Railroads might seem outmoded today, but they were originally dynamic, cutthroat enterprises, according to this byzantine business history of track laying in the American West. Independent historian Borneman (Polk) chronicles the post–Civil War scramble to build a web of transcontinental railroads, lavish land grants, and government subsidies. Dozens of railroads and their executives are featured, but the melee eventually gels into a showdown between the Southern Pacific, intent on monopolizing the routes into California, and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, determined to reach the Pacific by a prized snow-free southerly route. The regionÖs rugged topography forces railroads to compete for a handful of one-track-wide mountain passes and river crossings; rivals throw down miles of track per day to reach strategic junctions and occasionally send armed gangs to seize choke points. BornemanÖs evocations of railroad culture--the construction feats, boom-and-bust railhead towns, train robbers, and luxury cars--add color but are skimpy. He centers the story instead on boardroom maneuverings, and while railroad tycoons are a colorful lot, their deal-making begins to blur.