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In this account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage, Stephen E. Ambrose offers a historical successor to his universally acclaimed Undaunted Courage, which recounted the explorations of the West by Lewis and Clark.
Nothing Like It in the World 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 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 Union had won the Civil War and slavery had been abolished, but Abraham Lincoln, who was an early and constant champion of railroads, would not live to see the great achievement. In Ambrose's hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes to life.
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. Locomo-tives, 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. This was the last great building project to be done mostly by hand: excavating dirt, cutting through ridges, filling gorges, blasting tunnels through mountains.
At its peak, the workforce -- primarily Chinese on the Central Pacific, Irish on the Union Pacific -- approached the size of Civil War armies, with as many as fifteen thousand workers on each line. The Union Pacific was led by Thomas "Doc" Durant, Oakes Ames, and Oliver Ames, with Grenville Dodge -- America's greatest railroad builder -- as chief engineer. The Central Pacific was led by California's "Big Four": Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. The surveyors, the men who picked the route, were latter-day Lewis and Clark types who led the way through the wilderness, living off buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope.
In building a railroad, there is only one decisive spot -- the end of the track. Nothing like this great work had been seen in the world when the last spike, a golden one, was driven in at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869, as the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific tracks were joined.
Ambrose writes with power and eloquence about 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.

Topics: Trains, American History, Adventurous, Wilderness, Economy, Politics, Gilded Age, American West, and United States of America

Published: Simon & Schuster on Aug 29, 2000
ISBN: 9780743210836
List price: $14.99
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This book drew me right in and held until the very last. I would recommend this to friends....even the ones who aren't history buffs.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ambrose did a fine job on this. I recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the west, or the history of rail transportation. I especially enjoyed the detail he provides in the degree to which the builders took extreme advantage of the government as they built the railroad (such as contracting with themselves to construct it, then paying themselves exorbitant amounts to do so) -- almost like a smaller version of the way the present administration has "privatized" so many public functions.read more
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Reviews

This book drew me right in and held until the very last. I would recommend this to friends....even the ones who aren't history buffs.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ambrose did a fine job on this. I recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the west, or the history of rail transportation. I especially enjoyed the detail he provides in the degree to which the builders took extreme advantage of the government as they built the railroad (such as contracting with themselves to construct it, then paying themselves exorbitant amounts to do so) -- almost like a smaller version of the way the present administration has "privatized" so many public functions.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
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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.
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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.
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