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The railway system was to act as a link between Omaha and Sacramento.
There had been difficulty in gaining federal permission and support for construction of the railway. This was then coupled with the difficulty in assigning a starting point for the new system. The author strives to point on the positive impact certain individuals in power had on the establishment of the railroad system. The mentioned individuals are Abraham Lincoln and generals Ulysses Grant and William Sherman. As is expected of the significant financial cost the project will need, Ambrose tackles the financial maneuvers employed in source the required funding. Criticism is ushered to the capitalists, the private sector, to one end, but they are further praised for their role and risk taking trait. Aside from this, he goes to extensive detail in defending the role played by the government, the public sector, in financing the project. He explicates the fact that some projects are too valuable to be left at the hands of the private sector.
Stephen proceeds to deviate from the project and expound on the scandal that arose from sourcing funding for the transcontinental railway. The book points on the massive fortunes that were made by unscrupulous individuals and the business men who risked their money and subsequently their business. Aside from businessmen, engineers and surveyors risked and most ended up losing their lives. The author talks of the tens of thousands of Irish, Chinese and other laborers who did backbreaking tasks on the railway tracks. However, the key characters of the book are not the individuals in power; but rather these individuals who were tasked with the demanding labor. However, the author contradicts this assertion by being bias in favor of the rich individuals. The ordinary individuals had to endure, most notably, extreme weather conditions. Other obstacles came in the form of Indians, avalanches, nitroglycerin blasts, exploding engines and runaway trains.
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