THE GREAT IRON LINK

THE BUILDING OF THE CENTRAL PACIFIC RAILROAD

In this entry in the Great Projects series, Laughlin (Trouble on the Shoshone, 1989, not reviewed) takes a fairly negative view of the railroad business and provides disjointed, unpolished biographies of the five men who joined forces to build the western section of the first transcontinental railroad. The book begins with a brief portrait of each man, then moves on to the specifics of the building of the Central Pacific Railroad: how the route was chosen, how Chinese laborers were chosen, how ten miles of track were laid in one day to win a $10,000 bet. Once the railroad was built, the founders eliminated all competitors, charged users ``all the traffic would bear,'' and paid off politicians to keep the railroad's monopoly status. This presentation never captures the tremendous engineering accomplishments, the spirit of the Old West, or the perseverance required for this project. Instead, offer readers Rhoda Blumberg's Full Steam Ahead (p. 742) and Leonard Everett Fisher's Tracks Across America (1992). (maps, b&w photos and reproductions, notes, chronology, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12+)

Pub Date: July 15, 1996

ISBN: 1-883846-14-5

Page Count: 109

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

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THE CIVIL WAR AT SEA

In this companion to Portraits of War: Civil War Photographers and Their Work (1998), Sullivan presents an album of the prominent ships and men who fought on both sides, matched to an engrossing account of the war's progress: at sea, on the Mississippi, and along the South's well-defended coastline. In his view, the issue never was in doubt, for though the Confederacy fought back with innovative ironclads, sleek blockade runners, well-armed commerce raiders, and sturdy fortifications, from the earliest stages the North was able to seal off, and then take, one major southern port after another. The photos, many of which were made from fragile glass plates whose survival seems near-miraculous, are drawn from private as well as public collections, and some have never been published before. There aren't any action shots, since mid-19th-century photography required very long exposure times, but the author compensates with contemporary prints, plus crisp battle accounts, lucid strategic overviews, and descriptions of the technological developments that, by war's end, gave this country a world-class navy. He also profiles the careers of Matthew Brady and several less well-known photographers, adding another level of interest to a multi-stranded survey. (source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7613-1553-5

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Twenty-First Century/Millbrook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his...

THOMAS JEFFERSON

THE ART OF POWER

A Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer lauds the political genius of Thomas Jefferson.

As a citizen, Jefferson became a central leader in America’s rebellion against the world’s greatest empire. As a diplomat, he mentored a similar revolution in France. As president, he doubled the size of the United States without firing a shot and established a political dynasty that stretched over four decades. These achievements and many more, Time contributing editor Meacham (American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, 2008, etc.) smoothly argues, would have been impossible if the endlessly complicated Jefferson were merely the dreamy, impractical philosopher king his detractors imagined. His portrait of our most enigmatic president intentionally highlights career episodes that illustrate Jefferson’s penchant for balancing competing interests and for compromises that, nevertheless, advanced his own political goals. Born to the Virginia aristocracy, Jefferson effectively disguised his drive for control, charming foes and enlisting allies to conduct battles on his behalf. As he accumulated power, he exercised it ruthlessly, often deviating from the ideals of limited government he had previously—and eternally—articulated. Stronger than any commitment to abstract principle, the impulse for pragmatic political maneuvering, Meacham insists, always predominated. With an insatiable hunger for information, a talent for improvisation and a desire for greatness, Jefferson coolly calculated political realities—see his midlife abandonment of any effort to abolish slavery—and, more frequently than not, emerged from struggles with opponents routed and his own authority enhanced. Through his thinking and writing, we’ve long appreciated Jefferson’s lifelong devotion to “the survival and success of democratic republicanism in America,” but Meacham’s treatment reminds us of the flesh-and-blood politician, the man of action who masterfully bent the real world in the direction of his ideals.

An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his political success.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6766-4

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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