The Life and Legend of E. H. Harriman

Maury Klein, Author University of North Carolina Press $39.95 (544p) ISBN 978-0-8078-2517-4
""My time,"" Edward Henry Harriman once said, ""is worth a mule a minute."" It was a rare understatement. Known as ""the Colossus of [Rail]Roads,"" having transformed himself at age 50 from Wall Street banker to audacious transcontinental octopus, Harriman (1847-1909) spent his late years developing, acquiring, merging and modernizing railroads from the Union Pacific to the Burlington. With businesslike authority, Klein (a historian at the University of Rhode Island and author of The Life and Legend of Jay Gould) vividly tells the story of a man who rose from being a minister's son with few prospects to an efficient, visionary entrepreneur. Klein makes a strong argument that, although not as well remembered as his peers, Harriman was in a league with financial titans Rockefeller and Carnegie; indeed, the author suggests, Harriman accomplished as much in a decade as they did in their entire careers. The book suffers from an overabundance of cliches, however, and lacks the clarity of a central organizing theme. Klein bogs down in the minutiae of banking and railroading, and yet it is difficult for readers to evaluate the size of Harriman's fortune since Klein never translates the dollar values into today's terms. Still, by the close of this sprawling epic tale--on the afternoon of Harriman's burial when every train in the magnate's dominion was momentarily stilled, bringing the nation to a near halt--Klein succeeds in persuading us that Harriman created an infrastructure with an important legacy. B&w photos. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/28/2000
Release date: 03/01/2000
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