There's been a lot of buzz about the new book, The Inventor and the Tycoon by Edward Ball. It tells the story of Leland Stanford's organizing and building of the Central Pacific Railroad. The Union Pacific was built westward from Missouri to meet the Central Pacific being built eastward over and through the Sierra Nevada from Sacramento. It also tells the story of Ted Muggeridge (who changed his name numerous times and ended up as Eadweard Muybridge), the man who figured out how to take multiple photographs of a moving animal or person and then play these back so as to produce "moving pictures." It was for Leland Stanford that Muybridge first photographed a running horse. Stanford had a theory that when galloping a horse would at times have all four feet off the ground. Muybridge was able to prove that it is true.
The book should be mesmerizing. These are complicated and inspiring stories and we should find ourselves fascinated by the story of four shopkeepers on K Street in Sacramento who got together to create the transcontinental railroad: Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Collis Huntington, and Mark Hopkins. And the story of Muybridge's development of a reliable way to take multiple pictures in sequence is intriguing.
But the author manages somehow to deaden these stories. The book is at least twice the length it needs to be, and the author's mentions of himself and his occasional sarcasm are disconcerting. The book is very repetitious, although this is not the usual inadvertant repetition but rather intentional, a stylistic quirk.
There is much to admire and to criticize in the lives of the two main characters. We are encouraged to admire and respect Muybridge despite his having murdered a man. We are encouraged to despise Stanford, apparently only because he made a lot of money. Even his building of Stanford University, to which he left at his death the equivalent of $150,000,000 in today's dollars, is dismissed as an egotistical act complicated by the author's implication that Stanford and his wife mourned to an unnecessary degree when their son, for whom the university is named, died.
The book is poorly organized. It reminded me of roofing shingles, each one going back and covering part of the previous one. The stories overlap, with unnecessary retelling. Even the story of Muybridge's discovery that his wife was having an affair and that her son was not his child manages to move so slowly that by the time the man arrives in Calistoga, California, and shoots his wife's lover the reader is relieved that it's over.
I feel quite sure this book will be greatly admired and the reviews will be positive. But borrow it from the library and see if you agree with me about its disorganization and density before you pay $30 for it.