Significant aspects of these men’s experience are necessarily subject to conjecture or have to be reconstructed. Despite this daunting impediment, Mr. Chang has accomplished the seemingly impossible. He has researched obscure American newspaper accounts. He has drawn on Central Pacific correspondence and financial records and made extrapolations from accounts of other contemporaneous Chinese immigrants. He has even evaluated archeological evidence. And he has written a remarkably rich, human and compelling story of the railroad Chinese ... In gripping prose, Mr. Chang evokes the challenges the Chinese railroad workers confronted ... Mr. Chang puts readers squarely into the shoes of the Chinese workers ... That book is clearly designed for an academic audience; fortunately, in Ghosts of Gold Mountain, Mr. Chang has mined expertly the extant material on the subject.
As a writer, Chang faced his own impossible task. To date, historians have not found a single diary or letter written by one of the Railroad Chinese. Despite this dearth, Chang’s account of their experiences is authoritative and engaging ... If Chang’s exhaustive fact-finding sometimes saps his momentum...his methodology just as often lends the book a compelling sense of mystery. Reading Chang’s analysis of period photographs, for instance, is like watching a master detective work a crime scene. His investigations are often surprisingly moving, too ... Chang’s book is a necessary corrective to delusions about our past, and a model for how historians might 'give voice to the voiceless.'
... necessary ... Though no firsthand accounts of the Railroad Chinese have survived the decades since, Chang artfully reconstructs the lives of these industrious migrants ... Through his careful scholarship, Chang serves as a passionate advocate for Chinese workers on the Central Pacific Railroad who were not wanted, but were needed. He explores workers’ strikes, and he shows how the Railroad Chinese found their agency as they worked west to east and recognized their own contributions to our modern American landscape. With this text, Chang sheds light on a forgotten history and honors the lives of the Railroad Chinese and their vital contributions to the nation.
...the most comprehensive account you are ever likely to find of the building of the western section of America’s transcontinental railway ... Chang’s intention is to tell the story from the perspective of the Chinese navvies who did 90% of the work, though in that he’s severely handicapped by a lack of first-person source material. Chang hopefully asserts that, '… recovery of a lost past is possible if imaginative efforts are made to understand the rich and expansive historical materials that do exist.' Chang at one point describes his subjects as literate, but that’s surely an exaggeration. ... Chang lapses into imagined episodes and dialogue here and there, but his account is for the most part dispassionate and even scholarly ... Strangely, Prof Chang renders any Chinese terms in Mandarin, a language none of his subjects would have spoken, and using a Latin orthography developed by the communists a century later. Not perhaps what one might expect from a specialist scholar. But overall, Ghosts of Gold Mountain is an engrossing account which will interest any student of Chinese or American history.
... a meticulous, sincere effort to restore to the public mind the lives and struggles of the Chinese workers who made possible one of the great engineering miracles of the age ... Throughout the book, Chang uses his scholarship and empathy to try to make up for the frustrating lack of firsthand accounts and succeeds in painting a vivid picture of the past.
[Chang's] writing is vibrant and passionate ... his 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.