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I took a train ride from San Francisco to Chicago, a trip spanning 56 hours and over miles. Although mesmerised by the beauty of the landscape and the vast distances involved, I never wondered how the railway line got there in the first place. On one hand, it is a fantastic example of corporate greed, bribery, and public swindli I took a train ride from San Francisco to Chicago, a trip spanning 56 hours and over miles.
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On one hand, it is a fantastic example of corporate greed, bribery, and public swindling at perhaps an unprecedented scale. On the other, the sheer audacity of building tracks to connect two oceans over 3, miles apart gives the protagonists an almost heroic air. Prior to the s, it appears that the only way to travel from New York to San Francisco was via ship through Panama.
Although quite interesting, it almost reads like a paean to the avarice and ruthlessness of Collis Huntington, one of The Associates. Why not focus on the others - one of whom is Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University - who surely played a larger role than the author allows? A well-written recounting of a tumultuous, no-holds barred time in the expansion of our nation. I detested every one of The Associates and their minions and think that's why it took me way too long to finish: man's immutable nature when power and money are involved.
Thank goodness for the last two chapters I'm looking forward to picking up his "The Devil's Dictionary" and enjoying his satirical reflection on that era. More specifically, it focuses on how they banded together to build the Central Pacific Railroad, and then the Southern Pacific. The audaciousness of the men involved — master planner Huntington, quiet cooker-of-books Hopkins, vain politician Stanford, and construction boss and group moderator Crocker — is astonishing, both in what they tried to do and accomplished , and in their utter shamelessness in theft, fraud, corporate malfeasance, bribery, political corruption, and personal vendetta.
For all of that, it turned out to be hollow, as none of the men ended up personally happy nor, for that matter, that well-known today, at least compared to the Eastern robber barons. But all of the Associates, through their machinations, left an indelible mark on the state of California that persists to this day. Four and a half stars actually The story of the first Transcontinental railroad has been told and retold, yet there remains plenty of room for discovering more and reinterpreting it.
Full disclosure, I have more than just an historical interest, being the second great-grandson of Judge E. When Charlie took over the construction of the Central Pacific, it was deemed a conflict of interest for him to remai Four and a half stars actually The story of the first Transcontinental railroad has been told and retold, yet there remains plenty of room for discovering more and reinterpreting it. When Charlie took over the construction of the Central Pacific, it was deemed a conflict of interest for him to remain on the Board a curious nicety, since virtually all other such ethical considerations were blandly brushed aside for decades.
The Associates is a fairly recent addition to the lore of the Gilded Age. To create the railroads, it took boldness, vision, daring, financial and engineering genius, a highly competitive spirit, the ability to turn a blind eye often to moral and ethical questions, and a great deal of luck. Their stories are the stuff that American capitalism was made of in the second half of the nineteenth century. Huntington may have been the boldest and most outrageous of all, making the trip to California and back via Panama a number of times.
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Raynor reveals that this was no cakewalk—time and delay consuming, perilous at sea and in the jungle, and by no means guaranteed to come out well. Stanford was already Governor of California when he came on board. Hopkins was the mildest and most cautious of the bunch, and Charles Crocker, a huge man who had initially walked across the continent to join the Gold Rush, and who like the others had quickly figured out that was far more lucrative to sell things to the prospectors than look for gold yourself.
Crocker had the physique, the charisma, and the will to drive the construction project itself. When he could not find enough laborers, he imported the Chinese, who worked hard and suffered stoically. Even they, however, went on strike for better pay, and Charlie stared them down and kept them on the job. Raynor continues the tale beyond the Golden Spike to the decades of Robber Baron capitalism and massive wealth acquisition that followed. He explains how great fortunes were made and how they eventually were lost.
The great mansions in San Francisco disappeared in the earthquake. Yet random acts of philanthropy left us the Huntington Library, Stanford University, and a scattering of now public arts and culture treasures. In the end, after revealing the worst than can be said of these over-the-top capitalists, the author reveals a grudging respect and admiration, concluding that, if they had not done what they did, the railroads would not have been built and the great economic expansion of the country would not have happened.
At the time, and in their circumstances, there was no other way for them to proceed than how they did: rapaciously. Their greed was really a good thing, spurring the Industrial Revolution with which the formation of the post-Civil War nation went hand in hand. They created wealth and opportunity, not just for themselves, but for everybody, and invented the can-do, up-for-grabs business spirit that has typified American success ever since. Dec 07, Charles Matthews rated it liked it. He exploited the chaos in Washington by pushing through an override of the Railroad Act of that would have halted the Central Pacific in Nevada.
Instead, it drove on to Utah.
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The inspectors were fooled, and Huntington was pleased to hear it. Rayner portrays Stanford as a blowhard and a bit of a wuss, mocked by the other Associates for his laziness. Stanford dithered. It cuts to the heart of how we feel about business and whether political power is, or should be, the handmaiden of economic power. Much later, in the s, Stanford used his money to found the university that bears his name.
THE ASSOCIATES: FOUR CAPITALISTS WHO CREATED CALIFORNIA
Stanford may have been a windbag and he was certainly no saint, but his grief over the death of Leland Jr. Mark Hopkins is recalled mostly because of the hotel on Nob Hill that stands where his mansion once flaunted his wealth. Jun 09, Gretchen Freeman rated it liked it. Read after a visit to the Golden Spike museum in northern Utah. A "true-to-life tale of ruthless ambition, staggering greed, and the making of a nation" which says it all.
These four robber barons made their millions off the transcontinental railroad and paid some of it back to the public with founding the fabulous Huntington Rare Book LIbrary in Pasadena and Stanford University. They also introduced the idea that a corporation can keep government in its pocket. The book could have used more of Read after a visit to the Golden Spike museum in northern Utah. The book could have used more of their personal stories and less of the political machinations.
I could quibble with some of the writing and some of the editorial decisions the author made in telling this story. But it's a timely book about a story I never knew - difficult men with big imaginations and boundless energy, bilking the government while satisfying their endless ambitions in building the transcontinental railroad.
With one big difference; in the gilded age, the robber barons didn't just talk big while delivering cheesy hotels and golf courses. For better and worse, they talked b I could quibble with some of the writing and some of the editorial decisions the author made in telling this story. For better and worse, they talked big and delivered.
Sep 17, aloveiz rated it really liked it Recommends it for: people looking for connection without commitment. Back to "the California room"! As time goes by, I am generally interested in the ethics and feelings of events more so than the facts and orders of things. Which I think are generally subject to the ethics and feelings of the recalling party anyway.
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It's all very sentimental. But after reading the Bierce biography, and also earlier this year, nearly forgetting what century the g Back to "the California room"!
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But after reading the Bierce biography, and also earlier this year, nearly forgetting what century the gold rush occurred in, this book seemed like a pretty good idea. Reading about the origins of the transcontinenetal railroad gives fascinating new perspectives on the evolution of the west. Raynor ties together points about the effects of muckraking journalists on the political identity of San Francisco, the mass population of L. Maybe everyone has already examined the interplay and connotations of California's capitalist ascension at the last turn of the century but for me it was a nice little survey.
View 1 comment. May 12, Lori Beninger rated it liked it Shelves: history. New technologies appeared, life began to move at an alarmingly fast pace, Wall Street boomed, fortunes were made overnight, the media was scurrilous and partisan, and companies began to manipulate the political environment to suit their monetary goals, introducing marketing spin and advertising into the mix.
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Echoes of today's headlines and stories. Richard Rayner's "The Associates" makes the same claims, only on a more intimate scale: following the lives of four industrialists Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford who, beginning in the early s, helped put California on the political map and themselves on the top of the economic food chain, any way they saw fit. They were among the first to claim that corporations should enjoy the same rights as individuals while hiding behind the corporate facade that protected them as individuals -- they wanted, and got, to have their cake and eat it too.
Rayner's style is easy to follow and the history itself fascinating. Some of the reviews claim he got a few of his facts wrong and complain that his research was conducted from secondary rather than first-hand sources, but overall this short history of four teflon-coated titans was a good and informative read. Aug 23, Scott White rated it it was ok. A fairly short read about the quartet of guys that financed and managed the building of the California part of the Transcontinental Railroad, which, in turn, ensured that CA would become the economic center it became.
The book is a sort-of biography about the guys associated with the Associates as they apparently called themselves. More pages are dedicated to Leland Stanford Governor and university founder and Huntington brutally rich guy than the lesser lights. And the biographical in A fairly short read about the quartet of guys that financed and managed the building of the California part of the Transcontinental Railroad, which, in turn, ensured that CA would become the economic center it became. And the biographical information is mainly limited to business highlights, rather than an indepth examination of any of them.
This sketch-like format is not a problem unless the reader takes the book as a comprehensive historical resource. It should be viewed as a nice overview to whet the intellectual appetite for more California history, if one has those kind of appetites. Also, the tone of the book could be interpreted as a little more 'capitalism, yeah!
If you don't know anything about the mid- to lates in California, then this is a decent quick read to help you figure out if you want to know anymore. Not recommended for people that already know a lot, which I didn't, so I enjoyed it. The Associates is an entertaining look at one of history's most important endeavors. The book touches on the extensive corruption used to get things done.
We also get to see the links to other important pieces of history, such as Leland Stanford's founding of his university while mourning his son and the role he playe The Associates is an entertaining look at one of history's most important endeavors. We also get to see the links to other important pieces of history, such as Leland Stanford's founding of his university while mourning his son and the role he played in funding the early development of motion pictures with Eadweard Muybridge to answer the age-old question -- if all four of a horses feet left the ground at the same time while galloping.
While very enjoyable, the writing style is a bit exhausting, often crafting lengthy paragraphs out of just a few extremely long sentences. Dec 31, Sam rated it it was amazing Shelves: thehistorynerd. For me it was an easy read about the beginning of the history of the beginning of California as a state, placing it in the larger context of US history and economy at that time, and the cast of characters around the four men known as the Associates in my family the California robber barons.
Though focusing mainly on Huntington, the book does look at each of the four associates with the least attention paid to Hopkins. If you are interested in history of California, railroads, or the late For me it was an easy read about the beginning of the history of the beginning of California as a state, placing it in the larger context of US history and economy at that time, and the cast of characters around the four men known as the Associates in my family the California robber barons. If you are interested in history of California, railroads, or the late 's early 's robber barons, this is an easy read for you.
If any of those three descriptions make you wince a bit, you should probably not pick up the book. Nov 10, Judy rated it it was ok. Not being a native Californian, I did not grow up learning about the important founders of California commerce, so this was a good basic introduction for me. Particular emphasis is given to the greed and determination of Huntington, in fact, so much so that it felt as though the author had some particular bias against him.
It did make me Not being a native Californian, I did not grow up learning about the important founders of California commerce, so this was a good basic introduction for me. It did make me want to do further reading. Feb 27, lyell bark rated it liked it. Feb 18, Rob rated it really liked it. This book is about the Big Four, or as they preferred to be called, The Associates who completed the first transcontinental railroad in the U.