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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
ISBN: 9780743210836
List price: $14.99
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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
A look into how the transcontinental railroad was made. From the determination of men, to the amazing engineering skills, and the 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 Promontory Point in Utah and connect the East to the West. An epic journey that changed the entire countrymore
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.more
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
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Reviews

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
A look into how the transcontinental railroad was made. From the determination of men, to the amazing engineering skills, and the 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 Promontory Point in Utah and connect the East to the West. An epic journey that changed the entire countrymore
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.more
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
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
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.more
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