The author of Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation returns with a look back at the decade-long 19th century fight between two masters of the railroad industry: General William J. Palmer and William Barstow Strong, each one claiming exclusive routes across the country to the American West.
... a book perfectly suited, in its manageable length and rich incidental detail, for the return of mass air and rail travel ... The book has so many outlandish characters—tycoons who fall in love with women named Queenie and Baby Doe; murder among the Wall Street predators—that it seems to demand a big-screen treatment ... Beneath its adventurous surface, Sedgwick’s account is of hair-raising, ethics-free capitalism ... Sedgwick is particularly good on the perceptual and psychological transformations that the railroads wrought. He has revelatory pages on the way that the speed of trains altered the understanding of American space, and on the way that the view from trains—the near distance racing past, the farther distance proceeding in spacious slowness—became a poetic obsession. Equally revelatory is his discussion of the relation between the railroads’ need for straight tracks and the geometrical design of the settlements built near, and shaped by, the tracks ... Yet Sedgwick’s story is hard to follow in places, simply because it gets so crazily complicated ... One might almost call it the tragedy of infrastructure.
A little-known tale of an Old West railroad rivalry comes to life in From the River to the Sea ... As he analyzes the impact of railroad funding, federal land grants and price wars resulting in cheap tickets, Sedgwick persuasively argues that this epic rivalry between the Rio Grande and Santa Fe railroads was essential to 'making' the West ... Sedgwick skillfully stage-manages a lively cast of characters, all touched by this epochal railroad war and its long-lasting implications for the American West.
Sedgwick's narrative is gripping at times, but it is a substantial oversight that it glosses over the appalling impacts of white railroad expansion on the continent's Indigenous peoples ... This will primarily appeal to readers interested in railroad history.