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Publisher's Summary

The transcontinental railroads of the late 19th century were the first corporate behemoths. Their attempts to generate profits from proliferating debt sparked devastating panics in the US economy. Their dependence on public largess drew them into the corridors of power, initiating new forms of corruption. Their operations rearranged space and time, and remade the landscape of the West. As wheel and rail, car and coal, they opened new worlds of work and ways of life. 

Their discriminatory rates sparked broad opposition and a new antimonopoly politics. With characteristic originality, range, and authority, Richard White shows the transcontinentals to be pivotal actors in the making of modern America. But the triumphal myths of the golden spike, robber barons larger than life, and an innovative capitalism all die here. Instead we have a new vision of the Gilded Age, often darkly funny, that shows history to be rooted in failure as well as success.

©2011 Richard White (P)2018 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"White delivers an opinionated, delightfully witty but astute account of sleazy Gilded Age politics, business, and journalism, as well as the complex (but uncomfortably familiar) financial maneuvers men used to enrich themselves." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

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Great Way to Tell the History

I live in a railroad town in East Texas. So, it was fascinating hearing the retelling of how railroads spread throughout the United States. I recommend this to anyone who has a serious or fleeting interest in railroads and how they shaped the United States. My little town in East Texas, Palestine, was heavily influenced by the railroad in the late 1800s. So, I sawed this book out to learn more about how railroads shaped towns like my own. It's well worth it and I recommend it.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Correcting the Myth of the Transcontinentals

Richard White's body of work is impressive for the depth of his research and the urgency of his analysis. Railroaded is a focused book that compliments his more broadly conceived histories of the American West, yet it poses big questions and touches on issues far beyond the scope of railroads in the late 1800s. White uses the expansion of railroads in the West to examine the corruption, incompetence, shortsightedness, and labor exploitation that have become hallmarks of corporate capitalism. The book counterbalances accepted notions of the ultimate benefits to building the transcontinentals by factoring in the myriad social, economic, and environmental costs. Ultimately, White's argument is not that the railroads shouldn't have been built or wouldn't have been realized without government intervention. He questions the moral and financial impact of how and when they were built. White's writing is direct and engaging. It can also be entertainingly caustic, especially when dealing with the ineptitude of men in power. White seems to find special joy in mocking the namesake of the university where he teaches, using archival research to expose Leland Stanford as an incompetent man who nevertheless stumbled his way into fame, fortune, and power. More than taking aim at historical myths, Railroaded is a contemplative and astute book written by one of our premier historians. Highly recommended.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful