Sunset Limited (University of California Press, $29.95)

sunset-limitedSo many books have already been written about the Central Pacific, predecessor of the Southern Pacific, that the story of the transcontinental railroad (1869) is given little attention in this big and impressive book.

Instead, we have a detailed and scholarly study of the Southern Pacific Company as a business and its impact on the West’s settlement, agriculture, economics, even conservation, as well as transportation. Although not a whitewash, this is a revisionist history—an attempt at a more balanced view of a monopoly once called the “Octopus” for its stranglehold on rail and steamship transportation, land-holding and political lobbying (bullying). So disliked was the Southern Pacific that Californians elected an anti-Southern Pacific governor, Hiram Johnson. They made heroes of the farmers in the shoot-out at Mussel Slough with the corporation’s men, and they created Robin Hoods out of Sontag and Evans for holding up Southern Pacific trains. Orsi’s daunting task is to convince us that the Southern Pacific’s bad press over many years was, in many cases, undeserved. This reviewer must reluctantly admit that Orsi is pretty convincing.

 

—Richard H. Dillon


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