cover image Full Steam Ahead: The Race to Build a Transcontinental Railroad

Full Steam Ahead: The Race to Build a Transcontinental Railroad

Rhoda Blumberg. National Geographic Society, $18.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-7922-2715-1

Newbery Honor author Blumberg (Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun) offers not only an assiduously documented, spikes-and-bolts chronicle of the ""great race"" to create the first cross-country railroad by laying track between Sacramento and Omaha, but an absorbing panorama of the project's dramatic effect on the American frontier. Lacing her narrative with often amusing anecdotes and ample quotes, Blumberg spins a tale thick with intrigue and controversy. Feuding began almost immediately as congressmen argued about whether the track should be laid on Northern or Southern soil, thus stalling the project until President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. Many memorable personalities emerge here, including the visionaries who conceived of transcontinental rail travel in the 1850s; the greedy, profiteering businessmen who organized the Central Pacific Railroad Company, charged with building the railroad eastward from California; and the stalwart laborers, many of them Chinese, Native American and Mormon, who endured bitter mountain blizzards, sweltering desert heat and, sometimes, extreme prejudice. Attractively designed, the volume contains numerous period illustrations and on-site photos of the mammoth undertaking. Ages 10-up. (May)