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The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California

3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  106 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
A true-life tale of ruthless ambition, staggering greed, and the making of a nation. One hundred forty years ago, four men rose from their position as middle-class merchants in Sacramento, California, to become the force behind the transcontinental railroad. In the course of doing so, they became wealthy beyond any measure––and to sustain their power, they lied, bribed, wh ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published January 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2008)
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***Dave Hill
Dec 14, 2011 ***Dave Hill rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
(Original review:

Overall: Good
Writing: Good
Re-Readability: Fair
Info: Good

Rayner takes us into the lives of four men — Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins, known as the Big Four, or the Associates. More specifically, it focuses on how they banded together to build the Central Pacific Railroad, and then the Southern Pacific. It’s a tale of rapine and greed, as all four men became fabulously wealthy — first through the mon
Dec 31, 2015 Sam rated it it was amazing
Shelves: thehistorynerd
For me it was an easy read about the beginning of the history of the beginning of California as a state, placing it in the larger context of US history and economy at that time, and the cast of characters around the four men known as the Associates (in my family the California robber barons).
Though focusing mainly on Huntington, the book does look at each of the four associates (with the least attention paid to Hopkins).
If you are interested in history of California, railroads, or the late 1800
Scott White
Oct 22, 2011 Scott White rated it it was ok
A fairly short read about the quartet of guys that financed and managed the building of the California part of the Transcontinental Railroad, which, in turn, ensured that CA would become the economic center it became. The book is a sort-of biography about the 4-6 guys associated with the Associates (as they apparently called themselves). More pages are dedicated to Leland Stanford (Governor and university founder) and Huntington (brutally rich guy) than the lesser lights. And the biographical in ...more
Lori Beninger
May 14, 2013 Lori Beninger rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Novelist and magazine columnist Kurt Andersen states (in a Time Magazine piece written in 2007) that "America Came of Age" in the era that followed the California Gold Rush. New technologies appeared, life began to move at an alarmingly fast pace, Wall Street boomed, fortunes were made overnight, the media was scurrilous and partisan, and companies began to manipulate the political environment to suit their monetary goals, introducing marketing spin and advertising into the mix. Echoes of today' ...more
Feb 03, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Associates is an entertaining look at one of history's most important endeavors. The book touches on the extensive corruption used to get things done. Rayner covers many of the larger-than-life battles between The Associates and Union Pacific in addition to the lengthy-but-brutal defeat of Tom Scott's Texas & Pacific Railway. We also get to see the links to other important pieces of history, such as Leland Stanford's founding of his university while mourning his son and the role he playe ...more
Charles Matthews
Dec 07, 2009 Charles Matthews rated it liked it
This review originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Some stories are too good to be true, so they probably aren’t. But true or not, one that Richard Rayner tells about the California railroad baron Collis P. Huntington is key to Rayner’s portrait of the man. Huntington was in Paris in 1893, when a reporter asked for his opinion of the city’s most famous landmark.

“ ‘Your Eiffel Tower is all very well,’ Huntington told those French reporters. ‘But where’s the money in it?’ ”

Rayner begins
Sep 17, 2008 aloveiz rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people looking for connection without commitment
Recommended to aloveiz by: Saunders' book
Back to "the California room"!
Probably about 85% of the reading I do is non fiction and about 0% of that would be primarily categorized as history. As time goes by, I am generally interested in the ethics and feelings of events more so than the facts and orders of things. (Which I think are generally subject to the ethics and feelings of the recalling party anyway.) It's all very sentimental.

But after reading the Bierce biography, and also earlier this year, nearly forgetting what century the g
Juan Camacho
Feb 24, 2016 Juan Camacho rated it really liked it
Very good telling of the building of the English railways. It describes how they left their families and loved ones for money to support them. That was on the outside but this tells of corruption and power that drove them, exploitation and betrayal. Quite fascinating.
Mossy Kennedy
Jun 27, 2014 Mossy Kennedy rated it it was amazing
Loved the focus on Collis Huntington. Interesting to see all his work in getting corporations defined as individuals and it's consequences.
lyell bark
Feb 27, 2011 lyell bark rated it liked it
this book is okay. not the most literary history ever written but the words get the job done i guess. the best parts are in the 2nd half of the book when they are all rich and fat and arguing with words and letters. it would be cool to write to your friends that so-and-so has the brains and smell of a farmhand, and the timid heart of a housewife. we just don't have that sort of literary culture nemore i guess, so sad. also cool to know that california has been a stupid ponzi scheme, real estate ...more
Nov 12, 2013 Judy rated it it was ok
Not being a native Californian, I did not grow up learning about the important founders of California commerce, so this was a good basic introduction for me. The lives of four men who made California via the Central Pacific Railroad are examined: Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker. Particular emphasis is given to the greed and determination of Huntington, in fact, so much so that it felt as though the author had some particular bias against him. It did make me ...more
Ginger Hill
Feb 03, 2013 Ginger Hill rated it really liked it
While I found the author's writing style a bit tortuous at times, the story itself was really quite amazing. The Associates were crude, egocentric, and obtrusive yet delightfully crafty in their ways. I even learned a thing or two; my favorite being the the idea of a spite fence, like the one Charles Crocker built on Nob Hill. I would love to see this story made into a movie. It has historical significance as well as absurd drama and off-base amusement.
Feb 18, 2009 Rob rated it really liked it
This book is about the Big Four, or as they preferred to be called, The Associates who completed the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. and are largely credited for creating California's boom and bust economy. This was a good read, quick and concise, with splashes of frontier and Western elements and Civil War history. It's a great story about private fortune gained at public expense. Makes you wonder, "What is today's railroad?"
Oct 12, 2010 Riley rated it liked it
In preparation for a Sacramento visit, the history of the capitalist (but not this specific title) was recommended. Overall, it was an "okay" read. I enjoyed the first half of the book as it provides more history and insight into the beginnings and development of the West coast railroad. The latter half of the book seemed less interesting. It following the capitalist as they continued to grow/scheme their business influence.
May 31, 2010 Janis rated it liked it
A readable history of a complex subject, The Associates profiles the men behind the American transcontinental railroad and tells of the back-room deals and the fortunes they made. Rapacious and greedy businessmen are not a favorite topic of mine but I felt the need to know a little more about the history of this crazy state I live in. Poor California...first the gold rush, then "the Big Four."
Mar 23, 2009 Ari rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
It's a quick easy read, but I'm a little nervous about the details. The author describes Lincoln as being a senator in the late 1850s, which is an obvious error. The style is breezy, the footnotes are few. I enjoyed it, but I'm a little bit of a railfan, and I'm familiar with both the setting and the story, so I may be unusually forgiving.
Dec 22, 2009 Kerstin rated it really liked it
Whether you end up viewing California's Big Four as robber barons or capitalist geniuses, this tale of the building of the transcontinental railroad and subsequent railroads in California is fascinating and a quick read. It sure gives an interesting (kind-of frightening) insight into Washington politics.
May 29, 2012 Spiros rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone seeking a quick précis of California history
This seemed to be called for, after reading Blood Meridian; this is what the West was cleared for. A nice overview of the Big Four, emphasizing Collis Huntington, the most forceful of the four.
Feb 01, 2011 Meg rated it liked it
An enjoyable, easy read. Certainly gave some flavor to the time period and the "Big Four." I enjoyed learning a bit more about the process by which the Transcontinental Railroad was built: greed, corporate manipulation of government, bootstraps, etc.

Tyler Storm
Mar 24, 2014 Tyler Storm rated it liked it
Not bad. More a history of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroad. Thought it would be more about my beautiful state California, but it wasn't. Still a decent book. Quick read and looks like author did some good research. It is okay.
Jul 03, 2012 Erica rated it liked it
A quick, easy read. Picked this up because I wanted to know a little more about the personalities of CA's Big Four. It delivered, with a good handful of lovely similies. Not totally memorable or outstanding, but delivered what it promised.
Sarah Mae
Feb 04, 2009 Sarah Mae rated it really liked it
An engaging look at the back-room deals and rivalries that led to the development of the railroads in California. There is also mention of the cultural and educational contributions that the Associates later made to the state.
Apr 05, 2008 Tom rated it liked it
Interesting and fast-moving, but I got the impression it's a distillation of a number of other histories, and would have preferred more details, illustrations/maps, exploration of personal relationships/motives, etc.
Jennifer Kunz
Mar 16, 2013 Jennifer Kunz rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book, very readable. It got across the info in a very concise way, with a great flow that swept me along through the history of these four characters. Never a dull moment! I recommend.
Sep 04, 2012 Mike rated it liked it
Pretty good view of the development of the Central Pacific from a strictly business perspective. Huntington as the central character/driving force behind the whole endeavor.
Dec 25, 2010 Rob rated it it was amazing
This book is worth rereading every few years because of how it captures the grit and determination that the Big Four needed to start the California railroad.
Books Inc. in Mountain View
A true-life tale of ruthless ambition and staggering greed that became the force behind the transcontinental railroad.
Aug 03, 2011 Erin rated it it was ok
So much rich subject matter to work with and yet so very poorly written and researched.
Dec 25, 2010 Luigib rated it it was amazing
Interesting history of forgotten characters like Leland Stanford and Judah
Sep 18, 2013 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like history, this one is a good read. (California History)
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Richard Rayner is a British author who now lives in Los Angeles. He was born on December 15, 1955 in the northern city of Bradford. Rayner attended schools in Yorkshire and Wales before studying philosophy and law at the University of Cambridge. He has worked as an editor at Time Out Magazine, in London, and later on the literary magazine Granta, then based in Cambridge.

Rayner is the author of ni
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