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Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad

Bain, David Haward

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ISBN 10: 067080889X / ISBN 13: 9780670808892
Published by Viking Press, New York, 1999
Condition: Very Good Hardcover
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About this Item

797 pages, b&w photos. SIGNED BY AUTHOR on title page. Light edgewear to upper edge of dust jacket, else a clean, tight copy. Record # 855190. Bookseller Inventory # 855190

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Empire Express: Building the First ...

Publisher: Viking Press, New York

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Very Good

Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


". . . Work on as though Heaven were before you and Hell behind you." (From a letter written by Central Pacific's Collis P. Huntington to his partner, Leland Stanford, dated June 15, 1868 .)

It was the dawn of the Gilded Age; it welded the new western United States to the East with twin bands of iron; it opened a path for settlement and exploitation, utterly transforming the West as it sealed the doom of the Plains Indian culture; it was the culmination of the backbreaking work of more than twenty-five thousand laborers; it was, without a doubt, the century's second most transformative chain of events after the Civil War. Empire Express is the story of that gigantic enterprise to build a railroad from the Missouri to the Pacific, which culminated in the driving of the Golden Spike in the Utah desert in 1869 but ended in pervasive national scandals just four years later. It is also about the building of the enterprise known as the United States of America.

Spanning three dramatic decades, during which America effectively doubled in size, dreamed of glories upon the world's stage, fought three wars, and began to discover itself, Empire Express reads like a novel--colorful, lively, extremely dramatic--a page-turner, told from the points of view of participants. It draws on original sources as no previous chronicle has done--thousands of pages of handwritten letters, diaries, telegrams, and an array of biographical and historical works. Empire Express is also the first book to treat the building of the railroad in context, intrinsically connected to larger or distant events, part of a much larger, national picture viewed through a clear, discerning wide-angle lens.

As with the best of David McCullough's histories of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal, Shelby Foote's The Civil War and Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, Empire Express offers a compelling, personality-filled story of one of America's most triumphant undertakings--history reading at its best.


On the morning of May 10, 1869, a gang of Irish immigrants met a party of Chinese laborers on a windy bluff northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. Tired to the bone, the two groups laid down the last of countless wooden ties, bought at the exorbitant cost of six dollars apiece, and thus joined two great rail lines, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, to form a single transcontinental route. That rail line made possible the mass settlement of the West, and, as those who conceived it well knew, it changed the course of American history.

David Haward Bain's superb narrative of westward rail history, weighing in at 800 pages, ends not with this great achievement but with the political and financial scandal that would almost overshadow it. Along the way Bain looks closely at the entrepreneurial men who foresaw the possibilities of a vast nation joined by a steel ribbon--most memorably the hit-and-miss businessman Asa Whitney, who proposed to Congress an ingenious scheme to fund the building of the railroad through commercializing the right of way. Some of the men who came after Whitney, such as Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington, and Leland Stanford, amassed great fortunes in realizing this dream. Others died penniless and nearly forgotten in the wake of political maneuverings and bad deals. Bain's vigorous, well-written narrative does much to restore those overlooked actors to history. --Gregory McNamee

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