Nothing like it in the world : the men who built the transcontinental railroad, 1863-1869

by Stephen E. Ambrose

Paper Book, 2000

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Simon & Schuster, c2000.

Description

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. At its peak, the work force approached the size of Civil War armies, with as many as 15,000 workers on each line. Nothing like this great work had ever been seen in the world when the golden spike was driven in Promontory Peak, Utah, in 1869, as the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific tracks were joined. This is the story of the brave men, the famous and the unheralded, ordinary men doing the extraordinary -- who accomplished the spectacular feat that made the continent into a nation.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member DanStratton
I live in the West and grew up around the railroad and near Promontory Point, Utah, so I knew a little about the Trans-continental railroad. It wasn't until I read this book that I truly understood what an amazing feat it was to build it. Looking at how long it takes to build highways today with huge earthmoving machines, materials and the like, it makes the railroad more amazing. The most advanced piece of machinery used in building the railroad was a wagon and nitroglycerin. They tried using a steam drill on the Sierra Nevada tunnels, but the Chinese proved faster and more reliable with manual labor.

This story begins with the advent of rail travel in the United States and continues forward to the joining of the rails in Utah. It shifts back and forth between the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific rail lines, chronicling the race they created, including all the dirty money schemes, political maneuvering and side effects caused by laying a ribbon of steel across a continent. One I hadn't thought of before was the effect the rails had on buffalo. The herds would not cross the rails. So, if a herd was caught on the wrong side of the tracks, whole Indian tribes were cut off from the food supplies they had depended on for generations. Another interesting fact I hadn't known before was that Abraham Lincoln was the first politician to get behind and push for the railroad. As president, he set the wheels in motion, convinced that unifying the East and West of the United States would be the healing force needed after the Civil War.

The book is an easy read, well written and fast paced. Mr. Ambrose is a gifted writer. He refrains from judgments, merely pointing out the facts and showing how at the time those decisions made sense and how history has treated them. If how the West was tamed is of interest, this book goes a long way in explaining it well.
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LibraryThing member jaygheiser
Slogging through this book turned into a tedious process for me, picking it up and setting it back down over a period of several months in which I finished a number of much more stimulating texts. I'm highly interested in the subject, but I just didn't find Ambrose's prose to be very compelling.
LibraryThing member mtilleman07
It's a Stephen Ambrose book. About the transcontinental railroad. Pluses: reads like a thriller. Minuses: informs vaguely like a thriller. I've always felt like Ambrose will take a good story over an informative story. You might like that more than I do, but I felt short-changed on the history front. Still, this is an under-appreciated part of American history, and the book works admirably as an introduction.… (more)
LibraryThing member cyclops1771
Coverage of the making of the transcontinental railroad from start to finish, including the Credit Mobilier scandal. Reviews the decisions made, and the hardships faced by those who built it, from the Irish in the east, to the Chinese in the west, and the Mormons in the middle.
LibraryThing member J.v.d.A.
Disappointing telling of a truly incredible feat of engineering. Ambrose's history is a largely lifeless relation of the facts, devoid of any real character or atmosphere, though the photographs are nice. The book is readable and does give you an idea of just how incredible a task the building of this rail line was but it could have been so much better.… (more)
LibraryThing member bfertig
This is a solid, well-researched history of the transcontinental railroad, from conception to engineering, building, and completion. Like other Ambrose works, it is replete with interesting tidbits and side-stories. For instance, he includes great info about the engineer who conceived the idea and convinced others it was possible and which route would work best. Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln and Brigham Young were both strong supporters of the railroad for various reasons.

The story of this engineering feat revolves around many of the same demands and cynical behavior we are familiar with in America today: get it done quick, figure out how to pay for it later, and fix it once its built. The railroad helps, in some ways to fulfill the melting pot mythology of America, with Irish, Chinese, and Mormons sacrificing uncountable hours and lives to the service of a great engineering and economic feat.

Nevertheless, like a very long train ride, this story was at times a bit monotonous. Another day another mile can only fill so many pages. I'm glad I read it, but none of the main players really stood out to me, it was difficult to keep the two companies (Union Pacific and Central Pacific) separate in my mind, and I'm not sure how much I will retain beyond what I already knew. Solid, but if you've got other things to read, go for those first.
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LibraryThing member JVioland
Wonderful. Shows the guts and glory of those who build the railroad that brought the country together.
LibraryThing member jmcilree
Tedious, disjointed and boring. Could have been a great story. Also an irritating (because he clearly doesn't under stand) explanation of financing of railroads. Could have focused on a lot of the aspects of building the road, but chose the most boring aspect-the actual construction. Like reading an account of carpenters who built your house.… (more)
LibraryThing member wenestvedt
The story of rich, rich men who played finncial tricks and the common laborers who executed their grand dreams. A departure from the style of first-person interviews that typified Ambrose's WWII books.
LibraryThing member vibrantminds
A look into how the transcontinental railroad was made. From the determination of men who made it their life goal, to amazing engineering skills, and hard work of dedicated Chinese and Irish immigrants, many of which lost their lives. The race of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific to reach Promintory Point in Utah and connect the East to the West. An epic journey that changed the entire country and brought about an amazing feat of technology that would be hard to surpass.… (more)
LibraryThing member MrsLee
The idea of this book was interesting for me, in that the author started his research with a preconceived idea of the railroad barons, but through his studies, came to another conclusion or understanding of them. His beginning ideas were not necessarily wrong, but they were incomplete.

Other than that, this was the wrong book for me to read at this point of my life. Far too many political and economic details. It bogged me down to the point that I didn't want to pick it up. This is not saying the book was bad, it would be ideal for some, and I'm sure others could skim them and dig into the history with satisfaction. However, because I have already read much about the history of the building of the railroads, I did not want to force myself to finish this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member santhony
Fascinating history of the planning and building of the trancontinental railroad. This excellent history focuses on both termini of the railroad and the race to lay the most track before ultimately joining in Promontory, Utah. Politics, finance, fraud and intrigue permeate this book by Stephen Ambrose, a master history writer.… (more)
LibraryThing member DramMan
Review of “Nothing like it in the world” by Stephen E Ambrose (The men who built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869)
By any measure, the building of the Transcontinental Railroad was a remarkable achievement, requiring capital, labour and material in stupendous quantities. This masterful account by Stephen Ambrose covers it all, from the initial support of President Lincoln, while the Civil War was still raging, to the larger than life entrepreneurs who set up the Central Pacific and Union Pacific companies, to the engineers and myriad labourers, many of them Chinese or Irish who carried out the back-breaking, relentless labour of grading, filling cutting and blasting the line of the railroad.
Early on, the author makes the point that a project on this scale had never been attempted before and almost certainly could not have succeeded without the army officers whose experience in marshalling large bodies of men, both Union and Confederate, was crucial, and the support of the Federal government, with issue of bonds and grants of land adjoining the way.
The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad united the east and west coasts of the USA for the first time, reducing the travel time from months to days and unlocking unimagined economic benefits.
This book recounts a remarkable chapter in American history, in vivid detail, and it is a rollicking good read.
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LibraryThing member FKarr
Well-researched (if somewhat superficial, and jingoistic) description of the building of the transcontinental railroad (cf. Incredible Victory)
LibraryThing member lgaikwad
An easy-read history book that filled in much I did not know. Ambrose repeats himself, but repetition can be a teacher...and much was new to me. Ambrose said it was a book about "how," rather than "why" and I would agree. I wish there was more included from the Chinese and Irish perspective. Glad I read it.
LibraryThing member morryb
This is an introductory history to the building of the transcontinental Railroad. The book gives an overview of the years that the building took place and provides a bibliography if the reader decides they want to go into deeper detail. The book is entertaining as well as informative and is hard to put down once you get started. Ambrose describes the planning that went into the railroad, the work itself, the financing and the people involved. This was a great engineering feat that occurred in American history. There are some blemishes that occurred, and Ambrose describes these events as they happened and allows the reader to make their own assessment on the atrocities that occurred. I highly recommend this book. As an additional note. Charles Francis Adams Jr. grandson of John Quincy Adams, was highly critical of the project, but eventually became president of the Union Pacific Railroad. This is another major event in American History where one of tghe Adams family participated.… (more)
LibraryThing member awilson
About building the transcontinental railroad, but excellent book about American society in general around the time of the Civil War.

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