Railroaded : the transcontinentals and the making of modern America

by Richard White

Hardcover, 2011


Checked out
Due May 3, 2019


New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2011.


A new, incisive history of the transcontinental railroads and how they transformed America in the decades after the Civil War.

User reviews

LibraryThing member gregdehler
Long ago I read an essay by Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966) that argued that among the transcontinental railroads, only the Great Northern was a success because it did not accept any subsidies from the Federal government. The other railroads were corrupt, poorly managed boondoggles that survived only because the government propped them up. Rand was making a libertarian case against state interference in business. White likewise argues that the railroads were nothing more than a fraudulent scheme, although he comes at it from the left with a strong post-2008 perspective. Playing with house money and supported by public bailouts, White argues that the transcontinental railroad system was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme to route money from the public treasury into the pockets of select investors. And they were select investors who conned others (including their former pals) when it suited them. The amoral, apolitical railroads backed whatever best served the financial interests of their investors. As where previous generations of historians saw the completion of the transcontinental railroad as a triumph of American progress, White sees a complicated, bloated, unnecessary, and unsustainable system that sapped the treasury for decades. It was, in short, a national tragedy in his telling.… (more)
LibraryThing member JRWinkler
Disjointed and unimpressive, with an obvious ax to grind. Disappointing, frankly, compared with his other works.
LibraryThing member SalemAthenaeum
A new, incisive history of the transcontinental railroads and how they transformed America in the decades after the Civil War.
The transcontinental railroads of the late nineteenth century were the first corporate behemoths. Their attempts to generate profits from proliferating debt sparked devastating panics in the U.S. economy. Their dependence on public largess drew them into the corridors of power, initiating new forms of corruption. Their operations rearranged space and time, and remade the landscape of the West. As wheel and rail, car and coal, they opened new worlds of work and ways of life. Their discriminatory rates sparked broad opposition and a new antimonopoly politics.
With characteristic originality, range, and authority, Richard White shows the transcontinentals to be pivotal actors in the making of modern America. But the triumphal myths of the golden spike, robber barons larger than life, and an innovative capitalism all die here. Instead we have a new vision of the Gilded Age, often darkly funny, that shows history to be rooted in failure as well as success. 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations.
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LibraryThing member charlie68
An in-depth look at the development of transcontinental railroad in North America and more specifically the United States. Mr. White enlivens the subject with humorous prose and personal stories from people on the ground. A good look at this era of North American history.
LibraryThing member cstebbins
The transcontinental railroads as investment scams. Full of interesting facts and sidelights.



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