A nicely crafted portrait of monopolists and muckrakers.

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THE GREAT AMERICAN RAILROAD WAR

HOW AMBROSE BIERCE AND FRANK NORRIS TOOK ON THE NOTORIOUS CENTRAL PACIFIC RAILROAD

A story of rapacious railroads and angry pens in the Gilded Age.

On May 10, 1869, the rails of the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined at Promontory Summit, in Utah Territory, creating the first transcontinental railroad. The Central Pacific Railroad soon became the object of public ire. Not only did it fail to bring longed-for prosperity, but the railroad charged unfair rates and suborned lawmakers and regulators; its major backers lacked the common touch and built offensively lavish mansions with their newfound wealth. Washington Post Book World contributing editor Drabelle (Mile-High Fever: Silver Mines, Boom Towns, and High Living on the Comstock Lode, 2009) offers a bright, anecdote-filled account of the rise of the railroad corporations, their corrupt business practices and how through journalism and fiction, two leading authors—Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris—made the Central Pacific “a symbol of everything that ailed Gilded Age America.” The complex business story involved surveying, overcoming obstacles (weather and cholera), finding laborers, and cajoling investors, including the federal government, which provided massive aid for construction. Rail barons “achieved a near-miracle by building a railroad through some of the roughest terrain in the country,” but they “couldn’t overcome the widespread perception of their company as a monster that threatened the American republic form of government itself.” In more than 60 articles written in the 1890s for William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, Bierce reamed the railroad and its owners. Based on Bierce’s writing and other sources, Norris then wrote The Octopus (1901), a novel about a railroad whose tentacles wrapped around California. Drabelle’s claims for both authors' works seem excessive—he ranks Bierce’s articles with Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate coverage, and places The Octopus in the company of Moby-Dick—but his chapters on Bierce and Norris make fine introductions to these important but lesser-known American writers.

A nicely crafted portrait of monopolists and muckrakers.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-66759-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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