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

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  11,387 ratings  ·  640 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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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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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, despite his academic credentials. As I have read more of his work, I agree that he doesn't sound like a trained historian, and I find that a good thing. He has made a few errors along the way, and his writing style is less meticulous than many academics today which has drawn widespread rancor from his peers. But Ambrose has been able to do something most ...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
Brian Eshleman
Sweeping in the beginning and the end as Ambrose is wonderful giving context and meaning to the transcontinental railroad, but a SLOG in between. I don't think I highlighted anything in the middle 80%, and for my reading experience and as much as I have like a couple of Ambrose's other books, that is highly unusual. ...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
N.N. Light
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely brilliant. A must-read for historians and train lovers.

My Rating: 5 stars

Reviewed by: Mr. N

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
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
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
 Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ Jenn Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ Schu
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
Enjoyed this book and learned a lot about how the Pacific Railroad was built. The author goes into a lot of detail about both the human and technical aspects and quotes extensively from original and secondary sources.

As my second Ambrose book, I'm starting to get a feel for his style: he's above all a chronicler and a compiler. I understand why he's criticized by more serious historians: his role is to gather all the information in one place and tell it, rather than do critical and original res
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
Bailey Malbuff
May 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Although this book started a bit slow and had a lot of intricate economic information in the beginning, it was very interesting and I ended up learning a lot about this amazing feat. While I do like the author’s writing style for the most part, he does tend to randomly write very casual language that often does not fit with the rest of the book and can confuse the reader with the tone of the writing. I understand that the author is trying to make a book about history relatable, but I think that ...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.
Jan C
Jul 13, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: labor, history-west
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
Apr 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a very well researched book. The way in which the Transcontinental Railroad was built is an amazing feat for America in engineering as well as business and labor. The biggest flaw of this book (and why just the average rating) is that this book reads too much like a historical lecture. I know this is a book on the history but it was just too dry. I enjoy Ambrose's writing (author of Band of Brothers and multiple other books) I just thought the tone of the book was lacking. If you are rea ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, american-history
This was definitely a very interesting book about one of most important events of the nineteenth century--if not American history. I just feel it wasn't told as well as some of Ambrose's other books, like "Undaunted Courage" or "Band of Brothers." Here are a few of my complaints:

1) The narrative is VERY repetitive. It seems that Ambrose is constantly saying the same thing over and over again, especially with regards to how the U.P. was always strapped for cash, or how hard it was to dig tunnels
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
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
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
Rod Zemke
Jun 10, 2010 rated it liked it
3.75--a little below his usual work.
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.
Peter Corrigan
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
The 'Golden Spike' of my 2020 reading year has been driven in a fitting way. This is a solid account of a seminal event in American history. Perhaps not up to level of David McCullough's great building project books (the Brooklyn Bridge and Panama Canal) but certainly a fine effort. There is a fairly boring amount of financial machinations which while perhaps necessary to the story, sort of lessened the interest level. The craziness of the financing and land deals led eventually to what Ambrose ...more
Mark Cain
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There are a handful of 21st century writers in history who are also great storytellers. Goodwin (Team of Rivals, etc.) is one of them; Ambrose is/was another. This carefully researched volume about one of America’s greatest undertakings is a tightly-written, captivating yarn full of fascinating characters. The Big Four of the Central Pacific, Doc Durant and Grenville Dodge of the Union Pacific, Brigham Young and a host of other larger-than-life historical figures give this narrative great vitali ...more
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It might be because I lived in Omaha for 13 years and have always thought railroads were fascinating. I've toured the UP Museum in Council Bluffs, IA, and also visited Promontory, UT, and avidly read all the placards there. I knew many of the big names involved in the construction of the transcontinental railroad and enjoyed learning about other, lesser known figures. The construction of the railroad was such an amazing feat and it really shaped our country in so ...more
Jonathan Card
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
A great historical account of one of America’s greatest achievements, especially after the Civil War ravaged every facet of America. Wild ride from start to finish (somewhat of a slog in the middle). Quite the feat as the United States government pitted two companies against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes for shipped from the East throughPanama or around South America to the west or lugged across the country to the Plains. One of ...more
Nov 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
Other than one anecdote about Lincoln's history litigating on behalf of the railroad and its subsequent debt settlement, the book was an unengaging slog. It was off-putting to read about the ruthless businessmen and deceptive politicians through a lens of heroism amidst the mistreatment of labor, widespread racism, and violence against the Plains Indians. ...more
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Worthwhile read if only to understand our national history
Porter Broyles
What an enjoyable book. My biggest complaint is that I kept putting this book into context with the AMC series "Hell on Wheels." Couldn't think of Durant without picturing Colm Meaning and wondering when Bohanan would show up ;-)

That being said, the book really did paint a picture of the period. There were sections wherein Ambrose quoted numerous telegrams, letters, or other correspondence to help paint a picture as to what occurred.

Very enjoyable quick book.

The reason why it gets 4 stars and
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
Chauncey Rogers
Mar 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Pretty darn good. I certainly liked it, and learned a lot, but it wasn't my favorite history book I've ever picked up. Still would recommend it to anyone who likes history. It wasn't very long, and it was very informative.
One thing that surprised me was the treatment of workers from China--I actually thought that, bad as it was in the book, that it would have been quite a bit worse. I'm not sure why I would have thought it would be even worse. They certainly weren't treated well or fairly, but t
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Stephen Ambrose 3 21 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. In his final years he faced charges of plagiarism for his books, with subsequent concerns about his research emerging after his death.

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