Near the end of the book, Drabelle argues that, despite their successes, Norris’s and Bierce’s efforts against the Central Pacific Railroad suffered from “bad timing.” If only their crusade had come a decade earlier, the author argues, it could have done more lasting good, because it might have led to a reform of the “basic political structure,” rather than a momentary slap-down of a hubristic company. Those who believe that robber barons will always be with us will be left unconvinced. Still, the overall impression left by the enjoyable The Great American Railroad War is one of possibility rather than despair: here’s a model from journalism’s past that might be of use today. Perhaps a Kickstarter campaign to send Bill Maher and a team of reporters to Washington, DC with a specific target of corporate/congressional malfeasance to dispatch?

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Bill Marx is a contributor to CJR.