Synopses & Reviews
Exploring the social, economic, and legal impact of the growth of the railroads, Sarah Gordon has written a richly informed narrative history of an American icon with surprising conclusions. Where the railroads and their entrepreneurs are ordinarily celebrated for drawing together the vast geographical reaches of the union, Ms. Gordon finds that this accomplishment was achieved at high cost. Conflicts of interest at local, state, and regional levels characterized railroad growth at every stage. Despite the stated aims of government and the railroad corporations to promote settlement and commerce, Ms. Gordon explains, the states lost control and lost the economic benefits of the roads that ran through them. Smaller towns withered as people and money flowed to larger cities. By 1900 the union that had emerged reflected the worst fears of railroad critics. The South and West had been settled, but wealth had become so concentrated in cities that rural life had lost its attraction. Drawing from a wide variety of sources, including literature, diaries, and memoirs, Sarah Gordon has constructed an absorbing story of apparent triumph and real loss.
"The ground-breaking ceremony for the B&O railroad, the first in the U.S., was heavy in symbolism. It took place on July 4, 1828, featured Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and was lauded locally as the very embodiment of the spirit of the union. And so, Ms. Gordon argues, it proved. By integrating regions economically and politically, by sponsoring new initiatives in law and business, the railroad transformed America. A useful volume, engaging and nicely written, with a definite and sustained point of view." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
How the railroads transformed American life between 1829 and 1929, and why the cost of their achievements was so damaging to the social and economic life of the nation.
How the railroads transformed American life between 1829 and 1929, and why the cost of their achievements was so damaging to the social and economic life of the nation. A quite wonderful book...richly textured and intellectually stimulating. --Elizabeth Blackmar, Columbia University. Selected by Choice as an outstanding book for 1997.
Exploring the social, economic, and legal impact of the growth of the railroads, Ms. Gordon finds that their accomplishments in drawing together the vast reaches of the union were achieved at high cost. Smaller towns withered as people and money flowed to the larger cities, and the social and economic life of the nation was forever changed. This is an absorbing story of apparent triumph and real loss, drawn from a wide variety of sources.