SUNSET LIMITED: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West, 1850–1930

Richard J. Orsi, Author . Univ. of California $29.95 (637p) ISBN 978-0-520-20019-7

Tracing the story of the Southern Pacific from the founding of its earliest predecessor roads in Texas and California to the Southern's final amalgamation in the 1920s, Orsi artfully weaves corporate history with social history to show the impact of the steel horse on frontier settlement, the development of cities and the environment. Orsi, professor emeritus of history at Cal State, is a defender of the Southern, using the railroad as a case study for eschewing the myth of the monopolistic, land-grabbing railroads. Where some previous historians have denounced the Southern as an evil "Octopus" intent on using its dominance in freight tariffs, land grants and political clout to deprive farmers and workers of their profits, Orsi instead reveals a benevolent capitalist monolith focused on enriching itself by fostering development and creating a flood tide of commerce that would raise all boats. As Orsi points out, the management of the Southern identified quite closely with broad regional interests, because the Southern was the one major U.S. railroad organized and operated by westerners rather than Wall Streeters. Orsi provides a remarkable study for those intrigued by the history of American railroading and the development of the West—and of American capitalism. 58 b&w photos, 4 maps. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/14/2005
Release date: 05/01/2005
Open Ebook - 637 pages - 978-0-520-94086-4
Paperback - 615 pages - 978-0-520-25164-9
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