Friday, November 04, 2011

Book Review: Union Pacific

Regular readers know that I write mostly about Canadian railways, so when I was asked if I would like a copy of Union Pacific: The Reconfiguration, I was a little dubious. What do I really know about Union Pacific? After thinking about it, I realized this was a great way to learn more. As an aside, the full title of the book is "Union Pacific: The Reconfiguration: America's Greatest Railroad from 1969 to the Present".

This is a great book. As the extended title shows, it covers the period from 1969 to the present. Volume I covered the period from 1862 to 1893, and Volume 2 spanned 1894 to 1969. It is written by Maury Klein, Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Rhode Island.

Clearly Professor Klein had tremendous access to company files and employees, both employed and retired. In fact Union Pacific supported the books financially as well, as noted in the acknowledgments. The author notes that most company-supported books end up being public relations efforts. I do think that this book puts the Union Pacific Railway in a pretty positive light, but the author does not gloss over the company's mistakes and missteps, such as the difficulties arising from their merger with Southern Pacific.

The book is 429 dense pages of history. It starts with a prologue, useful for those of us who aren't very familiar with UP's past, and then is divided into three parts based on three company presidents: Kenefick, Walsh and Davidson.

The book concerns itself with the people of Union Pacific, their relations to each other, the decisions made and the reasoning behind the decisions. Prof. Klein's extraordinary access to company records and personnel is evident throughout the book and the 45 pages of footnotes back that up. The level of detail is amazing and I came away with a pretty thorough understanding of UP's last 40 years of history.

You might expect a book like this to be a real snooze-fest but I found it to be quite interesting. It took me a few weeks to read it, but I enjoyed reading it very much. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the Union Pacific railway.

Union Pacific: The Reconfiguration: America's Greatest Railroad from 1969 to the Present

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