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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

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  7,777 Ratings  ·  430 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 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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Apr 12, 2008 Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Rob McMonigal
Aug 06, 2007 Rob McMonigal rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
David Powell
Sep 13, 2012 David Powell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 12, 2008 Brooks rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 14, 2009 Andy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 13, 2012 Andrew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dell Taylor
Dec 29, 2016 Dell Taylor rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
My rating: 2.75
While the subject matter of this book is very interesting, the writing was not. Too much repetition and minutia. The parts I enjoyed the most were when he talked about the people who were involved in this incredible project. While, tedious, I did learn a lot and was glad I plowed through.
Michael Gerald
Jan 03, 2012 Michael Gerald rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 13, 2011 Jan C rated it it was ok
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
Sep 03, 2008 J.A. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Greg Strandberg
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.
Feb 15, 2016 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Very detailed description of the building of the transcontinental and all the politics, economics and difficult terrain to complete the project.
Oct 22, 2008 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book on the building of the transcontinental railroad. Those dreamers had balls.
Rod Zemke
3.75--a little below his usual work.
Kevin Payne
The author points out the impact of the railroad by pointing out that humans hadn't moved faster across land than the speed of horses until the railroad was developed. He describes in the book the monumental work involves in creating the railroad when virtually all the work was done by hand with the assistance of some explosives used for tunneling. Grading the path was done by hand sometimes requiring huge dips to be filled in with earth wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. This involved a great amount o ...more
This book gave me everything I was looking for in its account of the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The author excellently captures the immense challenge of the endeavor, focusing on all aspects of business, engineering, finance and human experience.

While I now have a more profound understanding of achievement, I feel that I can only understand this book's effectiveness after reading another on the same topic. I found it an arduous read at times, but it might be that the subject
Oct 29, 2016 Jon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In which Ambrose rightly praises the docile Chinese for accepting the violent racism perpetrated against them, but condemns the Native Americans as "savages" for responding with violence of their own when lands promised to them by the US Congress were unlawfully and eventually violently encroached upon. There is some history here, but it was clearly written by a proud, white victor. I put the book down 1/3 of the way through, so hopefully it gets better.
Dave Kennedy
I really wanted to like this book and being a former history teacher I thought I would. Ambrose tells the story of the Transcontinental railroad alternating chapters between the Union and Central Pacific. While there are some insightful tidbits, it too frequently gets tedious in a morass of mundane. It is at times repetitive and can be laborious.
Nov 22, 2016 Amber rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Just such an interesting story. I loved having more of a background for when I watch Hell on Wheels on tv!
Feb 16, 2017 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Not as good as Undaunted Courage; a bit slower.
Last Ranger
Feb 03, 2013 Last Ranger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Trail of the Iron Horse:

Throughout human history men of foresight, determination and courage have pushed the boundaries of civilization ever outward, seeking new paths to the future, new lands to colonize and unlimited riches to be earned. In the mid 19th century one of the newest nations on Earth, America, was going through tumultuous times. Growing population, deep political divisions and the lack of a focused plan for National Growth. Everything west of the Mississippi River was considered th
Megan Titensor
Listened to audiobook and was mildly interested in the tale. Not recommended as an audiobook. Got a little too boring at times.
Apr 11, 2013 Helmut rated it really liked it
Das Achte Weltwunder

Meine Eisenbahngeschichte beginnt 1990 mit dem Computerspiel "Railroad Tycoon" von Sid Meier. Noch heute begeistert mich dieses Spiel, das ich immer noch gern in einem Dosbox-Emulator spiele - unglaublich, wie spannend Eisenbahnen sein können. In einem Szenario kann man dort auch den Aufbau der ersten transkontinentalen Eisenbahn der USA nacherleben; dies gilt es nun, mit diesem Buch zu unterfüttern.

Ambrose gelingt es ausgesprochen gut, den Einfluss dieses Wunderwerks des ame
Daniel A.
When I was a 1L at law school, I visited Las Vegas with my family, and one of the places we visited was Hoover Dam. Among the many impressive aspects of Hoover Dam was that it was a feat of modern engineering largely unattempted to that date, and it "holds up", both literally and figuratively. Likewise, one of the things that most impressed me about Stephen E. Ambrose's seminal work Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69 was that so much of the work ...more
Mike Wigal
Jan 07, 2017 Mike Wigal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I happened to be watching (binge watching) AMC's series "Hell on Wheels" while reading this book. Each served to enhance the experience of the other. Ambrose has his critics, but he has done a good job of bringing the building of the trans-continental railroad to life.
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
Christine Boyer
Feb 09, 2013 Christine Boyer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Only a small, select group of train & investing enthusiasts
I'll start out by saying I only got up to page 70. Keep that in mind with my review.

In 1997 "Undaunted Courage" came out. I read it, and fell in love with Lewis & Clark and Stephen Ambrose. He wrote that in a way that completely drew me in, and made me a life-long lover & follower of all that is L & C. So, when I saw this book I thought the same might happen. It didn't.

Ambrose wrote this book just 3 years after Undaunted Courage, but the style seems very different. Also, in the for
Sep 16, 2013 Ashley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
FINALLY done with this book - not sure why it takes me so long to read non-fiction. As someone who spends a great deal of time idling her car waiting for the Goddamned Union Pacific (which does come by here much anymore, by the way) pass by and free up the road so I can get home already, this book was very informative. I'm pretty sure I live in a town that sprang out of existence for the sake of the railroad (in fact, I'm pretty sure the UP still owns and leases back land along the tracks to mos ...more
Patrick Ross
Oct 01, 2013 Patrick Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
Stephen Ambrose is a master at true stories well told, the working definition of creative nonfiction. Like any historian/biographer who writes for a broad audience, Ambrose can find himself under criticism for oversimplification or misrepresentation by experts in what he writes about. I won't address any of those; instead I'll trust his research and critique the storytelling. It is quite good.

This is an ambitious story to tell, because it involves two separate stories; the Union Pacific railroad
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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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