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How two of America's greatest authors took on the Central Railroad monopoly The notorious Central Pacific Railroad riveted the attention of two great American writers: Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris. In The Great American Railroad War, Dennis Drabelle tells a classic story of corporate greed vs. the power of the pen. The Central Pacific Railroad accepted US Government How two of America's greatest authors took on the Central Railroad monopoly The notorious Central Pacific Railroad riveted the attention of two great American writers: Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris. In The Great American Railroad War, Dennis Drabelle tells a classic story of corporate greed vs. the power of the pen. The Central Pacific Railroad accepted US Government loans; but, when the loans fell due, the last surviving founder of the railroad avoided repayment. Bierce, at the behest of his boss William Randolph Hearst, swung into action writing over sixty stinging articles that became a signal achievement in American journalism. Later, Norris focused the first volume of his trilogy, The Octopus, on the freight cars of a thinly disguised version of the Central Pacific. The Great American Railroad War is a lively chapter of US history pitting two of America's greatest writers against one of A merica's most powerful corporations.


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How two of America's greatest authors took on the Central Railroad monopoly The notorious Central Pacific Railroad riveted the attention of two great American writers: Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris. In The Great American Railroad War, Dennis Drabelle tells a classic story of corporate greed vs. the power of the pen. The Central Pacific Railroad accepted US Government How two of America's greatest authors took on the Central Railroad monopoly The notorious Central Pacific Railroad riveted the attention of two great American writers: Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris. In The Great American Railroad War, Dennis Drabelle tells a classic story of corporate greed vs. the power of the pen. The Central Pacific Railroad accepted US Government loans; but, when the loans fell due, the last surviving founder of the railroad avoided repayment. Bierce, at the behest of his boss William Randolph Hearst, swung into action writing over sixty stinging articles that became a signal achievement in American journalism. Later, Norris focused the first volume of his trilogy, The Octopus, on the freight cars of a thinly disguised version of the Central Pacific. The Great American Railroad War is a lively chapter of US history pitting two of America's greatest writers against one of A merica's most powerful corporations.

30 review for The Great American Railroad War: How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took On the Notorious Central Pacific Railroad

  1. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    We muckraked, not because we hated our world, but because we loved it. We were not hopeless, we were not cynical, we were not bitter." - Ray Stannard Baker-Journalist Muckrakers were a group of writers, during the Progressive era who tried to expose the problems that existed in American society as a result of the rise of big business, urbanization, and immigration. This is a story of greedy railroads and angry journalists portrayed in the Gilded Age. Both of the writers: Ambrose Brose and Frank “We muckraked, not because we hated our world, but because we loved it. We were not hopeless, we were not cynical, we were not bitter." - Ray Stannard Baker-Journalist Muckrakers were a group of writers, during the Progressive era who tried to expose the problems that existed in American society as a result of the rise of big business, urbanization, and immigration. This is a story of greedy railroads and angry journalists portrayed in the Gilded Age. Both of the writers: Ambrose Brose and Frank Norris are very well depicted in the book “The Great American Railroad War: How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took On the Notorious Central Railroad.” In the late 1850s, Collis Potter Huntington and three other industrialists, wanted to pursue the idea of creating a rail line (Central) that would connect America's east and west. Huntington was a shrewd Washington insider and knew how to play the political games needed to get a loan. These wealthy men (called robber barons by the press) received a large and low-interest loan from Congress to build their railroad and then decided they didn't want to pay it back. The loan was amounting to $130 million. The tough and sarcastic journalist Ambrose Brose was a Civil war veteran who was hired by Randolph Hearst (who hated Huntington) to investigate in January 1896. He sent Bierce to Washington, D.C. to investigate and write a series for the San Francisco Examiner attacking the railroad-friendly refinance bill. The American public was outraged when they read it and the bill was defeated eventually. When the angered Huntington confronted Bierce on the steps of the Capitol and told Bierce to name his price, Bierce's answer ended up in newspapers nationwide: "My price is one hundred thirty million dollars. If, when you are ready to pay, I happen to be out of town, you may hand it over to my friend, the Treasurer of the United States." Frank Norris was a novelist who wrote a novel called “The Octopus,” in which a railroad (thinly portrayed as Southern Pacific ) corrupts people. Norris proved that fiction, perhaps even more than fact-based journalism, can have real social effects.  The book was inspired by the “Mussel Slough Tragedy” of 1880, a dispute over land titles between settlers and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Seven people were killed. This book was a classic tale of corporate greed vs. the American settlers. I like reading about people who challenge the status quo, the “Muckrakers” exposed problems like political corruption, child labor, and safety issues with workers. Their work increased support for progressive politicians, which, in the long run, helped end child labor, get a shorter workweek, and improve the lives of the poor. Sounds like good old activism to this reader. I recommend this book and gave it four stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fran

    The Great American Railroad War Ambrose Pierce and Frank Norris wrote about a time period in American History that would rock the world of journalism and enlighten the world about the inner workings of the Railroad Industry. Before the advent of the railroad it was difficult if not near impossible to travel cross country and get anywhere except on horseback or stagecoach. With the Transcontinental Railroad completed in 1869 traveling from the East to the West coast would no longer take 6 months The Great American Railroad War Ambrose Pierce and Frank Norris wrote about a time period in American History that would rock the world of journalism and enlighten the world about the inner workings of the Railroad Industry. Before the advent of the railroad it was difficult if not near impossible to travel cross country and get anywhere except on horseback or stagecoach. With the Transcontinental Railroad completed in 1869 traveling from the East to the West coast would no longer take 6 months but only eight days. Imagine that and imagine the fare of seventy dollars as compared to today’s fare of 1200 dollars. Private money or capital usually goes into creating and funding public projects but you know the world of finance and corruption wreaked his awful head big time. The author of this outstanding book, Dennis Drabelle, decided to write about the advent of the railroad and the major contributions of two writers: Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris as she learn more about the Central Railroad Monopoly, the notoriety caused by these two infamous writers and the attention focused on them during the time period known as the Great American Railroad War written by Dennis Drabelle. Nothing about this book is any different then today. Greed runs paramount in corporations and the power of the word or the pen can either make or break someone or an entire industry. Pierce and Noble wrote about a time period that was highly volatile. The big four were referred to as those that created and funded this industry. Huntington, Hopkins, Stanford and Crocker: The Big Four. Charles Crocker was powerful and his power increased but not in the legal sense of the word. Accepting subsidies and pretending to be self-made he forged ahead no different than the other three. Imagine owing 75 million dollars in loans and hoping the government would forgive them. Required to pay these notes or loans by the Railroad in 1896 Huntington was the only survivor and therefore responsible. But, Leland Stanford before he died thought the US government would not ask for the debt to be outright. Why? The outstanding and “stupendous contribution- Central Pacific which helped increase the common good. But, Stanford was gone when the loan came due and as I said only Huntington was left. Bierce wrote about this because of the public interest. Huntington was powerful and managed to not have to pay it outright. Bierce wrote over 60 articles published by Hearst on this subject. Every article filled with rude similes, analysis of the law hoping to enlighten the public and definitely creating interest in his articles and journalism. The story begins with the history of the Transatlantic Railroad but let’s not forget Frank Norris who wrote the Octopus based on a political cartoon, which depicted the Railroad as a monster with many arms like the Octopus. How did the Railroad receive this sinister reputation? This book pits two great writers against each other and brings to light many important facts and history most people never learned or knew about. Building the railroad created a great frenzy during this time period. The destination was not so important as the fact the Northerners wanted a northern route form St. Louis to Omaha to somewhere on the West Coast. Of course the Southerners disagreed and wanted a Southern route. Both had their reasons and one was to foster and shape the future of slavery. Northerners wanted to run the route through places where slavery was not welcome where Southerners wanted the opposite. Author Dennis Drabelle brings to life in his novel The Great American Railroad War how Frank Norris and Ambrose Bierce used the newspapers, their journalistic resources and the power of the pen to investigate, inform and find out about the Central Pacific Railroad. Corporate greed is not just germane to our time period it goes way back even further than what is revealed by this author in this book. Many check points and safeguards were not in place and much went unnoticed and not reported. Muckraking is not just in the present. Reporting the news and using his their abilities to inflame, destroy and tell it how it is, these two reporters managed to stir up quite a bit. Bierce published over 60 articles in the San Francisco Chronicle owned by William Randolph Hearst. Bierce was tough, straightforward as the author relates that Hearst had great respect for him and yet had a sensitive side as the author alludes to. Perceptive, astute, and relentless in his reporting, showing little or no mercy for htose he wrote about and definitely no sympathy for the Central Pacific Railroad the target of his writing. The author describes in chapter one through three the history of the transcontinental railroad, how the big four came into play, the history of the loans and the end result. Central Pacific accepts the loans from the government in order to pay for construction costs. They took bribes, and convinced members of Congress to forgo having to pay the loans by passing a bill that will state that. Imagine negating a 75 million dollar loan. But, not everything goes the way you want and using these methods backfired as Hearst decided to use Bierce to demean the big four. In 1896 as I stated the publisher sent a team to Washington to headed by his best reporter Kvetcher, to prevent the railroads from dissolving the debt. Did the Central Pacific Railroad deserve any help or sympathy? But, according to them they provided a service for the common good. After all they build the transcontinental railroad and the funds and benefits were huge. Accepting the loans and bribing members of the news paper men were relentless and as you read this novel the author will let you know that Bierce’s articles were comprised of more than just reporting. Public outrage and more and the Railroad was forced to paid its debts. Next, the author introduces Frank Norris another writer. Norris wrote the Octopus in 1901. In this book Norris discusses the crimes of the Central Pacific Railroad and the Southern Pacific. Remember the Northerners wanted a northern route and the Southerner a southern route to foster slavery. The Octopus is a novel that deals with corporate greed and much more. The final chapters deal with the end result of what happens and the fact that both of their efforts came at the wrong time. The Great American Train War depicts a time when corporate greed reigned and authors like Frank Norris’s work showcased this time period. The author’s account is straightforward, to the point and highlights the outstanding writing of both men. At the end we learn that Norris and his wife went to Chicago to the home of the largest grain market to get the facts for writing his new novel The Pit. Much of what he learned he hoped would help him but his “neglect of mathematics would come back and bite him.” It took a lot of help and guidance for him to learn and understand the workings of futures trading and more. Norris work was in demand due to the success of the Octopus. The rest you need to read for yourself and the final outcomes too. Bierce defeated the Southern Pacific, he returned to the West Coast and for many years lived in Los Gatos. In 1890 he moved back to Washington since Hearst revered him and did not want to lose him. Why he left and the send off he received from the Examiner you need to read for yourself. The final chapter focuses on the rest of the lives of these two authors, their families and Big Four, Southern Pacific and who you feel might have won the war of the Railroads. Just how the past comes into play in the present read the last chapter and find out. This is one book that you definitely want to read. Fran Lewis: reviewer

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bill Arnold

    A top notch examination of the history of the Central Pacific Railroad/Southern Pacific Railroad from construction to its crushing presence in the development of 19th century California. All the fascinating players in this saga are on display: the RR owners (The Big Four); the battling journalist (Ambrose Bierce); and the impassioned novelist (Frank Norris). Fascinating biographical sketches of everybody involved are presented in a orderly chronological fashion as the story unfolds. It's as A top notch examination of the history of the Central Pacific Railroad/Southern Pacific Railroad from construction to its crushing presence in the development of 19th century California. All the fascinating players in this saga are on display: the RR owners (The Big Four); the battling journalist (Ambrose Bierce); and the impassioned novelist (Frank Norris). Fascinating biographical sketches of everybody involved are presented in a orderly chronological fashion as the story unfolds. It's as though the best of several historical works concerning these people have been put together in one book. Dennis Drabelle is a masterful narrator!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carole

    Can't recommend the book. I love trains, loved studying and teaching about the Industrial Revolution. I didn't feel Drabelle fleshed out the writers, Bierce and Norris, who I thought would be the centerpieces of the book. I did enjoy learning more about how the tunnels through the western mountains were dug, and it felt as if Drabelle fleshed out that aspect of the railroads well. There have been good reviews, but I just can't second them.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Converse

    Before starting this book, I had considerable doubts that a book about the writers Ambrose Bierce, Frank Norris, and the Central Pacific Railroad could hold my interest. Having in the past read a bit about the doings of nineteenth century trans-continental railroads, it wasnt clear to me that Id learn anything new about their dreary misdeeds and financial problems. Furthermore, trying to discuss a railroad and two authors in the same book could easily result in a narrative lacking focus. If the Before starting this book, I had considerable doubts that a book about the writers Ambrose Bierce, Frank Norris, and the Central Pacific Railroad could hold my interest. Having in the past read a bit about the doings of nineteenth century trans-continental railroads, it wasn’t clear to me that I’d learn anything new about their dreary misdeeds and financial problems. Furthermore, trying to discuss a railroad and two authors in the same book could easily result in a narrative lacking focus. If the book had not been sitting on my public library’s shelves I would not have purchased it. I was most pleasantly surprised about the book, which weaved together the three different subjects successfully and is written wittily. The event that ties Bierce, Norris and the Central Pacific together is the attempt by the railroad in 1896 to get its repayment of government loans from the 1860s, now due in full, delayed for several decades. This attempt appeared likely to succeed. Bierce, then working for the San Francisco Examiner as a columnist, was sent to Washington D. C. to cover the legislative struggle. The Examiner’s owner, William Randolph Hearst, had his own political ambitions, and as the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads (both under the same ownership) were most unpopular in California, negative coverage of this attempt would likely boost circulation. Backed by a small group of other reporters, Bierce covered the maneuverings with sufficient factual detail and wit to derail this bid, in large part due to his ability to get eastern newspapers, and thus the Congressional members from eastern states, interested in this apparently tedious request. The ultimate result was a compromise in which the railroad had ten years to pay up, expressed in a bill which did not permit the owners to hide money behind other corporate forms, such as the Southern Pacific or the holding company that owned both the Central and Southern Pacific. Bierce’s report was in turn an important source for Norris’s novel about the Southern Pacific, The Octopus. The book is structured into five informal layers, each consisting of several chapters. First we learn of the idea for the Central Pacific railroad, in which Theodore Judah is the central figure. After Judah’s discouraging attempts to raise money from small investors, he succeeds in obtaining the support of Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker. Though these folks have some money to invest, the vast majority of the funding will come from the federal government in both land grants and more importantly bonds that the railroad may sell (and keep the monies thus raised) while the federal government will pay the interest on these bonds until the railroad finally repays principal and interest in 30 years. Like their rivals in the Union Pacific, the entity involved in building the first trans-continental railroad westwards, Huntington, Hopkins, Stanford, and Crocker, known as the Associates, hit upon the device of enriching themselves quickly by setting up a separate construction company that will build the railroad. Thus money comes in from the feds to the railroad, the railroad contracts with the construction company to build the railroad and the profits from construction go to the Associates. Poor Judah, who seems to have had some qualms about this, has the bad luck to die in 1863 from yellow. Crocker was in charge of the construction company, known as the Contract and Finance Company. Various shenanigans are engaged in to improve the return on investment, such as declaring that the Sierra Nevada starts seven miles east of Sacramento (the government pays substantially more for building in mountainous terrain), building the tracks much further east than originally envisioned and so on, all of these changes made possible in part by considerable bribery of state and Congressional figures. That said, the Central Pacific, unlike the Union Pacific, generally did a quality job of construction and there is no reason to doubt that the Associates truly intended to build a railroad as well as making off with as much government money as possible. Despite the government support, the Associates had frequent cash flow problems (government funds did not arrive in a timely fashion and costs of building in the mountainous areas often exceeded the government rate) as well as the difficulty in building through the Sierra Nevada. It is a tribute to their innate ability that men with no experience in construction or engineering (except for Judah, who died before much of the work was done) were able to accomplish such a feat. It’s a pity they didn’t have better financial morals. Many of the details of how they made their money will not be known, as they burned the books of the Contract and Finance Company. However, the surviving associates all had estates worth at least 20 million dollars at their deaths. The Associates exercised considerable political power in California for at least a couple decades after the trans-continental railroad was completed; their power diminished during the last decade or two of the nineteenth century. They had also succeeded in rendering ineffective federal attempts, such as the Thurman Act of 1878, to make sure that they were setting aside funds to repay their debts. Owning both the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, they had a near monopoly on rail transport within the state. They took full advantage of this power, charging high rates, and engaging in various shenanigans to boost their profits. One of these tricks was that even if your town lay along the railroad east of Sacramento, and could have been unloaded at a station near you, it would in fact be shipped to Sacramento, and then shipped backed to you. This procedure now only allowed the railroad to charge you more mileage, but the instate reshipment would be charged at a higher rate per ton-mile. After getting the railroad set up, we learn of Ambrose Bierce’s early life, especially his formative Civil War service on the Union side. Bierce was born in 1842 in Horse’s Cave, Ohio (what are horses doing in a cave?), the tenth of thirteenth children of a well-read, pious, and financially feckless father. Bierce’s brief formal education included a stint at a military academy in Kentucky, where he gained the map-making skills that played an important role in his military career. His family having moved to Indiana when he was four, at nineteen Bierce joined the Ninth Indiana Volunteers after the outbreak of the Civil War. He saw action at Shiloh, Chickamauga, and at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in 1864, where he received a head wound. His military career was marked by promotions from private to lieutenant. After getting out of the army, Bierce becomes a short story author and columnist in San Francisco. He became a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, a paper given to William Randolph Hearst in 1896 as a present from his father. Bierce was deployed to Washington by Hearst in 1896 to cover the railroads attempts to delay repayment. Huntington, by then the only surviving member of the original Associates, favored a plan in which the railroad would repay the government over an 85(!) year period at a rate of 2% interest. Bierce pointed out how bad these terms were, and also succeeded in discovering that many of the Californians that allegedly supported the railroad’s proposal had in fact made no such statements of support. Despite this, Huntington might have succeeded if he had not simultaneously attempted to get the federal government to build a deep-water port in Santa Monica where the Southern Pacific ran. This side issue was much easier to understand and gave those unacquainted with the railroad funding issue an understanding of the rapacity of the Associates. Congress appointed a commission that in 1899 ordered the railroad to pay its debts over 10 years, in twenty installments of about three million dollars each. A separate commission determined that San Pedro rather than Santa Monica should be the site of the southern Californian port. The following paragraph gives an indication of Bierce’s style. The Mayor Sutro referred to was the anti-railroad mayor of San Francisco. Mr. Huntington is not altogether bad. Though severe, he is merciful. He tempers invective with falsehood. He says ugly things of his enemy, but he has the tenderness to be careful that they are mostly lies. So Mayor Sutro may reasonable hope to survive Mr. Huntington, though Mr. Huntington’s rancor blown about in space as a pestilential vapor will outlive all things that be. It is his immortal part. Following chapters on Bierce’s coverage of events in Washington D. C., the focus switches to Frank Norris’ early life, and then the writing of the Octopus. The extent to which the events in the Octopus are fictionalized is discussed. Unlike Bierce, Frank Norris grew up in wealth and comfort; his father owned a wholesale jewelry business. Born in 1870 to B. F. Norris and Gertrude Doggert, a former actress Norris grew up first in Chicago and then in 1885 the family moved to San Francisco. His parents divorced in 1894, Norris remaining with his mother, who received title to substantial real- estate holdings in lieu of alimony. Norris was educated at the University of California, took a writing course at Harvard,, and studied painting at the California School of Design and the Academie Julian in Paris. He never received a degree from any of these institutions; still, my impression is not of a slacker but of a young man who knows what he wants to do and has sufficient money to pursue his goals as he likes. Influenced greatly by the French novelist Emile Zola, Norris embarked on a career as a journalist and novelist. Starting as freelancer in1895 in San Francisco, he later covered the Anglo-Boer war in South Africa and the Spanish-American war in Cuba. Prior to writing about the Southern Pacific, Norris had published two novels, Moran of the Lady Letty, an adventure novel and McTeague, a novel about a marriage that ends in murder. Norris’s novel about the Southern Pacific railroad, The Octopus, was intended as the beginning of a trilogy about the unlikely subject of wheat. The first step was to get the wheat out of the ground and shipped to world markets, which is where the Southern Pacific comes in. The shenanigans of the rate structures and the railroads handling of its real estate holdings are described in the novel, as is a fictionalized account of a shootout at Mussel Slough resulting from the railroads attempt to evict squatters on land granted to the railroad by the federal government. As the author points out, Bierce and Norris had contrasting gifts in the writing of fiction. Bierce was an excellent short story writer, but never succeeded in writing a novel. This failure is especially unfortunate given his intimate knowledge of the Civil War, and that his recollections and stories about the war suggest that he could have written a most realistic account of the fighting, including the important role of feral hogs in disposing of the unburied dead. Norris in contrast couldn’t get the hang of the short-story form. Bierce inclined to a more gothic, romantic style, while Norris aimed for a naturalistic style. Much of the pleasure of the book comes from the author’s style. To give you a flavor, I will quote a few paragraphs relating to the Mussel Slough shootout. This confused event resulted from a conflict between the Southern Pacific and people who had taken up farming in the Central Valley on land granted to the railroad by the federal government to encourage construction of the railroad. Without good reason to do so, the settlers had convinced themselves that the railroad’s title to the land was poor, and that they would be able to buy the land at $2.50 per acre; they were in fact squatting. A portion of the settlers had organized a vigilante organization, the Settler’s League, to violently defend their possessions, and had begun committing arson and acts of intimidation against those settlers who disagreed with them. After a federal court case in its favor, unfortunately presided over by a judge with close connections to Leland Stanford, the railroad began eviction procedures and after messy and confusing offers to sell the land to settlers at $4-5 per acre. A federal marshal and a railroad employee, accompanied by two richer settlers who hoped get the land of those evicted, began the process of eviction. On their second stop they ran into a mass meeting of the unhappy settlers. The result on May 11, 1880, was a shootout in which 7 people died, five settlers and the two farmers who hoped to profit from their distress. Here is how Drabelle describes the public perception, as opposed to the likely reality, of the event. The legend of the Mussel Slough massacre prevailed because it told people what they thought they already knew, because it corroborated stereotypes, because it fed the desire for easily recognizable good and bad guys. The League itself put its finger on the widespread readiness to believe the worst of the Southern Pacific in a pamphlet published shortly after the shootings: All good people sympathize with the right. Generous impulses and a desire that justice shall prevail are with them universal. Among them jealousy of railroad corporations does not exist simply because they are corporations, but because it is known to all men that they too often take advantage of their great power to annoy and oppress individuals. It was ’known' to all men – or at least strongly suspected – that, in a battle between the railroad and ordinary citizens, the railroad would invariably take the low road. To put it in journalistic terms, ‘TRAGEDY IN CENTRAL VALLEY: Confusing Battle ensues after Railroad Loses Patience in Lengthy Feud with Risk-Taking Squatters’ would have made an accurate but tepid headline. ‘RAILROAD GUNS DOWN FIVE IN CENTRAL VALLEY: Agents of Brutal Monopolist Massacre Farmers Whose Only Fault is Trying to Hang on to What They Achieved by the Sweat of Their Brows’ – now that would have sold papers! Incidentally, Norris’s account of Mussel Slough follows the myth more than the reality. Norris did not live to complete trilogy, dying in 1903 of appendicitis. I can recommend the book whole-heartedly.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patrick SG

    I probably shouldn't review this as I didn't finish the book. The narrative of the building of the transcontinental railroad in the first couple of chapters is well done and a good precis for those who haven't read more detailed histories of this fascinating enterprise. The narrative style is brisk and easy to read. I got bogged down in the part following in which the financial and managerial intricacies of the railroad magnates began to be described. This is integral to the rest of the story - I probably shouldn't review this as I didn't finish the book. The narrative of the building of the transcontinental railroad in the first couple of chapters is well done and a good precis for those who haven't read more detailed histories of this fascinating enterprise. The narrative style is brisk and easy to read. I got bogged down in the part following in which the financial and managerial intricacies of the railroad magnates began to be described. This is integral to the rest of the story - how muckraking journalists like Bierce and Norris exposed their chicanery - but I guess I just wasn't in the mood to read about that at this time. Probably too much of watching the news about similar activities now. I do plan to go back to this book in the future and finish it - so maybe it's presumptuous of me to mark it as "read."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Mitchell

    I enjoyed this book in general but loved parts of it and found other parts dragging a bit. I thought it got a little bogged down in the sections around Norris and Bierce where I didn't full understand why it was so important to get into such a level of detail on particular aspects of their writing - more Norris than Bierce. The discussion about the history of the Central Pacific and Bierce's campaign against them was well done. Given the complexity of the financial arrangements, I did think I enjoyed this book in general but loved parts of it and found other parts dragging a bit. I thought it got a little bogged down in the sections around Norris and Bierce where I didn't full understand why it was so important to get into such a level of detail on particular aspects of their writing - more Norris than Bierce. The discussion about the history of the Central Pacific and Bierce's campaign against them was well done. Given the complexity of the financial arrangements, I did think Drabelle did a good job of covering that in an appropriate level of detail while keeping it readable.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ward

    The first part of the book, concerning the railroad, was compelling. Anbrose Bierce was a colorful character who coined a lot of clever sarcastic phrases and his fight with the railroad was interesting. By the time I got to Frank Norris, the book had lost its momentum and I did not see how some of the events of Norris' later life related to the topic. One enlightening aspect of the book concerned how journalism was practiced in this era. Many of the personal attacks Bierce wrote would probably The first part of the book, concerning the railroad, was compelling. Anbrose Bierce was a colorful character who coined a lot of clever sarcastic phrases and his fight with the railroad was interesting. By the time I got to Frank Norris, the book had lost its momentum and I did not see how some of the events of Norris' later life related to the topic. One enlightening aspect of the book concerned how journalism was practiced in this era. Many of the personal attacks Bierce wrote would probably be seen as libel or defamation today.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    had to plow through this, after about page 120 i skimmed for fifty plus pages then read the rest. just one thing i'll point out that annoyed me p.112 Ambrose Bierce was the most important writer to come out of the Civil War "the South's number one candidate, the poet Sidney Lanier, is all but forgotten today." how about Lew Wallace Ben Hur?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Don

    The story of the early railroads is convoluted and confusing and this book doesn't do a lot to clarify. But the B and C stories that were essentially biographies of Bierce and Norris were much better presented and very interesting.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Antoine Culbertson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Leafa Fiore

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael Darpino

  14. 4 out of 5

    Robert Ebel

  15. 5 out of 5

    Poetry Train

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alex Nagler

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  18. 5 out of 5

    David Sims

  19. 4 out of 5

    Art

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael Anderson

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael Goodwin

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

  24. 4 out of 5

    Derick

  25. 4 out of 5

    Neal Hilty

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dan Murphy

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Lewis

  29. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Crabb

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jillian

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