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Need? Perhaps one might also say the 20th-century interstate highway system should not have been built until there were rest stops, restaurants and motels to accommodate the motorists. Transportation infrastructure often generates economically beneficial activity, not the other way around.

Later, as the industrial revolution matured, laws and regulations were put in place to avoid future Credit Mobilier-like scandals. With experience as the teacher, the question arises: To what extent is it entirely fair to judge the past through the eyes of the present?

Overall, Mr. White has given us an excellent reference work for the origins of the railroads that facilitated expanded commerce in a growing nation.

Wes Vernon, Washington-based writer and broadcast journalist, writes a column for RenewAmerica.com and a rail-industry column for Railfan and Railroad magazine.