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Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869
Stock image - cover art may vary
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0684846098
ISBN-13: 9780684846095
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: August, 2000
Length: 432 Pages
Weight: 1.6 pounds
Dimensions: 9.4 X 6.2 X 1.4 inches
Language: English
   
   

Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869

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Abraham Lincoln, who had worked as a riverboat pilot before turning to politics, knew a thing or two about the problems of transporting goods and people from place to place. He was also convinced that the United States would flourish only if its far-flung regions were linked, replacing sectional loyalties with an overarching ...
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Customer Reviews

  The Wonders of Working on the Railroad

Is there a more skillful writer of American narrative history practicing today than Stephen Ambrose. Not in my opinion. In this exceptionally fine book, Ambrose tells the story of the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century: the construction of the transcontinental railroad, which connected Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California. The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad (only a couple of female characters figure prominently in Ambrose's story, although many others played important roles behind the scenes), included some of the most famous names in the history of 19th-century politics, business, finance, and industry, as well as tens of thousands of virtually-anonymous workers who provided millions of man-hours of sweat equity in this extraordinary project. This book is especially compelling because, more than anything else, it is a great human drama and some of its passages are as poignant as How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellyn's great tale of Welsh coal miners. However, Ambrose is painting on a much larger canvas.

We all know how the story will end - the Union Pacific and Central Pacific met at Promontory Summit north of the Great Salt Lake in Utah on May 10, 1869 - but Ambrose's narrative is given an urgency by his effective use of newspaper and magazine accounts of the events which transpired in the 1860s. Ambrose acknowledges that all of his research assistants were members of his family, and they are to be commended. The technical details about the vast quantities of materials purchased and the travails involved in transporting them to where they were needed are fascinating. In addition, this book's many outstanding features includes its collection of photographs. Anyone familiar with Civil War-era photography will recognize the facial types, but I was amazed by photographs depicting engineering and construction marvels: bridges, tunnels, snow sheds, trestles cuts, and a myriad of others. The ability of the surveyors, engineers, construction foremen, and workers to overcome every type of natural obstacle during the course of construction was simply remarkable, and Ambrose's description of building the Central Pacific through the Sierra Nevada mountains is thrilling. Ambrose clearly was impressed by the enormity of the railroad builders' accomplishments, but he occasionally offers some wry humor. The Hell-on-Wheels towns which sprung up around the railroads' tracks were rough places then but sources of some amusement now. And Ambrose makes much of the delightful irony that Leland Stanford was elected governor of California in 1861 in part because he aggressively slandered Chinese immigrants as the "dregs of Asia" and "that degraded race," but, if it had not been for the efforts of thousands of Chinese laborers, the Central Pacific portion of the railroad might never have been finished. (Equivalent numbers of Irish workers performed most of the construction on the Union Pacific line from the east). According to Ambrose, many of the Chinese were less than five feet tall and weighed no more than 120 lbs., but they proved to be ideal workers: industrious, intelligent, and generally uncomplaining. When a construction foreman declares "I will not boss Chinese!", one of the Central Pacific's directors replies: "They built the Great Wall of China, didn't they?" The men who conceived, financed, designed, and built the railroad are Ambrose's real story, but this book is made additionally enjoyable by appearances, sometimes extended, sometimes cameo, by a number of the most famous men of the age, including Presidents, Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant, Brigham Young, General William T. Sherman, and Horace Greeley. There are a few instances where this book could have used more careful editing. For instance, Charles Francis Adams is first identified, incorrectly, as the "grandson of two presidents" and only later, correctly, as "grandson and great-grandson of U.S. presidents." And we probably only needed to read once that the wife of the Central Pacific construction boss accompanied her husband throughout the project, living in a passenger car from which she hung a caged canary around her entrance. But I consider these to be very minor defects.

With the possible exception of the 1780s and the 1940s, no decade in American history was more exciting than the 1860s. It included a successful resolution of the greatest crisis in American history, the Civil War, and the extension of the transportation infrastructure from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Railroad construction was the largest industry of its time, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (and the telegraph line built alongside it) was an indispensable precursor to American greatness. By 1900, in large part as a result of its extensive system of internal transportation, the United States was the strongest economic power in the world.

Less than a week after it was released, Stephen Ambrose's Nothing Like It in the World is already well on its way to becoming a national bestseller, and its success could not be more richly well deserved. I do not remember the last time I enjoyed a book so much.

 
  Transcontinental Railroad: Thru Different Eyes...

In his new book, "Nothing Like It in The World: The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69", Stephen E. Ambrose is following the same process he has followed in his World War II books and his "Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West": he tries to bring the reader to see things from many angles: from the top ranks (Financiers, politicians, engineers) to the individual workers. He shows the life of the Chinese workers (West side) and Irish and multinational workers (East Side); describes the life of ordinary people during the construction; shows the danger of using black powder; shows the problems with the Native American populations; analyzes the presence of some 500 African Americans after the Civil War (former Slaves from the South), with at the same time the presence of former Union and Confederate veterans IN THEIR UNIFORMS on the workplace!

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!

 
  Transcontinental Railroad: Different View Points

In his new book, "Nothing Like It in The World: The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69", Stephen E. Ambrose is following the same process he has followed in his World War II books and his "Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West": he tries to bring the reader to see things from many angles: from the top ranks (Financiers, politicians, engineers) to the individual workers. He shows the life of the Chinese workers (West side) and Irish and multinational workers (East Side); describes the life of ordinary people during the construction; shows the danger of using black powder; shows the problems with the Native American populations; analyzes the presence of some 500 African Americans after the Civil War (former Slaves from the South), with at the same time the presence of former Union and Confederate veterans IN THEIR UNIFORMS on the workplace!

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!

 
  Again, Ambrose shows his appreciation of the heroic

Ambrose is a historian who often glorifies the heroes of American history and to him, the hero is often the common person. An example of this would be his book Citizen Soldiers. Ambrose has generally written about 20th century US history but a departure was Undaunted Courage, about the Lewis and Clark exploration. Now, again Ambrose departs from the 20th century to produce an engaing work about the completion of the transcontinental railroad. An example of how he plays up the heroic efforts of common people is his discussion of the contribution of Chinese laborers. Dangerous, difficult work, that other laborers would not do were willingly performed by Chinese. They needed little or no supervision in inventing ways to get difficult tasks done in the daunting task of crossig the Sierra Nevadas. Their inventiveness defied the engineers who believed that certain tasks could not be done. Many laborers would take on difficult jobs in crossing the Sierra Nevadas, only to quit after earning a few bucks, moving on to Nevada to try their fortunes in silver mining. However, not only were the Chinese inventive, they stuck to their job despite ill treatment. Of course, they would have been attacked by white prospectors if they had ventured into Nevada to seek their own fortunes. Completing the railroad was a Hurculean task for all involved. The planners and overseers of the project were great heroes for believing it could be done and implementing their beliefs. The laborers, of all ethnic groups, were heroes for taking on a dangerous and rigorous task, and completing it magnificently. For the umpteenth time, Ambrose shows us what's good and insirational about American history.
 
  A Fascinating Read

Ambrose has taken yet another history lesson and made it readable. In his account of one of the most ambitious engineering projects in American history, Ambrose takes us through the fascinating tale of the building of the transcontinental railroad and introduces us to the men who made it happen. The politicians, investors, engineers as well as the Chinese and Irish immigrants and defeated Confederate Soilers who labored for the project all come together in Ambrose's skillful hands as he introduces us to the ordinary and common men who worked together to make their dream come true. The narrative flows freely as the portrait of the key players takes us from the beginnings of a vision to the completed project. A very satisfying read!