Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad by David Haward Bain


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The building of the transcontinental railroad seems to be one of those historical events that get glossed over, as if establishing a railway of that magnitude was as simple and hum-drum as setting up a model train set around a Christmas tree.

Bain does a good job in emphasizing just how important the railroad was to the country, and the challenges that were faced in bringing it to fruition; horrible weather, merciless terrain, occasional attacks from Native Americans, and flagrant corruption on the part of the Union Pacific and (shockingly) the government. In addition, we are introduced to a wide swath of people who contributed to the construction: Irish and Chinese immigrants, Mormons and Native Americans, politicians and soldiers; millionaires and bummers.

The book is rather lengthy (700+ pages) and not for those with short attention spans. However, for fans of David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin, this makes for a suitable and informative read.

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