Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad

Gordon H. Chang. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-328-61857-3
In this ambitious saga, Chang (Fateful Ties), a professor of American history, burrows deep into the margins of history, attempting to reveal the experiences of the Chinese men who labored on the Central Pacific Railroad. He follows them from China’s Pearl River Delta to California, through the treacherous Sierra Nevada Mountains and into Nevada and Utah, pausing to examine the workers’ strike of 1867, brothels, violence against the Chinese, and other aspects of their lives. A lack of primary sources detailing the lives of the men who built one half of the transcontinental railroad—not a single diary and only a few letters—means Chang is forced to rely on payroll documents, inventory lists, folk songs, and other such sources to piece together his story. His writing is vibrant and passionate; he has searched as widely as he can to try to render his subjects as “vital, living, and feeling human beings who made history,” and this account clarifies that the Chinese railroad workers had far more agency than popularly believed. But the sparseness of the historical record means that he has to spend far too long on extrapolation. Readers hoping for a well-sourced account of what it was like to work on the railroads won’t find one here, though Chang’s history does shed more light on this facet of American history. Agent: Melissa Chinchillo, Fletcher and Company. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/27/2019
Release date: 05/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-328-61861-0
Compact Disc - 978-1-68457-290-8
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-358-33181-0
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