Hot Best Seller

Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad

Availability: Ready to download

“Gripping… Chang has accomplished the seemingly impossible… he has written a remarkably rich, human and compelling story of the railroad Chinese.”—Peter Cozzens, Wall Street Journal WINNER OF THE ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN AWARD FOR LITERATURE  A groundbreaking, breathtaking history of the Chinese workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad, helping to forge modern America o “Gripping… Chang has accomplished the seemingly impossible… he has written a remarkably rich, human and compelling story of the railroad Chinese.”—Peter Cozzens, Wall Street Journal WINNER OF THE ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN AWARD FOR LITERATURE  A groundbreaking, breathtaking history of the Chinese workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad, helping to forge modern America only to disappear into the shadows of history until now. From across the sea, they came by the thousands, escaping war and poverty in southern China to seek their fortunes in America. Converging on the enormous western worksite of the Transcontinental Railroad, the migrants spent years dynamiting tunnels through the snow-packed cliffs of the Sierra Nevada and laying tracks across the burning Utah desert. Their sweat and blood fueled the ascent of an interlinked, industrial United States. But those of them who survived this perilous effort would suffer a different kind of death—a historical one, as they were pushed first to the margins of American life and then to the fringes of public memory.  In this groundbreaking account, award-winning scholar Gordon H. Chang draws on unprecedented research to recover the Chinese railroad workers’ stories and celebrate their role in remaking America. An invaluable correction of a great historical injustice, Ghosts of Gold Mountain returns these “silent spikes” to their rightful place in our national saga. “The lived experience of the Railroad Chinese has long been elusive... Chang’s book is a moving effort to recover their stories and honor their indispensable contribution to the building of modern America.”—The New York Times


Compare

“Gripping… Chang has accomplished the seemingly impossible… he has written a remarkably rich, human and compelling story of the railroad Chinese.”—Peter Cozzens, Wall Street Journal WINNER OF THE ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN AWARD FOR LITERATURE  A groundbreaking, breathtaking history of the Chinese workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad, helping to forge modern America o “Gripping… Chang has accomplished the seemingly impossible… he has written a remarkably rich, human and compelling story of the railroad Chinese.”—Peter Cozzens, Wall Street Journal WINNER OF THE ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN AWARD FOR LITERATURE  A groundbreaking, breathtaking history of the Chinese workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad, helping to forge modern America only to disappear into the shadows of history until now. From across the sea, they came by the thousands, escaping war and poverty in southern China to seek their fortunes in America. Converging on the enormous western worksite of the Transcontinental Railroad, the migrants spent years dynamiting tunnels through the snow-packed cliffs of the Sierra Nevada and laying tracks across the burning Utah desert. Their sweat and blood fueled the ascent of an interlinked, industrial United States. But those of them who survived this perilous effort would suffer a different kind of death—a historical one, as they were pushed first to the margins of American life and then to the fringes of public memory.  In this groundbreaking account, award-winning scholar Gordon H. Chang draws on unprecedented research to recover the Chinese railroad workers’ stories and celebrate their role in remaking America. An invaluable correction of a great historical injustice, Ghosts of Gold Mountain returns these “silent spikes” to their rightful place in our national saga. “The lived experience of the Railroad Chinese has long been elusive... Chang’s book is a moving effort to recover their stories and honor their indispensable contribution to the building of modern America.”—The New York Times

30 review for Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob H

    May 2019 is the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike ceremony, so it's fitting for this groundbreaking new book, one which tells the story of the Railroad Chinese, as the author calls them, in detail for the first time. To build the transcontinental railroad, to bind the nation east and west after a war dividing it north and south, the Pacific end of the venture -- the Central Pacific RR, building eastward from Sacramento -- needed workers. The nearest source of labor was China. This is the firs May 2019 is the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike ceremony, so it's fitting for this groundbreaking new book, one which tells the story of the Railroad Chinese, as the author calls them, in detail for the first time. To build the transcontinental railroad, to bind the nation east and west after a war dividing it north and south, the Pacific end of the venture -- the Central Pacific RR, building eastward from Sacramento -- needed workers. The nearest source of labor was China. This is the first railroad history that tells of the roughly 20,000 Chinese workers who built the Central Pacific RR. The author is a Stanford history professor who presided over the project to research these workers, using English and Chinese-language materials, both in the US and in China. He tells of the workers' origins in the Guangdong region of southeast China, near Hong Kong, their ways of life and their culture -- and their striving. Their voyages to California, their early construction work, their economic and contractual infrastructure in San Francisco, all this is in rich detail, researched through ship manifests, immigration and business records of the Chinese community, as well as the farm and provisioning economy they built to feed their workers. We now have at least a few names of the people who did this, people nameless in history till now. This is a record of the skill, courage, tenacity and hard work of these workers. It's a heroic story: they had to dig -- by hand and by explosives -- through the snow-laden and granite mountains over Donner Summit, under terrible winter conditions and dangerous terrain. Prof. Chang's researchers did considerable research of archaeological digs at work camps along the RR route, as well as from ship manifests and business records regarding the Chinese community, the immigrants, and their provisioning the railroad workers. More and more, we see poignant stories of the dead -- at least 1,200 by most accounts -- and the efforts to get their bodies home for proper burial, lest they be "hungry ghosts" wandering a land far from their ancestral homes. Their efforts are central to American history, and deserve this recognition. The first transcontinental railroad, over Donner Summit and through the Nevada desert, could not have been built without them. Many Railroad Chinese would go on to be indispensable to other major railroad projects soon after: the Northern Pacific, the Southern Pacific, the rail net in California and Oregon, the Canadian Pacific. Their hard work and technical skill -- no accident the Chinese knew about using gunpowder, for instance, they invented it -- would be of the highest quality. It made the U.S. economy rich and well-knit We also read how cruelly the settlers, newly arrived by new railroad, treated the Railroad Chinese, a reign of terror and murder that would drive them from newly build towns like Auburn and Truckee along the route, and all across the West. That, and the immigration exclusion laws urged by Western representatives, would blunt their numbers and drive many away. Some Chinese did cling to the West, and the book tells of their tribulations and endurance. This book is based on meticulous research, sensitively written, and enthralling. It is indispensable to histories of the American West, its railroads, its society and racial struggles. Highest recommendation. (Reviewed from an advance reading copy by Amazon Vine.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey

    (Note: I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley) Throughout this work, author Gordon Chang rightfully laments the current lack of firsthand accounts from any of the Chinese migrants who helped construct the Transcontinental Railroad. However, if he hadn't called attention to this issue so plainly, I'm genuinely unsure if it's something that I would have been able to pick up on. That's because through drawing upon a diverse and wide range of resources and research, Chang is still able (Note: I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley) Throughout this work, author Gordon Chang rightfully laments the current lack of firsthand accounts from any of the Chinese migrants who helped construct the Transcontinental Railroad. However, if he hadn't called attention to this issue so plainly, I'm genuinely unsure if it's something that I would have been able to pick up on. That's because through drawing upon a diverse and wide range of resources and research, Chang is still able to construct an incredibly thorough and detailed picture of who the Chinese workers on the Central Pacific Line were, where they came from, and what kind lives that they lived as they help connect America from coast to coast. "Ghosts of Gold Mountain" is nothing less than a fantastic feat of scholarship that not merely shines a spotlight onto a group that have nearly vanished from America's historical memory, but makes them all come alive again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    The western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad was built almost entirely by immigrant Chinese, 20,000 or so of them.  I expect most of us are vaguely aware of that, and I expect most of us are aware this was hard, dangerous work.  Begun in 1864, finished in 1869, this portion stretches from Sacramento across the Sierra Nevadas, to the desert scrub of Promontory Point, Utah, a distance of 690 miles.  This is history we think we learned in eighth grade.  Gordon Chang takes our tiny tidbit an The western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad was built almost entirely by immigrant Chinese, 20,000 or so of them.  I expect most of us are vaguely aware of that, and I expect most of us are aware this was hard, dangerous work.  Begun in 1864, finished in 1869, this portion stretches from Sacramento across the Sierra Nevadas, to the desert scrub of Promontory Point, Utah, a distance of 690 miles.  This is history we think we learned in eighth grade.  Gordon Chang takes our tiny tidbit and returns a thoroughly human story, extensively researched and rich in detail. There was an impression then, and I suspect now, that the “Railroad Chinese” were enslaved workers, but California (the Gold Mountain of the title) was a free state, so it was important that incoming Chinese laborers were not being traded as slaves.  Most of these men were contract workers who came willingly, following opportunity.  However, Chinese women were bought in China and sold here as prostitutes, primarily for the “Railroad Chinese” – hmmm, the sex trade, as old as time and still with us today unfortunately. All the work was done by hand – men with hand tools, wheelbarrows, black powder (a Chinese invention), horse carts and supply trains as the tracks extended.  Teams of three men using an eight-pound sledge hammer and a pole with crude bit-end could tap roughly three blasting holes a day, mile after mile, for roadbeds and tunnels.  Avalanches, explosions and fire, rock slides, entrapment, maiming injuries that would, as likely as not, ultimately kill a man.  We can only estimate the number of deaths, however.  Complete and/or accurate records of workers don’t exist.  The railroad united our country coast to coast, but, except for a scant few, we don’t even know who these men were – the survivors or the fallen. After the railroad was completed, some of the “Railroad Chinese” went back to China as they’d planned to do.  Some continued as railroad workers here, in Canada, and elsewhere.  Some remained, took jobs or opened businesses, and their descendants live among us.  However, federal law immigration law prohibited anyone born in China from becoming a naturalized citizen, and that law was not changed until 1943.  Nothing brings today into focus as blindingly as history does, and so I offer you Ghosts of Gold Mountain, a thorough, scholarly work and a good read as well. Available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 7. Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

  4. 5 out of 5

    John Yingling

    I only slightly knew of the Chinese contributions to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. This enlightening book opened my eyes, so to speak, to the enormous part played by these men, and to their sacrifices and dedication in doing so. Without their efforts, the western half of the railroad would not have been completed, certainly not in any reasonable time frame. This is history at its finest. And, it helps me fill in some gaps in my knowledge of American history, as well as to make m I only slightly knew of the Chinese contributions to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. This enlightening book opened my eyes, so to speak, to the enormous part played by these men, and to their sacrifices and dedication in doing so. Without their efforts, the western half of the railroad would not have been completed, certainly not in any reasonable time frame. This is history at its finest. And, it helps me fill in some gaps in my knowledge of American history, as well as to make me appreciate and have respect for people from a foreign country who made our country a better place by their hard work and the example they set.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    This book is very awesome and very necessary (yep, I'm a total sophisticate when it comes to writing book reviews). I grew up in nowhere Nevada, right on the Central RR where many Chinese Railroad workers worked back in the day during this massive undertaking to connect East to West via railroad. The Chinese came over in the thousands, but unfortunately there is (currently) very little primary source material for historians to draw upon to full tell their story. This book is an attempt to fill t This book is very awesome and very necessary (yep, I'm a total sophisticate when it comes to writing book reviews). I grew up in nowhere Nevada, right on the Central RR where many Chinese Railroad workers worked back in the day during this massive undertaking to connect East to West via railroad. The Chinese came over in the thousands, but unfortunately there is (currently) very little primary source material for historians to draw upon to full tell their story. This book is an attempt to fill the gap in knowledge that exists surrounding their experiences. I appreciate that the book is holistic in nature - I am completely interested in what people ate, wore and how they entertained themselves in addition to the journey to/fro the Americas.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Randall Harrison

    Perhaps my expectations were a little too high for this book. I thought this would provide more specific detail than I've received in reading other books about the construction of the intercontinental railroad, like Stephen Ambrose's, Nothing Like It In The World. The detail here is extensive; however, the addition of detail about the Chinese doesn't make the narrative flow or the book any more enjoyable to read. It would have made a better long read in a magazine or journal, but to me doesn't h Perhaps my expectations were a little too high for this book. I thought this would provide more specific detail than I've received in reading other books about the construction of the intercontinental railroad, like Stephen Ambrose's, Nothing Like It In The World. The detail here is extensive; however, the addition of detail about the Chinese doesn't make the narrative flow or the book any more enjoyable to read. It would have made a better long read in a magazine or journal, but to me doesn't hold up in book length. The detail is extensive; the reader can tell that Mr. Chang has done meticulous research to investigate this topic which if close to his heart. Implied is that perhaps some of his relatives were railroad workers during this period. There just wasn't enough meat on the bone for me. It seemed like there was a good story here which he told, just not to the length and with the repetition Chang provided.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Schuyler Wallace

    Gordon H. Chang has written a fascinating account of the labor and technology involved in building the Transcontinental Railroad. For seven years, two railroad companies raced towards each other across some 1,900 miles of the United States, completing a link between the East and West coasts. It was a monumental task and featured the tireless work of an estimated 20,000 Chinese laborers, 90 percent of Central Pacific’s workforce, who toiled under brutal working conditions, particularly in the Sie Gordon H. Chang has written a fascinating account of the labor and technology involved in building the Transcontinental Railroad. For seven years, two railroad companies raced towards each other across some 1,900 miles of the United States, completing a link between the East and West coasts. It was a monumental task and featured the tireless work of an estimated 20,000 Chinese laborers, 90 percent of Central Pacific’s workforce, who toiled under brutal working conditions, particularly in the Sierra Nevada. Their story is covered extensively in his “Ghosts of Gold Mountain.” Chang is professor of humanities and history at Stanford University. His work is impeccably researched with extensive notes taken from historical writings, ship manifests, payroll records, and archeological findings. He admits to having little information at his disposal because records were not faithfully maintained which makes his accounting even more remarkable. But it’s all here, the physical and economic struggle of completing over 1900 miles of track between Omaha, Nebraska (the edge of the existing eastern rail network) and San Francisco Bay. On May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific, and the Union Pacific finally came together at Promontory, Utah. The completed route made the transportation of goods and passengers considerably faster and less expensive. Chang’s book is mainly focused on the efforts of the Chinese workers who, although initially considered unfit for the job due to their small stature and lack of experience, proved to be stalwart builders eventually winning much praise for their attitudes and the splendid results. It’s interesting to note that they were not slave workers but were paid for their labors. Chang’s efforts here are nearly as herculean as were the Chinese workers and, although somewhat familiar with the conditions under which they struggled, I came away with an even greater sense of admiration for their efforts. Every obstacle they faced was overcome with innovation and determination and it is a fitting tribute to their contribution that the travel time from the east was reduced from about five months to a remarkable single week. The workers had to blast and dig their way through solid granite, exist in horrendous climatic conditions, endure heat, dirt, choking dust, smoke, fumes, accidental explosions, falling rocks and trees, and freezing snow. Every piece of equipment and all heavy building material had to be manually hauled and installed because of the remote location. At the completion of the remarkable project, the high accolades for their enormous efforts were universal and well deserved. Be prepared for a couple of weeks to recover after reading this exhausting study of a monumental project.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    At issue in the controversy over the deaths of Chinese who perished during and after the construction of the Pacific Railroad is the deep anguish and anger many felt about the suffering Chinese endured in nineteenth-century America, which has yet to be fully acknowledged. The grief continues long after the moments of tragedy. Numbers can suggest dimensions; the deeper question is the meaning of historical experience to the living. For many, especially Chinese-Americans, the history of the Railro At issue in the controversy over the deaths of Chinese who perished during and after the construction of the Pacific Railroad is the deep anguish and anger many felt about the suffering Chinese endured in nineteenth-century America, which has yet to be fully acknowledged. The grief continues long after the moments of tragedy. Numbers can suggest dimensions; the deeper question is the meaning of historical experience to the living. For many, especially Chinese-Americans, the history of the Railroad Chinese requires contending with a painful, aggrieved, and unsettled past. Many today who sympathize with the Railroad Chinese say that low-end estimates of violent deaths of Chinese during and after the building of the railroads demean them and the blood contribution Chinese have made to America. Gordon H. Chang, Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, pg. 233 (hardcover edition) While I initially picked this up for the 'book by a Asian-American author' square of my local library's summer reading challenge, this turned out to be a fascinating and enlightening look at a mostly forgotten part of American history. I think Chang did an excellent job of hunting down what history readers might consider to be non-standard evidence (oral histories, family stories, etcetera as there appears to be no surviving firsthand documentation - such as letters or diaries - from the railroad workers themselves) and weaving that into a compelling account of what life was probably like during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. My one complaint was that the text was a bit dry in places, but it is an excellent book nonetheless. I'm happy to have stumbled across it while browsing and I'm happy to have read it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    Stanford University Sinologist Gordon H. Chang has taken a bit of history that most of us probably never learned and made it come alive. Chinese immigrants to the United States were the major construction force of the Central Pacific Railroad, which connected with the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit. Hired at sub-market wages, which were still more than they might have imagined earning at home, thousands of Chinese men risked their lives to make the Transcontinental Railroad a reality. Chang g Stanford University Sinologist Gordon H. Chang has taken a bit of history that most of us probably never learned and made it come alive. Chinese immigrants to the United States were the major construction force of the Central Pacific Railroad, which connected with the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit. Hired at sub-market wages, which were still more than they might have imagined earning at home, thousands of Chinese men risked their lives to make the Transcontinental Railroad a reality. Chang gives us a look at the region in China from which most of the men hailed, as well as a look at the racism that they faced upon arrival ... and even after their triumphant accomplishments. While there are few primary source documents available from the Railway Chinese themselves, the archaeological record and letters from Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, et al., provide the gateway to learn more about the struggles and celebrations experienced by the men who worked so hard. This was not a leisurely beach read, by any stretch of the imagination. The lengthy bibliography and endnotes bear testimony that this is a scholarly work. Still, I think it's an important read that teaches a lot about prejudice ... and demonstrates to today's reader how much work there remains to be done.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Orner

    Incredibly informative work about the Railroad Chinese and the role they played in one of mankind’s greatest 19th century achievements. I learned much I didn’t know, and was disavowed of many misconceptions I’d been taught by those lacking in sufficient knowledge themselves. Chang’s research is extensive and his passion for his subject obvious. Yet, as others have mentioned, the biggest weakness of the book is the fact that there is no known collection of personal reminisces — no diaries, no int Incredibly informative work about the Railroad Chinese and the role they played in one of mankind’s greatest 19th century achievements. I learned much I didn’t know, and was disavowed of many misconceptions I’d been taught by those lacking in sufficient knowledge themselves. Chang’s research is extensive and his passion for his subject obvious. Yet, as others have mentioned, the biggest weakness of the book is the fact that there is no known collection of personal reminisces — no diaries, no interviews, no letters, not even more than a handful of names. Without this insight into the thoughts and experiences of these men who chose to venture so far from home in search of financial gain only to battle prejudice and a harsh and unforgiving environment, we are left with only speculation and inferences from outside observers and stories handed down through generations. We crave those personal anecdotes; they bring history alive and imbue those ghostly figures with their humanity. Honestly, Chang is upfront about the dearth of personal recollections and he did the best he could with the resources at his disposal. While the narrative drags in places, the book is nonetheless enlightening and worth the effort. I hope someday the world is gifted the stories it needs to give this portion of history and those who sacrificed so much the appreciation and understanding they deserve.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris Miller

    Chief Left Hand by Margaret Coel is an amazing book that I admire very much, but with difficult sourcing due to a lack of records from the Indian perspective. Gordon H. Chang has raised the difficulty level with Ghosts of Gold Mountain, an excellent history of the "railroad" Chinese that were critical to the completion of the Central Pacific Rail Road end of the transcontinental. Despite the fact that there are no diaries, letters, or memoirs from those who made up over 90% of the labor force fo Chief Left Hand by Margaret Coel is an amazing book that I admire very much, but with difficult sourcing due to a lack of records from the Indian perspective. Gordon H. Chang has raised the difficulty level with Ghosts of Gold Mountain, an excellent history of the "railroad" Chinese that were critical to the completion of the Central Pacific Rail Road end of the transcontinental. Despite the fact that there are no diaries, letters, or memoirs from those who made up over 90% of the labor force for the CPRR, he has tapped into descendent's oral histories, what little is available in company records, and testimony by company officials, and mixed in other immigrant stories that would have been similar, to create a masterful look at a much-maligned and historically overlooked group. Two for examples; the company did not record any of the names because they hired through labor contractors, while, for the most part, being conscientious, dutiful workers, they were discriminated against by bosses, white workers, and the European immigrants. Within 20 years of the completion of the road, blind racism led to the Chinese Exclusion Act and made them third- or fourth-class citizens in the country they had united. A powerful, interesting read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ammi Bui

    Gordon Chang tells the story of the "Railroad Chinese" in an exciting and engrossing way that got me to keep reading... all through my Sunday-- good-bye, weekend. This book didn't feel like a typical slog through dense academic material the way some nonfiction books do. The presentation was great, and I learned a lot. The footnotes in here are fricken funky, though. At first, I thought there were none, but there are a ton of notes/citations at the back of the book that reference specific sentence Gordon Chang tells the story of the "Railroad Chinese" in an exciting and engrossing way that got me to keep reading... all through my Sunday-- good-bye, weekend. This book didn't feel like a typical slog through dense academic material the way some nonfiction books do. The presentation was great, and I learned a lot. The footnotes in here are fricken funky, though. At first, I thought there were none, but there are a ton of notes/citations at the back of the book that reference specific sentences... reading them after I'd finished the whole book already was kind of strange. I guess the plus side of this is that I got to speed through without being bogged down by potentially extraneous annotations... and the annoyance of having to flip back and forth to read them. YOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME. The book was great either way.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karl

    Great book with never-before-used data from sources in China through remittances and historical detecting. Gives a feel about what it was like to be a Chinese laborer, work organizer, grocer, etc., among those who ultimately built the best and most difficult railroad of its time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Leah K

    An interesting subject packed into a semi-dry fairly repetitive book. The audiobook helped keep my interest more than a print book would have. Definitely a part of US history worth knowing about.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sandi

    A story about the Chinese workers on the railroad during the the building of the transacross our nation

  16. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This review is part of the Amazon Vine program. I had known before that a lot of Chinese Immigrants came over to work on the railroads back in the 19th century. What I didn't know was the extent, the hardship, and just how integral they were to the effort. Ghosts of Gold Mountain is a pretty definitive history of the "Railroad Chinese" who built the Transcontinental Railroad. As definitive as it can be considering there are no first-hand accounts themselves from the workers. It would seem that no This review is part of the Amazon Vine program. I had known before that a lot of Chinese Immigrants came over to work on the railroads back in the 19th century. What I didn't know was the extent, the hardship, and just how integral they were to the effort. Ghosts of Gold Mountain is a pretty definitive history of the "Railroad Chinese" who built the Transcontinental Railroad. As definitive as it can be considering there are no first-hand accounts themselves from the workers. It would seem that no journals, letters, etc. have yet been found to hear their side of the story. So we are left with historical accounts from newspapers, interviews with white Americans, and other non-first person basis. But despite this lack of information, Chang weaves a compelling narrative. Imagine how hard it would have been to level out land and lay down track across the mountains. Now imagine doing that without any modern technology and only the strength of your back to do it. It is amazing what was accomplished. But it seems to have come at a high cost. An untold number of Chinese died creating the railroad. And since no records were kept well, the actual number will never be discovered. Chang's writing is precise, but story-telling enough that you don't get bored with it. I found myself deeply engrossed and had a lot of trouble putting the book down. It was saddening (much like a look of most American history) but important. Why things like this aren't a part of our history classes I'll never fathom. Review by M. Reynard 2019

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    The is an amazing book in two ways. First, the story of the incredible human cost of building the Sierra Mountain portion of the transcontinental railway was amazing. "Gold Mountain" was the term by which the Sierras were known by the Chinese workers (due to the Gold found in them). But also amazing is the wealth of information the author was able to uncover, given how poorly records of the Chinese workers were kept. Clearly a work of passion on the part of the author. The book did begin to drag The is an amazing book in two ways. First, the story of the incredible human cost of building the Sierra Mountain portion of the transcontinental railway was amazing. "Gold Mountain" was the term by which the Sierras were known by the Chinese workers (due to the Gold found in them). But also amazing is the wealth of information the author was able to uncover, given how poorly records of the Chinese workers were kept. Clearly a work of passion on the part of the author. The book did begin to drag for me as it went on. But it was well worth the read. 3.5 stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    William

    How does one write a history when no records exist upon which to base a narrative? Early on in this “epic story of the Chinese who built the transcontinental railroad,” author Gordon Chang laments the fact that not a single diary, memoir, or collection of letters has ever been unearthed to give us a first-person account of the lives of the men who crossed the Pacific Ocean from their villages in the south of China to seek their fortunes in the western United States in the years immediately follo How does one write a history when no records exist upon which to base a narrative? Early on in this “epic story of the Chinese who built the transcontinental railroad,” author Gordon Chang laments the fact that not a single diary, memoir, or collection of letters has ever been unearthed to give us a first-person account of the lives of the men who crossed the Pacific Ocean from their villages in the south of China to seek their fortunes in the western United States in the years immediately following the cessation of the Civil War. Accordingly, and as we might expect, much of his book Ghosts of Gold Mountain depends upon general knowledge of the era and supposition and is replete with words such as “presumably, possibly, perhaps” and “maybe.” As I read through all of the “probablies,” I frequently wondered how we can classify this as a historical work at all. I was particularly hoping to discover the futures and fates of the thousands of “Railroad Chinese” following the 1869 completion of the Central Pacific Railroad's western portion of the new transcontinental route. Where did they go? What did they do? Living in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I know that a large Chinese population existed in the town of Deadwood because, today, new excavations frequently bring to light copious objects used by the Chinese, but where are those people (or their descendants) now? They appear to have simply vanished. A mention exists on page 212 that, after the railroad work was done, “hundreds went to Paris, Texas”--my home town! Never have I heard or read before now that this northeast Texas town ever had a Chinese population. What did they do there? What became of them? Alas, Chang does not have any more of a clue than I do, or at least he does not reveal it in his book. With so many unanswered questions, is reading the book worth the time and effort? Just a bit hesitantly perhaps, I say “Yes.” While the absence of historical documents means that the book lacks much of the specificity that I was hoping for, I did come away with more knowledge of the “Railroad Chinese” than I had. The vast numbers involved (though no one knows exactly how many), their (probable) way of life in the work camps, their death rate (though precisely what that rate was is unknown), their level of education and literacy (somewhat presumed), their motivation for immigrating (gold), and similar facts were all new to my understanding. One particular fact that all of my previous reading and formal schooling failed to impress upon me is very clearly addressed in the book, and that is the racist bigotry exhibited by Caucasians against the erstwhile welcomed Chinese in the late 1870s into the 1880s. Accelerated by the financial panic of 1873, extreme populism reared its hateful countenance across the U.S., and the Chinese in this nation became targets of mass lynchings, bombings, arson attacks, beatings and individual murders. Even the U.S. Congress bolstered the causes of the vengeful Caucasian hooligans by passing a series of Chinese Exclusion Acts in 1882. The widespread hostility toward the Chinese is, of course, another reason that little firsthand historical documentation survives to help us grasp the story of the Chinese in the 19th century U.S. To insert a brief word about the physical presentation of the book, the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, should be ashamed and embarrassed by its inferior quality. While the book is technically hardbound, the binding is incredibly cheap, and the quality of the paper strikes me as anything but archival. A potential strong point of the book, its photographs, are not only reproduced in generally small format but are printed on the same poor quality paper that bears the text. As a result, the photos are difficult to interpret and much detail is lost. None of this, of course, can be laid at the author's door, but the book is worthy of a much better presentation than the publisher gives it. In sum, while the ghosts of Gold Mountain remain largely mysterious and many facts about them remain unknown, Chang assuredly raises the reader's appreciation for these men, to whom the development of this nation owes far more than we ever learn in our history survey classes. He also disabuses us of quite a few popular misconceptions of the Chinese workers, many of which may be the legacy created by Sinophobes during the anti-Chinese hysteria of the late 19th century. While I had hoped to learn more from it, I still profited by reading Ghosts of Gold Mountain, and I do not regret the time spent in reading it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Craig Scandrett-Leatherman

    This is indeed an epic story of the Chinese who were primarily responsible for building the western and most challenging section of the U.S. transcontinental railroad which was completed about 150 years ago, May 10, 1869. Gordon Chang's story begins by describing the politics and life of the Guangdong province in southern China from which most of the railroad workers, young and male, were recruited and it ends with a description of Chinese women working in San Francisco brothels and Chinese peop This is indeed an epic story of the Chinese who were primarily responsible for building the western and most challenging section of the U.S. transcontinental railroad which was completed about 150 years ago, May 10, 1869. Gordon Chang's story begins by describing the politics and life of the Guangdong province in southern China from which most of the railroad workers, young and male, were recruited and it ends with a description of Chinese women working in San Francisco brothels and Chinese people being driven from the western cities that they populated. Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR), financed by an act of congress, initially did not want to hire Chinese laborers but other workers deserted and the Chinese proved their skills, work ethic and willingness. The planned route of the railroad required traversing steeper grades and than any other railroad; it would involve more dynamite to blast tunnels through parts of the mountain, and great human risk to builders who packed and lit explosives and hammered chisels to cut beds into its cliffs. CPRR did not even keep a record of the names of its Chinese workers nor did they ever publicly acknowledge the death of a single railroad worker. But by drawing on reports of Chinese benevolent associations, newspapers, historical associations, reports of freight cars carrying remains from mass accidents, Chang fills in some silence from the railroad records and estimates that 1,200 of them died in the project. The railroad Chinese worked harder and faster than other crews but were paid less; without a union they organized a strike which approached parity in wages but they struck mostly for respect and for time to celebrate Chinese holidays. Railroad Chinese were not only killed by the engineering feat for which they worked, they were also killed by "the great purge" to rid the country of them: In October of 1871 a mob of 500 attacked the Chinese quarter in Los Angeles, burned buildings and lynched 18 Chinese in the streets -- the largest lynching in American history. Twenty five people were indicted for murder but none were convicted. Five years later, the white citizens of Truckee, a town made possible by the railroad, formed a Caucasian League, burned the cabins of Chinese woodcutters and then shot them as they fled. Truckee citizens used violence, arson and intimidation to drive them out until there were only two Chinese people recorded in the town's 1900 census. Such were the bitter ironies of the Chinese workers who built the transcontinental railroad. Their men were recruited to build the wealth of those who planned it and then their women were enslaved to satisfy the lusts of men.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Randy

    This was a very informative book, although clearly difficult for the author to write based on first-hand accounts of the Chinese experience on building the transcontinental railroad, since there are few first-hand accounts that have been preserved. The author presents much of his material from inference based on similar experiences of Chinese in other situations. Nonetheless, there is nothing apparent that would indicate that these inferences cannot be assumed to be correct. The book clearly pres This was a very informative book, although clearly difficult for the author to write based on first-hand accounts of the Chinese experience on building the transcontinental railroad, since there are few first-hand accounts that have been preserved. The author presents much of his material from inference based on similar experiences of Chinese in other situations. Nonetheless, there is nothing apparent that would indicate that these inferences cannot be assumed to be correct. The book clearly presents the case for how vastly important (and for the Central Pacific, highly critical) the individuals from China were to the construction of the railroad. Since the CP’s work force was overwhelmingly Chinese, the RR would either have not been built at all, or the trackage that the CP was able to complete versus the Union Pacific would have been significantly less, and in all likelihood, the transcontinental RR would have taken much, much longer to complete. The information provided greatly adds to the understanding of the human sacrifice that was necessary for the TCRR to be built. Many deaths and much suffering by the Chinese are discussed, and the author makes it evident how terrifying some of the work was. Work continued 24/7, though the mountains, requiring vast use of explosives. But the discussion of the work necessary to keep the building going, especially the tales of the winter storms in the Sierras and how it was necessary to not only avoid being swept away by avalanches, but to actually have to tunnel thorough huge levels of snowfall to get to the work sites from the residential camps, is harrowing. The only critique of the book I have is the presentation of the photographs. Granted, you cannot increase the size of the photos in the book without losing clarity – however, it would have been very helpful had the author used some method to point out where in the pictures were the items/people he was trying to point out. In other words, it would have been helpful to perhaps use a line with text next to the picture (although this might not have been permitted by the owners of the photographs). Otherwise, it was very difficult to see some very small details. Doing this would have added to the understanding of the book’s discussions.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Most Americans learn in school that there were Chinese workers on the transcontinental railroad project, but that’s usually where it stops. Chang, professor of humanities and of history at Stanford, the director of the Center for East Asian Studies and co-director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America project, has gone to primary sources to shine a light on the lives of the some 20,000 workers who came from China to work on the tracks. When the Transcontinental Railroad project was pu Most Americans learn in school that there were Chinese workers on the transcontinental railroad project, but that’s usually where it stops. Chang, professor of humanities and of history at Stanford, the director of the Center for East Asian Studies and co-director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America project, has gone to primary sources to shine a light on the lives of the some 20,000 workers who came from China to work on the tracks. When the Transcontinental Railroad project was put together, a competition arose between the Union Pacific railroad working from the east and the Central Pacific railroad working from the west. They started in 1864 and finished in 1869. Union Pacific had it fairly easy; they covered a lot of fairly flat states. Central Pacific, on the other hand, started at Sacramento and went right up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There were no machines to do any of the work; it was all done with shovels and picks, moving rocks and soil in buckets. Differences in elevations had to be smoothed into easy slopes, sharp curves had to be made wider. Once the rail beds were done, ties and steel rails had to be laid. They went right on up through the Donner Pass, working night and day, summer and winter. It was dangerous and horribly hard work. They were paid submarket wages and were treated badly by the whites, especially by the settlers they worked around- settlers afraid the Chinese would want to stay there once the railroad was down. Not all the Chinese in the project were railroad workers; some were vendors, while some made livings farming and providing familiar foods to the RR workers. While there were very few Chinese women involved in the project, what there were tended to be enslaved as sex workers. Sadly, no first-hand account has ever been found. Chang has had to resort to ship manifests, immigration lists, business records of the Chinese community, old newspapers, family stories, and oral histories. He’s put together a solid history that, while dry, is good and fairly easy to read. There were sections that I found slow and boring, but most held my interest well. Four stars.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    It took an epic research effort to create this story of the thousands of Chinese who worked over four years to build the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. I say epic because there is not a single surviving piece of writing by one of the actual workers. Gordon Chang told their story through other people's letters, journalistic reports, photographs, payroll records, archaelogical evidence, folk songs sung back in China and interviews with descendants. It is a work of academic resea It took an epic research effort to create this story of the thousands of Chinese who worked over four years to build the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. I say epic because there is not a single surviving piece of writing by one of the actual workers. Gordon Chang told their story through other people's letters, journalistic reports, photographs, payroll records, archaelogical evidence, folk songs sung back in China and interviews with descendants. It is a work of academic research, heavily footnoted, but written in an accessible way. The Chinese made up something like 90% of the workers for the Central Pacific Railroad Company, which built the railroad east from Sacramento through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.The Union Pacific Railroad worked west from Omaha, using mostly Irish and other European immigrants as workers. Their accomplishment, uniting the country by rail, reduced a journey that previously took months to just one week. There were as many as 10,000 to 15,000 Chinese working at any one time and perhaps 20,000 altogether. They worked in extremely difficult and hazardous conditions, dealing with blizzards and avalanches, blasting tunnels through granite, filling in embankments with hand shovels and carts. Hundreds and perhaps more than 1,000 died. They were economic migrants, mostly from the Guangdong Province, who were paid less than the white workers and still managed to send some of the money home. Although they were praised as hard workers at the time, the Chinese came to be seen as competition for white workers. With anti-Chinese sentiment running high, they were targeted in the Chinese Exclusion Acts, which denied them citizenship and kept out new immigrants. Their contributions to the railroad were largely overlooked. A team at Stanford University set out to rectify that, putting together the research that forms the basis of Chang's book. I found the book to be very interesting even though it got repetitive at times and the photographs were too small and of too poor quality to get much out of them.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Phoebe

    Chang says over and over how little information survives to document the experiences and identities of the thousands of Railroad Chinese whose contributions changed America forever, yet he manages to write a lucid and thorough book about them. Cover to cover, this text is extraordinary and long, long overdue. This should be required reading and certainly fills a giant gaping hole in the bookshelves about the transcontinental railroad project. I think my favorite chapters are the final two: Chang Chang says over and over how little information survives to document the experiences and identities of the thousands of Railroad Chinese whose contributions changed America forever, yet he manages to write a lucid and thorough book about them. Cover to cover, this text is extraordinary and long, long overdue. This should be required reading and certainly fills a giant gaping hole in the bookshelves about the transcontinental railroad project. I think my favorite chapters are the final two: Chang describes the events at Promontory on May 10, 1869, a day history has seized upon over the years for each major anniversary, but as he says, this is but a smudge in the history books, really. The ceremony over, everyone headed off, leaving a desolate stretch of desert. Big deal: the railroad company CEOs did not even bother to attend, just a "motley assortment of UP workers, gawkers, and soldiers brought to the site." No acknowledgment made of the workers who made the day possible and who quietly and capably removed ceremonial props and got on with the remainder of the work. Chang maintains an even tone throughout the book, and this segment is the only one in which he possibly allows a little scorn to shine through. The chapter entitled "Beyond Promontory" details the Chinese experience after May 10: how for a brief window of time the Chinese were much-vaunted, celebrated, and respected, until they weren't: the tide of racism turned against them as it so inevitably always does. Believable in this catalog of unbelievable treatment at the hands of rich white men, is the statement that the railroads left the Chinese to find their own way back to San Francisco once the tracks were laid and the trains were running. Adult.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    The actual content of this book is very interesting. It tells the story of 1000s of Chinese immigrants would built the Western half of the Transcontinental Railroad. It gives lots of details on how immigration worked, how the Chinese performed dangerous construction that included tunneling through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and how they lived. There's a lot of interesting information here, including Chinese workers' traditions, how they ate and lived as well as the terrifying work that they pe The actual content of this book is very interesting. It tells the story of 1000s of Chinese immigrants would built the Western half of the Transcontinental Railroad. It gives lots of details on how immigration worked, how the Chinese performed dangerous construction that included tunneling through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and how they lived. There's a lot of interesting information here, including Chinese workers' traditions, how they ate and lived as well as the terrifying work that they performed. The book also includes good quotes from men organizing the work, revealing that their embrace of Chinese workers was in large part because they would take lower wages than other works. The target audience for this book is unclear though. At times there's some reasonably good story telling, weaving known facts in a picture of what life might have been like. At other times there are relatively long sections where a particular point is argued in some detail, in a way that you see in more scholarly works. One example was a multi-page discussion about whether men were lowered on rock faces in baskets to set dynamite charges. The evidence for and against was laid out in detail. It felt like some other writer's point of view was being thoroughly rebutted. And it greatly disrupted the reading. There were several elements like this. Note: I read this book in a pre-release copy. I would be delighted if the author decides which audience he is addressing. If a general history reading audience, I think there's a good book in here that needs some editing to strengthen it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This section of American history has been long overlooked and deserves to be told. And the research and accounts from descendants have been painstakingly difficult to locate and gather. I looked forward to reading this, and did learn much about the hardships, the southern region in China where the workers came from (the Guangdong region is where my family is from), and the details of life in the labor camps and Chinatowns was fascinating, and the accounts of racism were horrific. I did find the This section of American history has been long overlooked and deserves to be told. And the research and accounts from descendants have been painstakingly difficult to locate and gather. I looked forward to reading this, and did learn much about the hardships, the southern region in China where the workers came from (the Guangdong region is where my family is from), and the details of life in the labor camps and Chinatowns was fascinating, and the accounts of racism were horrific. I did find the author's tone dry and academic at times, and I glossed over some of the minutia about the the construction details. It wasn't as flowing and gripping of a read as Helen Zia's Last Boat to Shanghai, another recent book that delves into Chinese American history, and it may be unfair to compare the two books, since Zia had the advantage of first-hand interviews with the four eyewitnesses who lived through those times. Ghosts of Gold Mountain was a difficult but necessary read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    This can't decide if it's an academic work or a historical nonfiction narrative. This was a shame since it made it quite difficult to read at times. I wish the author had chosen the latter style and removed some of his own analysis, which at times is barely at a high school level - ex: reminding the reader that the experience of a non specific Chinese worker (who's hypothetical story he pieces together from a variety of evidence (folk songs, ledgers, artefacts)) was not unique to a single Chines This can't decide if it's an academic work or a historical nonfiction narrative. This was a shame since it made it quite difficult to read at times. I wish the author had chosen the latter style and removed some of his own analysis, which at times is barely at a high school level - ex: reminding the reader that the experience of a non specific Chinese worker (who's hypothetical story he pieces together from a variety of evidence (folk songs, ledgers, artefacts)) was not unique to a single Chinese and we should remember how many people had this experience...this is obvious, no? Why is he reminding me? I ended up DNFing this book at 65%. A shame, given that the book really was rich with stories and information...if only it had been presented better. 4-5 stars for the information presented. Pulled down to 2 stars because the book was so frustrating to read that I ended up putting it down.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    According to the author's introduction, it sounds like a book like this, a telling of the transcontinental railroad building from the point of view of the Chinese, hasn't really existed up until this point. So for that reason, I'm really glad it was written! I didn't go through the end notes thoroughly, but it feels well researched just based on the types and number of sources the author used to tell the story. However, for whatever reason, I thought it was just kind of boring to read through, a According to the author's introduction, it sounds like a book like this, a telling of the transcontinental railroad building from the point of view of the Chinese, hasn't really existed up until this point. So for that reason, I'm really glad it was written! I didn't go through the end notes thoroughly, but it feels well researched just based on the types and number of sources the author used to tell the story. However, for whatever reason, I thought it was just kind of boring to read through, and I had trouble picking it up and getting through it. And I was determined to read it all, because this is one of my favorite time periods in history, and the Railroad Chinese were definitely a group I didn't know a lot about. I guess that I think the author achieved his goal of humanizing the Railroad Chinese, but he didn't necessarily bring them to life for me, if that makes sense.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maughn Gregory

    My father sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 1969 at the centennial celebration of the completion of the continental railroad. Mormons were an important contingent of the laborers that brought the Central Pacific line to Promontory, Utah after it arrived in the Territory from Nevada. But 90% of the laborers who brought the line from Sacramento California were Chinese immigrants who took on the most dangerous jobs, worked longer hours and were paid a lot less than white laborers, and were n My father sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 1969 at the centennial celebration of the completion of the continental railroad. Mormons were an important contingent of the laborers that brought the Central Pacific line to Promontory, Utah after it arrived in the Territory from Nevada. But 90% of the laborers who brought the line from Sacramento California were Chinese immigrants who took on the most dangerous jobs, worked longer hours and were paid a lot less than white laborers, and were not allowed to become U.S. citizens. Chang's book taught me a vital chapter of western and US history that I knew very little about. His polemic tone is appropriate in light of the racist historical ignorance and distortion of that chapter, let alone the racism that explains it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Charles Swan

    An excellent description of the history of the Railroad Chinese who built the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Although I live in the West, and familiar with the region from the Sierras to Nevada and Utah, I could only imagine the difficulties that they had with the geography, and the weather. I think that we are all somewhat familiar with the contribution of the Chinese to this project from our high school history classes, this book brings their difficulties to light. Since the An excellent description of the history of the Railroad Chinese who built the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Although I live in the West, and familiar with the region from the Sierras to Nevada and Utah, I could only imagine the difficulties that they had with the geography, and the weather. I think that we are all somewhat familiar with the contribution of the Chinese to this project from our high school history classes, this book brings their difficulties to light. Since there are few primary sources, the author had to dig to find second hand information in order to put this together. I also was not aware that most of the Chinese immigrants of that period came from a small region of China.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Ribera

    Lots of facts, some redundacy. Poor quality photos. It’s dual themes were: celebrating the accomplishments of the several thousands of Chinese men who worked on the railroad; and decrying the lack of recognition they received at the time and since for their contribution. Dispels some myths regarding early Chinese immigrant workers. Common belief was that they were illiterate coolies, almost slaves. Most were not only literate, but highly skilled in engineering mechanics. They were motivated by t Lots of facts, some redundacy. Poor quality photos. It’s dual themes were: celebrating the accomplishments of the several thousands of Chinese men who worked on the railroad; and decrying the lack of recognition they received at the time and since for their contribution. Dispels some myths regarding early Chinese immigrant workers. Common belief was that they were illiterate coolies, almost slaves. Most were not only literate, but highly skilled in engineering mechanics. They were motivated by the earning potential and came willingly and eagerly, not by force or coercion. Most startling fact (to me) was that Chinese were denied U.S. naturalization rights until 1943!

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.