A nicely crafted portrait of monopolists and muckrakers.

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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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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