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.
About Dennis Drabelle
DENNIS DRABELLE is author of Mile-High Fever. He has written for multiple publications and is currently a contributing editor and a mysteries editor for The Washington Post Book World. In 1996 he won the National Book Critics Circle’s award for excellence in reviewing. He lives in Washington, D.C.
On May 10, 1869, the rails of the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined at Promontory Summit, in Utah Territory, creating the first transcontinental railroad. The Central Pacific Railroad soon became the object of public ire. Not only did it fail to bring longed-for prosperity, but the railroad charged unfair rates and suborned lawmakers and regulators; its major backers lacked the common touch and built offensively lavish mansions with their newfound wealth. Washington Post Book Worldcontributing editor Drabelle (Mile-High Fever: Silver Mines, Boom Towns, and High Living on the Comstock Lode, 2009) offers a bright, anecdote-filled account of the rise of the railroad corporations, their corrupt business practices and how through journalism and fiction, two leading authors—Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris—made the Central Pacific “a symbol of everything that ailed Gilded Age America.” The complex business story involved surveying, overcoming obstacles (weather and cholera), finding laborers, and cajoling investors, including the federal government, which provided massive aid for construction. Rail barons “achieved a near-miracle by building a railroad through some of the roughest terrain in the country,” but they “couldn’t overcome the widespread perception of their company as a monster that threatened the American republic form of government itself.” In more than 60 articles written in the 1890s for William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, Bierce reamed the railroad and its owners. Based on Bierce’s writing and other sources, Norris then wrote The Octopus (1901), a novel about a railroad whose tentacles wrapped around California. Drabelle’s claims for both authors’ works seem excessive—he ranks Bierce’s articles with Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate coverage, and places The Octopus in the company of Moby-Dick—but his chapters on Bierce and Norris make fine introductions to these important but lesser-known American writers. – Kirkus Reviews
“The Great American Railroad War: How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took On the Central Pacific Railroad” by Dennis Drabelle
The Washington Post Book Review – August 24, 2012 (Excerpt)
In the formative years of the American republic, one measure of national progress was internal improvements — roads, harbors and other advances in transportation and communication. The public was avid about it; Manifest Destiny was wedded to it. In the early years of the 19th century, canals dominated the discussion: The Erie Canal connected the Great Lakes to the Atlantic in 1825 and ensured the preeminence of New York among the Atlantic ports.
By mid-century, rail travel seized the popular imagination, by far the most ambitious line being the Transcontinental Railroad. Completed in 1869, it reduced travel from the East Coast to the West from a six-month ordeal to eight days, with a second-class fare from New York to San Francisco of $70, the equivalent of nearly $1,200 today. In its construction, though, as often happens when private capital goes into harness for public projects, there was graft and corruption on a majestic scale. The Credit Mobilier scandal and its attendant capers have been amply documented. But Dennis Drabelle, a contributing editor of The Washington Post’s Book World, has chosen to write about a much-less-examined aftermath. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS
A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith.
- 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
The Bleeding Hills is available at Amazon.Com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, and any other good bookstore.