacific and the Central P I am fascinated with trains. They travel far and carry people and goods for countless other people. So it was with much interest that I started this book. I found it tedious at the start, as the abundance of technical details stumped my non-engineering mind. As I progressed, however, the narrative became better with the other nuances of the building of a railway that connects the East Coast and the West Coast of the USA. The seed of an idea; the organization of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific companies; the Americans, the Irish, the Chinese, the Native Americans, and others who did the back-breaking work; the struggle, the shenanigans, the trials, and the eventual triumph of the endeavor; all of them are here.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rod Zemke

    3.75--a little below his usual work.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    Very detailed description of the building of the transcontinental and all the politics, economics and difficult terrain to complete the project.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Peter Corrigan

    The 'Golden Spike' of my 2020 reading year has been driven in a fitting way. This is a solid account of a seminal event in American history. Perhaps not up to level of David McCullough's great building project books (the Brooklyn Bridge and Panama Canal) but certainly a fine effort. There is a fairly boring amount of financial machinations which while perhaps necessary to the story, sort of lessened the interest level. The craziness of the financing and land deals led eventually to what Ambrose The 'Golden Spike' of my 2020 reading year has been driven in a fitting way. This is a solid account of a seminal event in American history. Perhaps not up to level of David McCullough's great building project books (the Brooklyn Bridge and Panama Canal) but certainly a fine effort. There is a fairly boring amount of financial machinations which while perhaps necessary to the story, sort of lessened the interest level. The craziness of the financing and land deals led eventually to what Ambrose called the greatest financial scandal of the 19th century, the Credit Mobilier scandal. But the story is fun and captivating even if the end is obviously not in doubt. This is the story of how it was done. The technical challenges of such a project using almost all manual labor (aside from the massive amount of explosives used) simply cannot be imagined today. Hundreds certainly died and many more were injured. Weather of course played a huge role with the winter snows of 1866-67 in the Sierra considered some of the heaviest on record. Ambrose mentions 44 winter storms that year. Unfortunately, reliable snow records seem to date from only 1879 in the Sierra so hard to know just how bad it was. The different roles of the many Chinese and Irish immigrants in the building of the railroad are emphasized and the key contributions of the Mormons in Utah are also highlighted. The maps are ok, but spread out a bit but there are quite few excellent photos. In all a fine book, perhaps would say 3.5 stars but feeling generous on this last day of a dismal year!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark Cain

    There are a handful of 21st century writers in history who are also great storytellers. Goodwin (Team of Rivals, etc.) is one of them; Ambrose is/was another. This carefully researched volume about one of America’s greatest undertakings is a tightly-written, captivating yarn full of fascinating characters. The Big Four of the Central Pacific, Doc Durant and Grenville Dodge of the Union Pacific, Brigham Young and a host of other larger-than-life historical figures give this narrative great vitali There are a handful of 21st century writers in history who are also great storytellers. Goodwin (Team of Rivals, etc.) is one of them; Ambrose is/was another. This carefully researched volume about one of America’s greatest undertakings is a tightly-written, captivating yarn full of fascinating characters. The Big Four of the Central Pacific, Doc Durant and Grenville Dodge of the Union Pacific, Brigham Young and a host of other larger-than-life historical figures give this narrative great vitality. Ambrose makes the race between America’s first two major corporations exciting. He describes the work and the challenges building the road in such detail that you think you can feel the weight of the rails in your hands, experience the winter storms in the Sierras or on the High Plains. The transcontinental railway accelerated the end of the Native American way of life. The RR was built with the labor of underpaid and under-appreciated workers, especially Chinese and Irish immigrants. bound east and west. Corruption in top management was rife. And yet, the railway was an astounding achievement that transported the USA into modern times. It’s significance cannot be overstated. I read far more fiction than non-fiction, but I love this book. Highly recommended.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It might be because I lived in Omaha for 13 years and have always thought railroads were fascinating. I've toured the UP Museum in Council Bluffs, IA, and also visited Promontory, UT, and avidly read all the placards there. I knew many of the big names involved in the construction of the transcontinental railroad and enjoyed learning about other, lesser known figures. The construction of the railroad was such an amazing feat and it really shaped our country in so I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It might be because I lived in Omaha for 13 years and have always thought railroads were fascinating. I've toured the UP Museum in Council Bluffs, IA, and also visited Promontory, UT, and avidly read all the placards there. I knew many of the big names involved in the construction of the transcontinental railroad and enjoyed learning about other, lesser known figures. The construction of the railroad was such an amazing feat and it really shaped our country in so many ways.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Card

    A great historical account of one of America’s greatest achievements, especially after the Civil War ravaged every facet of America. Wild ride from start to finish (somewhat of a slog in the middle). Quite the feat as the United States government pitted two companies against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes for shipped from the East throughPanama or around South America to the west or lugged across the country to the Plains. One of A great historical account of one of America’s greatest achievements, especially after the Civil War ravaged every facet of America. Wild ride from start to finish (somewhat of a slog in the middle). Quite the feat as the United States government pitted two companies against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes for shipped from the East throughPanama or around South America to the west or lugged across the country to the Plains. One of men’s greatest achievements. Old and young. American and immigrant. Rich and poor. Union and Confederate. Central Pacific and Union Pacific. Achievement and magnificence.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zack

    Other than one anecdote about Lincoln's history litigating on behalf of the railroad and its subsequent debt settlement, the book was an unengaging slog. It was off-putting to read about the ruthless businessmen and deceptive politicians through a lens of heroism amidst the mistreatment of labor, widespread racism, and violence against the Plains Indians. Other than one anecdote about Lincoln's history litigating on behalf of the railroad and its subsequent debt settlement, the book was an unengaging slog. It was off-putting to read about the ruthless businessmen and deceptive politicians through a lens of heroism amidst the mistreatment of labor, widespread racism, and violence against the Plains Indians.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Worthwhile read if only to understand our national history

  28. 5 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    What an enjoyable book. My biggest complaint is that I kept putting this book into context with the AMC series "Hell on Wheels." Couldn't think of Durant without picturing Colm Meaning and wondering when Bohanan would show up ;-) That being said, the book really did paint a picture of the period. There were sections wherein Ambrose quoted numerous telegrams, letters, or other correspondence to help paint a picture as to what occurred. Very enjoyable quick book. The reason why it gets 4 stars and What an enjoyable book. My biggest complaint is that I kept putting this book into context with the AMC series "Hell on Wheels." Couldn't think of Durant without picturing Colm Meaning and wondering when Bohanan would show up ;-) That being said, the book really did paint a picture of the period. There were sections wherein Ambrose quoted numerous telegrams, letters, or other correspondence to help paint a picture as to what occurred. Very enjoyable quick book. The reason why it gets 4 stars and not 5 is because it is almost too much of a story. It goes by very quickly without forcing you to think and contemplate what was going on or what was happening. As such, while I enjoyed the book, it is not one that is likely to stay with me over time.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    Wow, extremely well-written book about the men who built the Transcontinetal Railroad! I was very interested to see how the author would treat this subject and I must say, he really did his research and talked about everything, warts and all. I have always felt connected to this aspect of our history because I was always told that my Great-great grandfather, General James Alexander Williamson had something to do with the railroad. A biography says he was president of a transcontinental railroad Wow, extremely well-written book about the men who built the Transcontinetal Railroad! I was very interested to see how the author would treat this subject and I must say, he really did his research and talked about everything, warts and all. I have always felt connected to this aspect of our history because I was always told that my Great-great grandfather, General James Alexander Williamson had something to do with the railroad. A biography says he was president of a transcontinental railroad for 10 years, but it doesn't say which one. Anyway, he was also the first mayor of Corinne, Utah, but only for a few months. He never brought his family to Utah to live, even his daughter, Corinne, for whom the town was named. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I don't usually read non-fiction! So I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of our nation.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chauncey Rogers

    Pretty darn good. I certainly liked it, and learned a lot, but it wasn't my favorite history book I've ever picked up. Still would recommend it to anyone who likes history. It wasn't very long, and it was very informative. One thing that surprised me was the treatment of workers from China--I actually thought that, bad as it was in the book, that it would have been quite a bit worse. I'm not sure why I would have thought it would be even worse. They certainly weren't treated well or fairly, but t Pretty darn good. I certainly liked it, and learned a lot, but it wasn't my favorite history book I've ever picked up. Still would recommend it to anyone who likes history. It wasn't very long, and it was very informative. One thing that surprised me was the treatment of workers from China--I actually thought that, bad as it was in the book, that it would have been quite a bit worse. I'm not sure why I would have thought it would be even worse. They certainly weren't treated well or fairly, but they had recognized an opportunity and come willingly to work on the railroad. I really liked how much the workers from China were able to change people's perceptions towards the Chinese through their hard work and admirable comportment. It was also interesting to see the successful interaction between government and business that allowed the railroad to be built so quickly.

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