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Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  7,257 Ratings  ·  411 Reviews
Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published November 6th 2001 by Simon & Schuster (NYC) (first published August 29th 1999)
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Colin Wood If what you mean is that you started this book and couldn't finish it because his writing was so repetitive, then, yes. I know what you mean.

I'd also…more
If what you mean is that you started this book and couldn't finish it because his writing was so repetitive, then, yes. I know what you mean.

I'd also add that I read Citizen Soldiers in college and enjoyed it. And of course loved the TV Band of Brothers. But I just couldn't deal with his writing here.

Further, he gets some of the facts wrong. E.g. Chinese workers were not lowered in baskets to work on China Wall around Cape Horn in the Sierra Foothills. They were just belayed down with ropes around their waists. Common misconception that I would've hoped Ambrose would have gotten straight.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Jun 01, 2008 Ryan rated it it was amazing
There is a vocal contingent of people who like to criticize Stephen Ambrose for his methods and style, who don't consider him a true historian. I have an engineering degree and in college took humanities courses kicking and screaming, and as such I don't get the argument against him. What I do understand is that Ambrose brings history to life and this book was no exception. Before picking up this book, I had no interest in the history of the transcontinental railroad, but after only a couple of ...more
David Powell
Jul 23, 2013 David Powell rated it it was amazing
I tend to read others' reviews before I write my own, and, as is often the case when I come across a negative review to a book I liked, my first thought is "did you actually read it," followed by "can you read?" But, to put things in perspective, I remember going into a classroom a few years ago after having finished this book, and I enthusiastically shared with my high school seniors how great it was. One somewhat attentive student asked what it was about to which I replied "the building of the ...more
Jul 23, 2008 Trebro rated it did not like it
Shelves: books
Subtitled (incorrectly) "The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869", I knew I was taking a risk reading an Ambrose book, but the subject was compelling to me. I like trains, I like history, particularly 19th Century American History, so I figured I would give this a try.

Not one of my better plans.

It's pretty bad when the 20 minute animated Peanuts special on the same subject is more critical of the subject material than a book for adults. But sadly, this was the case. Rather than
Jan 03, 2016 Brooks rated it did not like it
Ambrose makes non-fiction history an easy read with a similar writing style as John Grisham. The book is a very easy read but is filled with repeated anecdotes between chapters and in some cases missing context. The book covers the story of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, the men behind them, and the race to build the transcontinental railroad.

It focuses on the men who risked their fortunes to make even greater fortunes with the railroad. Ambrose does not spend much time on th
Apr 17, 2009 Andy rated it it was amazing
Really great story, well told. I couldn't put it down.

A great antidote for those who believe that our times are uniquely corrupt. The engineers and surveyors and foremen and workers are the heroes of this tale. The politicians and the businessmen -- most often the same crew -- are the villains. Even them Ambrose treats mostly with kindness. The progess across the Sierra, engineers and chinese laborers against the mountain and the snow, is spectacular. The personalities of Dodge and Judah are exp
Michael Gerald
Jul 29, 2014 Michael Gerald rated it really liked it
I am fascinated with trains. They travel far and carry people and goods for countless other people. So it was with much interest that I started this book.

I found it tedious at the start, as the abundance of technical details stumped my non-engineering mind. As I progressed, however, the narrative became better with the other nuances of the building of a railway that connects the East Coast and the West Coast of the USA. The seed of an idea; the organization of the Union Pacific and the Central P
Jan C
Apr 03, 2016 Jan C rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-west, labor
I think I expected more from this book and Ambrose. Although - was this the book where it was questioned whether he lifted quotes? Not sure if it was this book or not.

I read a couple of the reviews before picking this back up recently. I know, I always say that I never read them. And I usually don't. But since there was little/no suspense to the outcome of the book I thought, what could it hurt? The answer is: I don't know - because I looked.

Anyway, I find I have to agree with some of them. It w
Aug 17, 2012 Andrew rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
A good friend recommended this because he liked it. I think the attraction would be the details of the remarkable transcontinental railroad was built. No doubt it was an amazing engineering achievement and an audacious idea. If you like to know a lot about how a railroad of such magnitude could have been built essentially without power tools, this is the book for you.

Frankly, I got a bit bored with all of the details and wanted more human interest. Also, something about Ambrose's writing makes m
Jul 14, 2009 J.A. rated it liked it
The terminus of a lengthy train kick for me. I've read other books by Ambrose, but this one was a long slog. If his objective was to make the reader vicariously experience the arduous building of the transcontinental railroad then he succeeded. The interlocking stories of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads are well stocked with admirable heroes such as Theodore Judah (with whom I share a birthdate) and Grenville Dodge, as well as detestable villains like the Big Four and Doc Dur ...more
Steve Van Slyke
Dec 19, 2009 Steve Van Slyke rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
What other event in history pitted two major powers against each other in a race that involved extreme financial and physical risk? How about the race to the moon? That's what this story reminded me of. Two railroads, headed by powerful and devious men scheme to lay more track than the other and thereby obtain more government subsides and land grants. It is also a story of Chinese laborers versus (primarily) Irish immigrant laborers and the stark contrast between their attitudes about the work t ...more
Feb 15, 2016 Sharon rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very detailed description of the building of the transcontinental and all the politics, economics and difficult terrain to complete the project.
Review: Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen Ambrose.

I enjoyed what knowledge I got out of the book but it wasn 19t one of Ambrose best. I found it to technical, repetitions and floundering back and forth with dates. There were too many dates, noted events, mathematical techniques to remember and keep up on and not enough story contexts. The book, as I thought was about the men who built the railroads but there was not one person 19s short tidbit about life building the railroads. I like read
Apr 12, 2015 Sue rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is yet another non fiction that I have listened to in the last few weeks. It was about the Transcontinental railroad and the work that went into building it. I really enjoyed learning of Abraham Lincoln's part in the plan, along with some other names I've learned in my American history classes. Brigham Young was mentioned and I learned of the Mormon ties to the railroad. There were times I would zone out as I listened, but I mostly enjoyed it. I went on a trip through parts of Southern Utah ...more
Philip Anderson
May 31, 2015 Philip Anderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent account of the building of the railroad

The few men who believed in the promise of the transcontinental railroad when most thought it an impossibility - those that followed in their footsteps and made it a reality!
The effect of the Civil War and its aftermath that produced a workforce capable of such a stupendous undertaking, the influence of Abraham Lincoln, and the Presidents who succeeded him who all saw the necessity of this great achievement that would bind the country together E
Robert LoCicero
Apr 07, 2016 Robert LoCicero rated it it was amazing
Sometimes you just can't get away from railroading. This is the story of the greatest achievement in industrial American history (except for the Arsenal of Democracy which defeated Nazi Germany and Japan during WWII). Building the Transcontinental Railroad which really united this country. Might take me time to read through, considering the other books I am currently reading. But Stephen Ambrose was one of the great American writers. He is missed.

Finally finished this book and it lived up to eve
Taylor Corr
Apr 10, 2014 Taylor Corr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-nf
Stephen Ambrose fans will certainly not be disappointed. I have read about 6-8 of his books and I consider this one my favorite. I even normally prefer the period of World War II for most non-fiction. I credit the broad scope (an Ambrose trademark) and the unique topic/angle taken. The Transcontinental Railroad, for all of its innovation and epicness (an appropriate word usage in my mind), seems to be overlooked in relation to the impact it had. The incredible commercial enterprise, feats of man ...more
I initially picked this book up to help in my PhD research, intending only to look through the index and make notes on the parts and people that I needed; instead I found myself reading this book from cover to cover.

I am not a railroad enthusiast by any means, but I found the story of how the railroad was built across America to be fascinating and, from reading this book am now intending to research into this subject a little more. The Author always writes good books based upon historical events
Feb 15, 2014 Sue rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Stephen Ambrose's book on the Lewis and Clark Expedition so I decided to read his story of the transcontinental railroad. This is not normally a subject that I would be interested in but because of Ambrose's writing style I was willing to try. I wasn't disappointed. I found the subject very interesting. I didn't know that Abraham Lincoln was one of the leading figures in getting the transcontinental railroad started, nor did I know that the Mormons were involved in building the railroa ...more
Liam Day
The story itself is enough to recommend the book, but only barely. The writing is poor and the editing worse. Mr. Ambrose seems unfamiliar with the material he is covering and so the book reads for much of it as if he is only repeating what others before him have said. He provides very little technical background either into the engineering aspects of the railroad itself or into the financial arrangements of the two corporations - the Union and Central Pacific - that essentially revolutionized b ...more
Greg Strandberg
Dec 14, 2014 Greg Strandberg rated it liked it
Shelves: history
If you want to learn about the building of the railroads in America in the 1800s, this is a good book. It talks about the specifics on this main road, but what I like is that you get a broad overview of how railroads came about in America, what else was going on in the country, and other stuff like that. If you like Ambrose's other works, put this on your list.
D. B.
Jan 06, 2015 D. B. rated it liked it
I was disappointed to learn, from many sources, that Nothing Like It in the World is riddled with factual errors and sloppy research. As a longtime lover of railroads, I wanted to know the story of the construction of the most famous railroad ever built. Ambrose writes a colorful, entertaining story that, if true, I would highly recommend. Unfortunately, the sloppiness is too big a problem. Do you want an entertaining but fabricated version of events, or do you want a history of the transcontine ...more
Josh Liller
I read this for my local library's nonfiction book club. Stephen Ambrose is a fairly famous non-fiction author, but this is the first time I have read one of his books. It will probably also be the last, though I may make an exception for Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America's Wild Frontier.

Let me share the point where I literally facepalmed: "George B. McClellan's uncoded orders were captured by the Confederates before the Battle of Antietam, giving Robert E. Lee a
May 23, 2016 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well-developed, well-written, and compelling account of this engineering marvel. Ambrose pairs the dreaming, development, encounters with Native Americans, and construction of the railroad with broader political and social developments (especially the Civil War) and the availability of workers (Chinese, Civil War veterans, emancipated African Americans, and Mormons); his back-and-forth during the Civil War period keeps the project embedded in the historical events around it. Also blended in are ...more
May 18, 2014 Scott rated it liked it
I had absolutely no interest in railroads or trains before reading this book. If I even had the slightest interest, this book would have received more stars. Stephen Ambrose did a dang good job of writing something that had no appeal to me but still turning it into a good book. Ambrose tells interesting anecdotes, finds interesting facts, but still focuses on the people that made history happen. I liked this book because it wasn't all nonsensical figures and railroad language. It's an easy and s ...more
May 06, 2015 Allen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Ambrose, as always, is eminently readable. This book was very engaging, and offered a lot of insights into the process culminating in the first transcontinental railroad. It was a monumental achievement, and Ambrose celebrates that. The only weakness of the book is that it tends to lapse into cheerleading a bit too often. He makes it clear toward the end that he intends this work as a counterbalance to the work of liberal and socialist historians who demonized the corporations involved. I wouldn ...more
Jan 20, 2015 Steve rated it it was amazing
OK- I'll admit my bias right away. I confess I am an engineer (but not a train engineer) and just couldn't get enough of this incredible tale. This was the dream of Theodore Judah whose survey work was so good that even today Interstate 80 cuts a line on average less than a mile from the original track grade through the Sierras and much of the west. The politics and corruption that was involved before during and after the rails were laid. The Chinese workers without whom this road would not have ...more
Max Skidmore
Jun 17, 2016 Max Skidmore rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book and I will never look at the railroads the same again. The engineering and pure muscle that went into building the transcontinental railroad is astonishing. The team coming from Sacramento had to blast a tunnel through sheer granite at the top of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Teams of Chinese workers labored around the clock (there is no night and day inside a tunnel). They worked from each end toward the middle. Then, to speed up the work, they dropped a shaft in the mi ...more
Sep 29, 2014 Andy rated it really liked it
I can see a piece of this railway line from my office window and really enjoyed learning a bit more about its history and original construction. If nothing else, be impressed by the ambition, work ethic and feats of engineering displayed during this incredible undertaking.

I am surprised by a lot of the negative reviews, particularly those who criticized the book as not being history and the writer not passing judgement against some of the players involved. I think this was supposed to be a histo
Robert Jones
Feb 01, 2015 Robert Jones rated it really liked it
Ambrose brings the building of the Transcontinental Railroad to life, but his writing style is not without flaws. Anecdotes are repeated, and his prose occasionally dips into an oddly, and borderline inappropriately, informal style (calling Native Americans "savages," really?). I enjoyed how each chapter alternated between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads; it helped me truly appreciate how both companies were racing to the center. I would have personally preferred less time be ded ...more
Heidi Willis
Feb 18, 2016 Heidi Willis rated it it was amazing
I had very little background knowledge about the transcontinental railroad before this fall, when I began watching AMC's Hell on Wheels series. It was that TV show that prompted me to seek out a book about it, and I was thrilled to find that Ambrose had written one.

I love Ambrose's style of writing, which is as much narrative as history. We get the broad scope of the endeavor, from the beginning whisperings of the feasibility of such a feat, to the almost anti-climactic end, and a clear sense of
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Stephen Ambrose 3 20 Feb 21, 2013 12:21PM  
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Stephen Edward Ambrose was an American historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. He received his Ph.D. in 1960 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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