This substantial volume provides an evenhanded history of the growth and impact of the railroads in 19th-century America. Wormser ( Pinkerton ) begins with the first primitive engines, describes the struggle to construct transcontinental lines and concludes with the issuing of safety regulations at the end of the century. Balancing the emphasis on ``progress'' is a revealing and dramatic presentation of the railroad industry's seamy underside. Oppressive treatment of workers led to such confrontations as the Pullman strike of 1894; exploitive and monopolistic practices sparked farmers' revolts; and the development of the railroads decimated Native American cultures. Well-chosen black-and-white illustrations suggest the spirit of adventure, while a glossary (``gandy dancer'' means track laborer) adds color. Ages 10-up. (Nov.)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-An interest-holding, skillful condensation of the history of American railroads that avoids oversimplifying the grandeur and drama inherent in the subject. Wormser makes it clear that while the railroads brought about a greater unification of the nation and provided cheaper, faster transportation for goods and people, these outcomes were frequently at the expense of farmers, workers, Amerindians, investors, the government, and others. Many were ruthlessly exploited or financially ruined by such robber barons as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Collis Huntington, and Jay Gould; these men, says the author, ``could get away with murder and often did.'' The coverage is topical, rather than strictly chronological; this, along with the straightforward prose, helps to make for a book that can be read for enjoyment as well as for assignments. It complements Dee Alexander Brown's Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow (Holt, 1975; o.p.) and Oliver Jensen's The American Heritage History of Railroads (American Heritage, 1975; o.p.); both titles are in Wormser's bibliography.-David A. Lindsey, Lakewood Junior/Senior High School, WA
The lonesome, romantic whistle heard on a dark night in the open country is not the only legacy of the railroads to the economic and social history of the U.S. from 1830 to 1900. This candid and spicy volume shows that railroads reflected not only dreams and visions, but also greed, corruption, and politics. The robber barons started in the East. The gold rush of 1848 inspired further westward expansion, which impacted on the Native Americans. The triumph of the golden spike in Utah at the meeting of the transcontinental track between East and West was built on the lives--and deaths--of thousands of Chinese and Irish immigrants. Wormser's even-handed and realistic account will force readers to think critically about the development of the railroads, and they will be fascinated by his tidbits about the personalities of the famous (but mostly infamous) men involved. A solid account for research and an interesting one for railroad enthusiasts. Short glossary of railroad terms included.