Nothing Like It In The World: The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869

Ambrose, Stephen E.

Published by Simon & Schuster Audio, 2000
ISBN 10: 0743506464 / ISBN 13: 9780743506465
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In this account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage, Stephen E. Ambrose offers an historical successor to his universally acclaimed Undaunted Courage.

Nothing Like It in the World is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad. In Ambrose's hands, this enterprise 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. At its peak, the work force approached the size of Civil War armies, with as many as 15,000 workers on each line. The surveyors, the men who picked the route, living off buffalo, deer, and antelope.

In building a railroad, there is only one decisive spot -- the end of the track. Nothing like this great work had ever been seen in the world when the last spike, a golden one, was driven in Promontory Peak, 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.

Review: Abraham Lincoln, who had worked as a riverboat pilot before turning to politics, knew a thing or two about the problems of transporting goods and people from place to place. He was also convinced that the United States would flourish only if its far-flung regions were linked, replacing sectional loyalties with an overarching sense of national destiny.

Building a transcontinental railroad, writes the prolific historian Stephen Ambrose, was second only to the abolition of slavery on Lincoln's presidential agenda. Through an ambitious program of land grants and low-interest government loans, he encouraged entrepreneurs such as California's "Big Four"--Charles Crocker, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Leland Stanford--to take on the task of stringing steel rails from ocean to ocean. The real work of doing so, of course, was on the shoulders of immigrant men and women, mostly Chinese and Irish. These often-overlooked actors and what a contemporary called their "dreadful vitality" figure prominently in Ambrose's narrative, alongside the great financiers and surveyors who populate the standard textbooks.

In the end, Ambrose writes, Lincoln's dream transformed the nation, marking "the first great triumph over time and space" and inaugurating what has come to be known as the American Century. David Haward Bain's Empire Express, which covers the same ground, is more substantial, but Ambrose provides an eminently readable study of a complex episode in American history. --Gregory McNamee

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Title: Nothing Like It In The World: The Men Who ...
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 2000
Book Condition: very good

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