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November 28, 2010

Sunday Book Thread

I'm not sure if it was my fondness for bluegrass music that led me to trains (all the train songs, you see), or my fondness for trains that led me to bluegrass (ditto). I especially loved the old cowboy-era coal-burners; in my hometown, the historical society had placed an old locomotive in the city park where kids could climb on it and tourists could get their picture taken in front of it. I loved that train -- I would sit up on the cab and imagine I was driving a mile-long line of freight and passenger cars along the prairie.

So it's probably not surprising that I was drawn to a book by Stephen Ambrose called Nothing Like It In The World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869. That was an era of almost limitless optimism and drive in America, and the book really brings that out. (Unlike now, when it takes us a decade, a leaning tower of permits and plans, and hundreds of millions of dollars to build a mile of highway.) In many ways, the intercontinental railroad was the Manhattan Project or Apollo moon program of the day, and it was accomplished by private industry -- all those evil, profit-seeking "robber barons" you may have heard of.

It's good to have somebackground on what America was all about during that time, which is why What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 is a good companion volume. The Civil War era is a well-trodden piece of ground, but it was really our formative years between the War of 1812 and the Mexican War that built the essential American character (both good and bad).

What are y'all reading this week?

(This is the Willie Nelson version; I like it better than the Arlo Guthrie version.)

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posted by Monty at 09:16 AM

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