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


After the Civil War, the building of the transcontinental railroad was the nineteenth century's most transformative event. Beginning in 1842 with a visionary's dream to span the continent with twin bands of iron, Empire Express captures three dramatic decades in which the United States effectively doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national ideAfter the Civil War, the building of the transcontinental railroad was the nineteenth century's most transformative event. Beginning in 1842 with a visionary's dream to span the continent with twin bands of iron, Empire Express captures three dramatic decades in which the United States effectively doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national identity. From self--made entrepreneurs such as the Union Pacific's Thomas Durant and era--defining figures such as President Lincoln to the thousands of laborers whose backbreaking work made the railroad possible, this extraordinary narrative summons an astonishing array of voices to give new dimension not only to this epic endeavor but also to the culture, political struggles, and social conflicts of an unforgettable period in American history....

Title : Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780140084993
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 848 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad Reviews

  • Florence
    2019-06-02 20:11

    The story of the construction of America's transcontinental railroad is also a tale of corruption, political intrigue, Civil War, appropriation of native lands, slaughter of animals, immigration, and the rise of a powerful nation. It was a monumental feat of engineering for its time. The Union Pacific began laying track in Omaha, Nebraska. The Central Pacific began in Sacramento, California and soon began tunneling through the snow bound peaks of Sierra Nevada. In 1869, after six years of construction, the two railroads met near the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The nation celebrated from coast to coast. Let's not forget that this engineering achievement led to the loss of life for laborers and native Americans who were deprived of their hunting grounds, needed for survival. Some so-called military heroes of the Civil War went on to commit genocidal acts against not just warriors, but native women and children. The mighty railroad was a symbol of America's glory and it's shame. It's a complex story.

  • Aaron Million
    2019-06-02 17:05

    A monumental history of a massive undertaking: the joining together of the East and West coasts of the United States via rail. Bain is an excellent storyteller and a gifted writer, not to mention a prolific researcher. In the latter compartment, he spent a decade researching and then putting into words this incredible tale. The research is borne out by the detailed Notes section. This is one of those books where - at the end of each chapter - I would turn to the Notes to read through them for any additional context or stories that Bain captured. So many famous figures are involved in the making of the competing railroad lines: the Union Pacific (starting westward from Omaha) and the Central Pacific (starting eastward from Sacramento). Abraham Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, James G. Blaine, Brigham Young and Leland Stanford are the most well-known. But, countless other people were involved in this endeavor - sadly many of them for their own personal gains. Bain spends ample time on all of the main players, especially the directors of both companies. He provides biographical information and illuminating character sketches on each of them, but never does this slow down his narrative. Whenever possible, he allows them to speak for themselves by quoting mounds of letters and telegraphs that they all sent out. Specifically noteworthy was the correspondence - on the Central Pacific side - between Collis Huntington and his partners Edwin Crocker and Mark Hopkins (all three were directors of the railroad, along with Charley Crocker and Stanford). On the Union Pacific side, communications between Oliver Ames (nominally the President of the Board) and General Grenville Dodge (Chief Engineer and former Civil War hero) was particularly enlightening. Bain is scrupulously fair and plays it neutral - hardly anyone comes in for favorable treatment here. And that is because hardly anyone deserves it. Almost every single person appearing in this book - aside from Lincoln, Johnson, and Dodge's predecessor Peter Dey - were motivated by one thing: MONEY. And lots of it. Each person who was on the Board of Directors for either of these railroads (in particular the consummate schemer and backstabber Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific), each person who bought (or was given) stock - and this includes a long list of Congressmen (including future President James A. Garfield), each person who worked on the railroad, successive Secretaries of the Interior, Army officers, and naturally the laborers, all wanted to get rich, either directly by profits from the railroads, or indirectly by land made valuable due to the proximity to the railroads. This is a tale of greed as much as it is anything else, although the creation of the railroad is truly incredible when one stops to consider everything that it took in terms of planning, financing, manpower, political clout, and materiel that was needed to make it a successful venture. Continually alternating back and forth between both railroads, Bain keeps the story interesting by focusing on the personalities involved. He also leaves room to discuss the issues concerning American Indians during this time period. He chronicles the bloody battles on the Plains, the senseless violence and murder committed by both sides, and the gradual loss of the Indians' land by the U.S. Army. At a few points, Bain describes suffering and individual death in detail - enough to make one pause to shudder at the barbarism employed by both sides. But he does not dwell excessively on this subject. Concurrently, this book would not be complete without a review of labor standards during this period. The Central Pacific, being based on the West coast, at first reluctantly - and then willingly - recruited Chinese laborers. The typical white racial superiority views of the time entered here, with Charley Crocker and his foreman James Strobridge almost despairing at first of hiring anyone aside from Strobridge's Irish work-gangs. Only after the Chinese have proved themselves to be far superior and more industrious workers - largely immune to the temptations of whiskey and women that so plagued the Irishmen - do they then actively try to hire more. But they ruled all of the workers with an iron fist, refusing to capitulate on most demands for increased wages, and exposing these men to atrocious working conditions. To give an example of how fluidly and easily Bain writes, here are the opening lines from Chapter 29, on page 506: "Four summers before, Samuel Benedict Reed had found the outdoor life in the deep, shadowy Weber and Echo gorges to be magnificent. He drank in the scenery, feasted on the abundance of mountain trout and wild berries, in the cool nights slept on buffalo and beaver robes and felt, upon awakening and emerging from his tent for the next day's survey work, remarkably collected and clear-headed. Now, in June and July 1868, nothing was clear; he was deep in a canyon - a canyon of confusion, only partially of his own making." There were a few loose ends that I would have liked to have seen tied up. One is the relationship between Dey and Dodge. Bain quotes many letters that Dey sends to Dodge, but never really describes the return correspondence emanating from Dodge. Another is that, late in the book when Congress is investigating charges of corruption and bribery among its own members, he is oddly silent about Grant's thoughts (Grant was President and had just been re-elected). Also, while there were several full-page maps, I would have liked to have seen a few more added as Bain was describing certain areas where the railroad was being built. But this is a great book, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in U.S. History during the Civil War/beginning of the Gilded Age, transportation or railroad history, or just interested in reading a great story. Grade: A

  • Greg Brozeit
    2019-06-01 15:05

    A comprehensive, intricate account about an integral episode of American history. The length and detail of the book is overwhelming but this is understandable. Bain incorporates history of finance, engineering, immigration, labor, politics and public policy to make the significance of the building of the transcontinental railway relevant today. And it brought to life the Crédit Mobilier scandal, something my high school history teacher succeeded in making as boring and irrelevant as possible.And, like most good historical works, Bain provides a number of less important, albeit interesting, anecdotes that entertain as well as inform. For example, I was unaware of how much active interest Abraham Lincoln took in the project. His recounting of the Lincoln funeral train provides a wonderful summary about the fractured nature of early rail travel in the United States. Lincoln's casket had to be constantly transferred from train to train because the gauge of the rails and distance between them was not standardized. Other interesting tidbits are the cameo by Henry Morton Stanley, of African exploration fame, and how the California wine industry started (hint: railroads made it happen).A good read for anyone interested in 19th century American history.

  • Gene Morris
    2019-05-26 19:54

    This is a fascinating book about the construction of the first railroad across the country, one of the first great accomplishments of the Gilded Age. The book book itself is amazingly well-referenced, with extensive end notes (although I hate end notes). Like most Americans of a certain age, I knew the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads linked up Utah in 1869. I knew there were Irish laborers in the East and Chinese ones in the West and that was about it. I dimly recalled something called the Credit Mobilier scandal, but I didn't connect it with the railroads. Now I do.I'll be perfectly honest, this book isn't for everyone. It's too dense and there are too many persons to follow for the casual reader to keep up. I was willing to make the multi-week commitment to plowing my way through this nearly 1000 page long book that covers about 7 years of history. I was willing to do this because I'm looking to fill a gap in my own knowledge of American history. You don't have to, unless you want to. If you're willing to put in the time and the effort to read and understand this book, you will be rewarded.

  • Shannon Grant
    2019-05-27 22:05

    This book entertained me for a really, really long time.

  • Joseph
    2019-06-04 19:58

    Informative, comprehensive, and well-told -- that's all I ask for when I read a book about any event in history. But my favorite thing is when I unexpectedly come away with so much more, like with David Haward Bain's book about the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads and the strong-willed men behind them. The glory of ingenuity, a construction that would benefit the nation and commerce worldwide, and the death of that when greed and unchecked ego supersede ambition, all explored in just a couple decades of our nation's past. I now have a different angle on what drives the American spirit. We all know that wealth is the mother of all legacy, and beneath that, the fraternity of compromise and corruption lay the tracks for progress to roll through (if you will accept my cool railroad metaphor). But when you read a book like this, it evokes a precise image and brings new life to indictments (greed, excess, corruption) that become, frankly, trite when unexplored. Bain's "Empire Express" only needs to be read once so you'll never forget that, historically, any grand public or private endeavor is largely unsafe from the influence of the most reckless men depicted here.Separately, I want to add that I sought this material out because I was looking for the tales of the many workers who actually built the railroad mile by mile. I did not find those tales in this book, but it was a fascinating perspective nonetheless. I'm sure those stories are out there, and I will surely seek them out to supplement what I've already read here, but if that's what you're seeking you may want to look elsewhere.

  • Jerry
    2019-06-04 22:18

    "I'm getting more stories for my role as a docent at the Truckee Railroad museum. Bain's scholarship on this book is excellent. He is very good on the politics and personalities of the people involved. This is a much better explanation of the building of the transcontinental railroad than Ambrose's "Nothing like it in the World." "

  • Frank Stein
    2019-06-04 17:12

    It's just an amazing story, encompassing every imaginable aspect of American history. There are the battles in the halls of Congress to get favorable legislation passed, and the unbelievably generous bribes given to ensure it. There are the debates in the Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant administrations about how to inspect the new railroad lines and how to assist them. There is the business side too, dealing with the complicated bond market to finance the road and the iron and timber industries that were required to supply it. There is the military side, involving the Civil War and endless attacks and parleys with the Indians who marveled at and feared the new machine that was crossing the country.Perhaps the greatest take-away here is the unimaginable riches gained by a few scheming principals (Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Thomas Durant, Oakes Ames, etc.) due to ill-conceived government handouts contained in the first (1862) and subsequent Pacific Railroad bills. The vast wealth this legislation made available through cheap bonds and land grants almost ensured that the road would be subject to every kind of political skulduggery, and eventually ensured the Credit Mobilier scandal. These handouts also explain why almost all these men had to spend time in the political, military, and business worlds before moving on to this government-funded project. They were generals, corporate presidents, governors, and congressmen before they were leaders of the Pacific Railroads. Often, they were both at the same time. The elites were certainly interlocking in that era, and the ease with which they moved through these worlds allowed them to exploit each of them. At times it seemed that each of the leaders had so many side schemes that no one understood who was actually running or profiting from the railroad. I just wish the author could have made the story more succinct, with less time spent on the day-to-day diary stuff (sometimes it felt like half the book dealt with the daily weather report, and a good portion of that with how much snow fell), and spent some more time discussing the process of building the road itself. Sometimes I felt like the author did not even understand the financing side he was trying to describe.At half the length, this would have been a great book.

  • Brian
    2019-05-26 16:03

    The building of the Transcontinental Railway is an incredible story of man against nature. It was an amazing undertaking that pushed the boundaries of what was technologically and logistically possible in the Nineteenth Century. It changed the trajectory of trade and commerce in the United States and, arguably, in the world. It had profound effects on the U.S. economy, ushering in, for good and for ill, The Gilded Age of unbridled capitalist expansion. It radically changed the demographics of the West--Native Americans being pushed far from their traditional hunting grounds, Chinese immigrants beginning to mold California's future, Irish workers moving west, Mormons consolidating their position in The Great Basin. It set the stage for issues that are still with us today--particularly, the question of the corrupting influence that unbridled capital can have in the political arena. All in all, it is a rip roaring tale."Empire Express" is a long and exhaustive telling of this tale and is worth reading. Unfortunately it often seems too long and, in fact, I had put it aside about half way through, finding it too much of a chore. I'm glad I came back to it and finished it, because it does pick up again in the second half. The book involves a cast of literally hundreds and it was often hard to keep track of many of them. A bit more exposition of the personalities and backgrounds of the principle actors would have been helpful. I would have also appreciated a more thorough background explanation of the mechanics of mid-Nineteenth Century financial markets which seem critical in really understanding the complexity of the entire undertaking and, particularly, of the Crédit Mobilier scandal. If some of the repetitious accounts of day by day progress on the construction line were cut to make room for fuller exposition of personalities and clearer explanation of finances, it would have been an even more interesting story.

    2019-06-02 16:58

    Fascinating. What work went into creating this wonderful book for all of us. The story is really incredible - two companies competing to get as far across the country as possible. Central Pacific, coming from the West Coast, was more focused on actually completing the railroad. The Union Pacific gang, from St. Louis, was rip-roaring, with an incredible cast of characters that did their best to undermine each other. Amazing that their part of the railroad actually got built and didn't disintegrate. I hadn't thought about the fact that building started during the Civil War, and the completion only a few short years later. From America's lowest moment to an ultimately fine achievement. Lots of great tidbits. The author also tries to weave in the other issues of the time - Reconstruction, immigration, Johnson's impeachment and Grant's election - My only criticism is that, as I've read in several popular history books, the author provides biographical detail - parents, education, etc. - of every player he introduces. Makes the book denser than it needs to be. But fortunately those parts can be skimmed. One story, that probably meant much to a country that had been devastated by war, was that at the time the spike to connect the railroads was driven the cross-country telegraph wire was connected. And cannons and bells in big cities across the country had been hooked up to go off when those wires were connected. What a day that must have been. This book is well worth the reading.

  • Socraticgadfly
    2019-06-09 19:19

    Holding companies, stock watering, stock certificate bribery on the floor of Congress, no less!The story of the building of the transcontinental railroad is far more than the story of Irish and Chinese laborers moving toward an unknown meeting point in the west. And Bain paints that story in detail.Changes in railroad legislation were bought off by stock contributions and other favors. Congress was for sale rather than dealing with serious measures like Reconstruction.Meanwhile, Union Pacific VP Thomas Durant was bleeding and skimming the company dry, including changing the UP's course and more.Read all about America's first huge business scandal, intertwined with one of its biggest political ones, in this hard hitting book. And, read about those Irish and Chinese laborers as well. It is detail-intensive, but, I didn't find this a major flaw. In part, Bain was doing his best, on the CP side, to make one of the worst Sierra winters in history come alive. He was trying to do the same, elsewhere, with general logistics struggles.

  • Steven
    2019-06-14 15:01

    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 emphasising 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.

  • Ian Durham
    2019-05-26 21:58

    What a tour-de-force of a book. Meticulously researched and lengthy, but not boring. In fact it would be difficult to be boring given the characters involved. These people were ambitious, driven, corrupt, and, in some cases, bordering on certifiably insane. The job that Charley Crocker pulled off (and doesn't get enough credit for) was just a singularly awesome feat of engineering management. The Central Pacific certainly comes off as the more sympathetic of the two but you can't help but feel a twinge of sadness that Doc Strong got muscled out along with Ted Judah's widow. But what a story. I guess my only complaint (if I had one) would be that I thought it ended a bit abruptly. I would have enjoyed hearing just a bit about the follow-up story involving the Central Pacific's merger with the Southern Pacific which happened not soon after the railroad was complete.

  • David
    2019-06-16 20:58

    I agree with another reviewer-who said the book was long. It was very long. Plus, it seems like more vivid details could have been given of the characters, and events. The charachters, for the most part, all seemed to blend into one another-so it was hard to differentiate. The events we're repetitious, such as the endless mountain boaring and congress proceedings, so that they weren't exciting(or at least presented in a remotely exciting way).On the plus side, I gained an understanding of the need for a trans contiental railroad. Before the railroad, people and equipment had to take a ship around Cape Horn or to Panama and cross to the Atlantic/Pacific for another ship to reach the opposite coast. Additionally, all of the corruption sounds remarkably like the banking/investment banking crises of today and recent years.

  • Patrick
    2019-06-05 20:15

    This is an extremely detailed accounting of the building of the first transcontinental railroad. While the book occasionally gets bogged down in boring minutiae, and with the biggest engineering project ever at its time there is plenty of minutiae, Bain is able to keep the story moving with good writing and lots of interesting historical tie ins. If you have no interest in the history of the transcontinental railroad, you will probably not like this book, however, if it seems like an interesting topic, its worth picking up.

  • Larry
    2019-05-21 20:07

    An excellent account on the building of the transcontinental railroad by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads. It's a very thorough account of how the road was built and financed by hook and by crook(s) literally. The account can bog down in details at time but as a whole it's an engage story and one worth reading to understand how the railroad aided in western expansion and helped to heal the stripes of war with bands of steel.

  • Tim
    2019-06-14 19:19

    "Empire Express" is a quite worthwhile and often fascinating look behind the scenes and on the tracks of America's first transcontinental railroad (of course a connecting of several different railroads to form a connecting whole). David Haward Bain sometimes gets bogged down in the machinations of the movers and shakers to the detriment of the overall story. "Empire Express" is too long, but it tells an often wondrous story capably.

  • Richard
    2019-05-26 20:50

    Excellent history, extremely detailed. I was tempted to knock the book down to 4 stars due to the perhaps excessive detail & length (over 700 pages). The author does an excellent job in bringing historical characters to life. The transcontinental railroad was a stunning achievement, in the same class as the project to put man on the moon or the effort to find the Norhtwest Passage. The author tells the tale well.

  • Gary
    2019-06-11 14:16

    The author has put forth a LOT of time and effort. It's very hard to fault him for that. It's a very scholarly work. But the problem is, for the average reader, this book simply gets bogged down in WAY too many minute details and becomes a chore to read.

  • Marianne
    2019-06-03 17:17

    RA to Non-fic

  • Bill
    2019-06-02 15:08

    The emphasis is on the western end of the tracks,and you'll find plenty of familiar corporate names, worn by the founders of those fortunes, many of which began here.

  • Peggy
    2019-05-29 15:08

    Very interesting and informative, I found the book an excellent portrayal of how the Railroad was built.

  • Lee
    2019-05-26 19:02

    Rather long, at least for me. Definitely a good look at both the engineers' and financiers' struggles.

  • Jim
    2019-05-28 21:00

    I absolutely loved this book. Reads like a great novel, but is in reality a book of historical facts.

  • Liz
    2019-05-21 19:14

    Oh, how it needed a good editor. So much potential, so much I had to speedread to keep my sanity.

  • Jane Dmochowski
    2019-05-30 15:03

    Good book, but a bit tedious to read

  • Thom Diggins
    2019-05-30 14:06

    Infinitely better than Steven Ambrose's book on the same subject.

  • Judy
    2019-05-21 15:50

    Interesting historical account of the building of the railroads and how close they came to not being built. The magnitude of greed, control and politics involved is highlighted.

  • Ed
    2019-06-07 22:07

    Very well researched. I read this book after reading Abrose's "Nothing Like it in the World". Like both books but this had more detail.

  • Mikeende
    2019-06-19 21:54

    Awesome book.