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Across America on an emigrant train /

Combines an account of Robert Louis Stevenson's experiences as he traveled from New York to California by train in 1879 and a description of the building and operation of railroads in nineteenth-century America. Full description

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Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Clarion Books, 1993
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SUMMARY

An account of Robert Louis Stevenson's twelve day journey from New York to California in 1879, interwoven with a history of the building of the transcontinental railroad and the settling of the West.


Review by Booklist Review

Gr. 5 and up. As he did in The Boys' War (1990) and The Long Road to Gettysburg (1992), Murphy draws on memoirs and letters to humanize history. This time his main source is the journal of the great writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who traveled in 1879 from Scotland to the woman he loved in California, first on a crowded boat and then on a series of crammed, painfully uncomfortable trains on the transcontinental railroad. Murphy weaves together Stevenson's perilous journey with a general history of the railroad--how it was planned and built, who built it, what it was like to ride it if you were rich and if you were poor, and how it changed the country and those who lived there. Murphy's style is plain: facts and feelings tell a compelling story of adventure and failure, courage and cruelty, enrichment and oppression. The handsome book's design includes lots of white space, two endpaper maps, and many prints, drawings, and black-and-white photographs, carefully captioned to make you pore over the details. The direct quotations from Stevenson show him as observer and participant. This was before he became famous, and he identifies with the emigrants' painful struggle as well as their hope. He's excited by the diversity in America (he loves the place names that express how "all times, races, and languages have brought their contribution"); at the same time, he's appalled at the treatment of Native Americans ("I was ashamed for the thing we call civilization"). Murphy provides no direct documentation (often the source is "one passenger recalled," "some historians have speculated"), but the very long bibliography will be a starting point for those stimulated to read further. The experience of ordinary people revitalizes the myths of the West. ~--Hazel Rochman

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-In 1879, Robert Louis Stevenson journeyed from Scotland across the Atlantic and then by train across the United States to join the woman he loved in Monterey, California. Murphy has drawn from the writer's journal to provide a fresh, primary-source account of transcontinental train travel at that time. Choosing by necessity the cheapest passage, Stevenson traveled with other newcomers to the U.S. who had not yet reached their final destination. He describes his companions, the passing countryside, the interior of the railroad cars, and daily life aboard a train. Into these journal entries, Murphy has woven meticulously researched, absorbing accounts of the building of the railroad and its effect on the territory it crossed: the disruption and destruction of Native American life, the slaughter of the buffalo, accidents, the development of the Pullman car, the towns that quickly came and vanished as the construction crews moved on, the snowsheds built to protect the trains in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Abundant, carefully selected period photographs, engravings, and lithographs are every bit as intriguing as the text. Appended is a lengthy bibliography with some original source material. This work supplements Leonard Everett Fisher's more extensive Tracks Across America (Holiday, 1992); it is a readable and valuable contribution to literature concerning expansion into the American West.- Diane S. Marton, Arlington County Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
AUTHOR NOTES

Jim Murphy's nonfiction books have received numerous awards, among them the Sibert Medal, three Orbis Pictus awards, the Margaret A. Edwards award, and two Newbery Honors. Jim also was a finalist for the National Book Award. Born and raised in New Jersey, Jim lives in Maplewood, NJ, with his family.