Our World Foreshadowed

railroadedrival rails

When it comes to the American West, there is no other writer like Richard White: a serious scholar with a highly original take on familiar subjects….His subject, the making of the transcontinental railroads, is perhaps the pivotal story of the West, but it’s not the one we know from movies and myth. It’s about the birth of all those things that most trouble us nowadays…” — Rebecca Solnit

It’s always exciting to unpack a new book from leading Western historian Richard White. Professor of American History at Stanford University, White has written several award-winning books over the years, including the ground-breaking “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own”: A New History of the American West.

His latest work, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America is a dramatic reimagining of the railroad’s impact on the Western landscape. White has written a fascinating history that is more concerned about the complex machinations of railroad finances than it is about the triumphal driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah. The most audacious figures of the Gilded Age take center stage in Railroaded: railroad magnates such as Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, James J. Hill, and Jay Gould.

The transcontinental railroads were truly our first corporate giants, and often their attempts to generate profits from proliferating debt sparked devastating economic panics. As White contends, the railroad’s dependence on public largesse also opened the doors to widespread corruption. As historian Geoffrey C. Ward writes: “Railroaded is a wonderful book, fresh, provocative, witty, filled with foreshadowing of our world but always true to its times…”

Another recent railroad book (also pictured above) is Walter R. Borneman’s Rival Rails: The Race to Build America’s Greatest Transcontinental Railroad — an energetic tale of the “other transcontinentals”, those forging a southwestern route to the Pacific. Recently, we were lucky to have Walter Borneman present his new book for the Rocky Mountain Land Series — a wonderful night!

Here’s a few more recent additions to the Land Library’s railroad collection:

A Most Magnificent Machine: America Adopts the Railroad, 1825-1862 by Craig Miner (a perfect complement to Richard White’s Railroaded, covering the earlier days of railroads in America), Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvery Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West by Stephen Fried.

Slowly, but surely, the Land Library has been expanding its collection of railroad books. Beyond the Iron Road’s impact on the West, railroads are also a major part of South Park’s heritage. South Park’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch will be the future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library — what better place for an exciting collection of railroad books!

south park

For more on South Park’s railway heritage, be sure to check this link!


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