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

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  5,364 ratings  ·  313 reviews
In this account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision & courage, Ambrose offers a historical successor to his acclaimed Undaunted Courage which recounted the explorations of the West by Lewis & Clark. This is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad--the investors who risked their businesses & money; the politicians who understood ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published August 29th 2000 by Simon & Schuster (NYC) (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Ryan
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
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
Trebro
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
...more
Brooks
Ambrose is the Grissom of history. The book is a very easy read and unfortunately is filled with repeated annedotes between chapters, supported by secondary sources, and missing context. This is the story of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, the men behind them, and the race to build the transcontinental railroad meeting at Promitory Summitt in Utah. There is some interesting stories about the Mormans and Brigham Young wanted to get the railroad to Salt Lake City (went through Ogd ...more
Andy
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
...more
Michael Gerald Dealino
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
...more
Andrew
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
...more
J.A.
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
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
Taylor Corr
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
Sue
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
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
...more
Scott
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
Andy
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
...more
Benjamin
I picked this up because I had started watching AMC's Hell on Wheels a while back and read an interview with Anson Mount where he mentioned that the show relied on this book for historical context. It's fascinating history, and I'm especially into the parts focusing on the passage over the Sierra Nevada, since that's exactly (like EXACTLY) where I grew up! I could read a whole book about that alone. In fact, I'm a little upset that this book wasn't a larger part of my high school history curricu ...more
Michael
Amazing book on the building of the transcontinental railroad. Those dreamers had balls.
Matt Kelly
My Irish ancestors made their way to Iowa working on the railroads, and I have had a fascination with trains since I was less than two years old. I grew up just a few blocks away from the Lincoln Monument in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the spot where Abraham Lincoln supposedly stood and surveyed the Missouri River valley as he made the decision to name Council Bluffs as the eastern terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. This is a fascinating, accessible account of the building of the Transconti ...more
Steven E
A history book to help you remember why you dreaded history class in the first place.

The building of the Transcontinental Railroad was the single most important feat of engineering in the 19th Century. It took the better part of 6 years to complete. It required countless lives, limbs, and treasure. It was the brainchild of the grandest swindlers of that or any era, men whose ill-gotten railroad wealth would later shame even the most extravagant Americans. Immigrants descended on the Western stat
...more
Joe
Fans of the recent AMC series, Hell on Wheels, may enjoy doing a little fact checking in this book. It's Stephen Ambrose's grand take on the building of the transcontinental railroad. As is the case with most of his work, Ambrose wrote this with the pleasuer of the reader in mind, making it a history that often flows with the intensity of a novel. I'm noty sure that it's academic credentials would fully satisfy a universtity history department, but it's a lot more fun to read than anything they ...more
Peter Federman
Hi family - I know I'm not supposed to add books that I've already read, but I figured you'll allow me a freebie to get started.

Bought this book because of my ongoing love affair with railroads, but to be perfectly honest what kept me interested wasn't the descriptions of working life on the railroads or the railroad's influence on American culture. Instead, this book focused on the important and unique partnership between the Union Pacific, Central Pacific and the United States government unde
...more
Joseph
Good solid book by Ambrose, which is not surprising. There are some really good references on some of the names of the towns and places along the railroad. Of course most to all are named after the people that worked on it... There were a tad long parts to it, but otherwise a good book if you like history and are interested in the railroad. Because of this railroad being built this pretty much sealed the fait of the Indians in that America would spread out across the country to settle land. Peop ...more
Robert Spillman
Ambrose's coverage of the building of the transcontinental railroad is full of interesting insights and he builds a story of history that reads like a novel. The reasons, risks and strategies by all involved makes it suspensful and you feel like you are there, watching it unfold.

Of course, you know the ending, but it still manages to keep you emotionally involved. His treatment provides introspectives at all levels - from the president to the Chinese laborers who were ticked into coming to Amer
...more
Craig
A comprehensive history of the initial conception and later building of the US transcontinental railroad (1859-1969). Early on (even before his Presidential candidacy) Abraham Lincoln expressed great interest in the "best" route for the construction of such a railroad. As President, he became an ardent proponent and supported leglslation to bring it about (despite the all-consuming Civil War). Congress thought its construction could best be accomplished by pitting two separate companies (to beco ...more
Tom Gase
I thought this book was okay. The building of the railroad was a monumental feat and I wanted to know more about it. There was a lot of information in this book, maybe too much and the book seemed to drag at some points because of it, especially on the chapters concerning the money that went into it. The other problem I had with it was that many, many people have said the author has gotten numerous facts wrong with this book. So the entire time I was reading the book I was wondering what was tru ...more
Chris
Tthe book was a very enthralling history of the construction of the road to unite the two coasts. In the current vernacular, the railroad line was a private-public cooperation that gave the railroad companies public lands (taken from the Native Americans)for constructing the transcontinental railroad. Some became wealthy and a massive work force of civil war veterans, Chinese, and Irish,did the back breaking work that opened the West.

The story had more to do with the engineers that selected the
...more
Tom
The first 100 pages of this book drew me in. Lincoln's great interest in the transcontinental railroad was previously unknown to me. The story of Theodore Judah was fascinating. Judah was the man who might be considered the "father" of the Central Pacific and devoted his life toward bringing it to life, but died of yellow fever (age 37), the week after the first rail was laid. Nevertheless the entire railroad was built almost exactly to the specifications of his vision.

It was also fascinating to
...more
Andy Lee
Feb 17, 2010 Andy Lee rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History and Adventure Fans
It took me a couple of months to read 80% of this book and about another year to finish it. I'm amazaed at Stephen Ambrose's research and rich descriptions of the scenes that he depicts. It's almost as if I can see and hear the rails being laid as he describes it in the book.

One of the most fascinating points that Ambrose makes is that before the railroad was utilized, the means of transportation were the same for nearly two thousand years, relying only on animals to close any distance.

Other poi
...more
Tong L.
The book was very thorough about the building of the railroad. However, Ambrose's continual use of Chinaman, instead of Chinese, grated on me every time I heard it. Since the Chinese did most of the work building the railroad from California, he used the word repeatedly. The book was written in 2001; he should have known that Chinaman is a very disliked word. Ambrose described the day that the Chinese laid 10 miles a track, a record which stands to this day. It filled me with pride hearing how t ...more
David
My 2 cents: What an undertaking! Two RR companies racing to build almost 2000 miles of track through unpopulated, hostile territory. Think of what they had to do to deliver material to the end of track: ties, rails, hardware, ballast - literally tons of material per mile. Grading, filling, and cutting through rock -- all done by hand without power equipment.

The most impressive parts: for the Central Pacific, building east from Sacramento: to get into Nevada they had to drill more than a dozen tu
...more
Allison M
Nov 02, 2012 Allison M rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Teenagers
Recommended to Allison by: My teacher
The Book Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen E. Ambrose is about the building of the transcontinental railroad. This railroad combined the east and west of the United States and changed the way people live and travel. The main portion of this story explains the challenges the Union Pacific and Central Pacific had to face in order to get to Promotory Summit, Utah first. For the most part, this story was very interesting. However, at times i felt Ambrose kept repeating things over and over aga ...more
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Stephen Ambrose 3 17 Feb 21, 2013 12:21PM  
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5882
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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