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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  8,983 Ratings  ·  476 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 2000)
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Ryan
Apr 12, 2008 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
Rob McMonigal
Aug 06, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
David Powell
Sep 13, 2012 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
Brooks
Mar 12, 2008 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
...more
Jen Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Stephen Ambrose leaves no stone unturned in his piece on the building of the transcontinental railroad. If you want a comprehensive book on the building of the railroad, this is the book to choose. Ambrose covers the politics, the construction, the materials used, the conditions, the strikes, the corruption, the geography, the immigrant workers, the scheduling, the costs, really anything that you want to know about the 6 years of building one of the most important structures of the 19th century. ...more
Andrew
Aug 13, 2012 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
...more
Andy
Feb 14, 2009 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
...more
Cameron
Mar 01, 2017 rated it liked it
The transcontinental railroad is an incredible feat of American ingenuity and engineering. This book excellently highlighted the extreme skills of several of the key individuals who made the great iron road possible. Throughout the book Ambrose concisely sees the sweeping effects the railroad has on the country. He makes you feel proud of the accomplishment for what it is but explains how the big businesses often deceived the people. This book gave me a huge appreciation for the ignored Chinese ...more
Michael Gerald
Jan 03, 2012 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
...more
Dell Taylor
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
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.
Sharon
Feb 15, 2016 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.
Steven
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Worthwhile read if only to understand our national history
Richard Brown
Nov 16, 2017 rated it liked it
As a railroad and history buff, I enjoyed reading this story of the building of the transcontinental railroad. I generally like Ambrose’s armchair conversational style and thought the story structure alternating between events on the Central Pacific and Union Pacific was appropriate. However, I feel he relied too much on quotations from other books and diaries and not enough personal narrative. This slowed down the pace of the book. The details regarding the shenanigans of the railway directors ...more
Jan C
Jul 13, 2011 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
...more
J.A.
Sep 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008-books
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
Valerie
Jun 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club-read
Wow, extremely well-written book about the men who built the Transcontinetal Railroad! I was very interested to see how the author would treat this subject and I must say, he really did his research and talked about everything, warts and all. I have always felt connected to this aspect of our history because I was always told that my Great-great grandfather, General James Alexander Williamson had something to do with the railroad. A biography says he was president of a transcontinental railroad ...more
Steve Van Slyke
Dec 19, 2009 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
Greg Strandberg
Apr 24, 2013 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.
Michael
Oct 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book on the building of the transcontinental railroad. Those dreamers had balls.
Rod Zemke
Jun 10, 2010 rated it liked it
3.75--a little below his usual work.
Susan Kruger
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am glad I bought and read this book. It did take me a very long time to get it read. For me it was was not a page-turner. I would read a section in the mornings with breakfast and that was plenty. There were some places I wanted to keep reading and did, but often even after a page or two I was bored and ready to put it down. There were several times when I felt he was a bit tunnel-vision, especially when he kept referring to the men who built this as the first to see and experience this sectio ...more
Rosemary
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In school all we learned about the Chinese contribution to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad is that lots of them got blown up setting explosives to build tunnels. I appreciate in Ambrose's book that he describes in more depth how Leland Stanford as California governor wanted to ban Asian immigration to California until he realized the smart and hard-working Chinese were necessary to getting the railroad built.
Fascinating to me that the Chinese didn't get sick with dysentery like ot
...more
Chad
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: technology, history, place
"Next to winning the Civil War and abolishing slavery, the transcontinental railroad was the greatest American achievement in the nineteenth century."

Ambrose, my most-read author according to Goodreads, takes his flair for the celebratory to the Civil War era west, where after the war one of the great technological accomplishments occurred thanks to years of backbreaking, non mechanically assisted work from former soldiers and Chinese immigrants.

Ambrose points out that George Washington could t
...more
Cheryl
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
I found this audiobook at the library book store when I was looking for something to take on my road trip. I grew up near Promontory Point (although I have never been there) so this had a natural appeal for me. The introduction read by the author made me think about passing it along to my friend Suzy, a history teacher, when I finished. After listening to the whole thing, that is not a good idea. Suzy is Native American and the discussion of the brutal treatment and attitude toward Native Americ ...more
Eddy
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I listened to the audio version of this book. I have driven much of the route of the transcontinental railroad and am familiar with the territory. I've been to the golden spike museum at Promontory Point, and have been generally interested in the history of the railroad. I actually listened to most of this book while driving I-80 through Wyoming.

This was a well done documentary about the building of the railroad. It included the back story of how the various companies got started, the influentia
...more
Charlie
Dec 26, 2016 rated it liked it
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
...more
Don LeClair
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I temporarily ran out of books and my daughter recommended this book, which she read as part of her US History class. This was a fascinating story about what was actually a race to build the transcontinental railroad. The story is focused on construction but provides a good perspective the creation of huge companies to work with the government to get this done. The sheer scale and scope of the project is hard to imagine, especially when there were not developed organization models to run this. T ...more
Tom Hedlund
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
I had such high hopes for this book. I love most things related to the Old West and 19th Century history. I love trains and the whole thought of the monster task of building the trans continental railroad. This book by Stephen Ambrose seemed like it would be right in my wheelhouse but I struggled to finish it to be honest. It just dragged on and on discussing the same issues repeatedly with money, labor issues, and the challenges of environment & terrain. Perhaps I was just longing for more ...more
Paul O'Grady
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a well-written, well-researched examination of the building of the Transcontinental Railway. Ambrose's work is richly detailed and offers an engrossing narrative. One might criticize its emphasis on the rogues and entrepreneurs who led the two railroads rather than the common men who built the road, but so much of their experience is lost to us -- in other words, you write about your research. I would highly recommend this book, and I must say that it has made me look at the barren expan ...more
Michael Vincent
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a very good history of an amazing and important venture in our country's history - the transcontinental railroad. There is no way they could have accomplished this with all the safety regulations today! But through much hard work and loss of limb and life, with some under the table shenanigans and much financial risk, the nation was brought together from east to west by the railroad. This is a doubly interesting book to learn about Nebraska, the Union Pacific, Grenville Dodge and the beg ...more
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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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