Thursday, August 25, 2011

Appetite for America by Stephen Fried

While we were at Shasta Lake, I finished reading Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire that Civilized the Wild West by Stephen Fried. I had seen the author on the Jon Stewart Show and ordered it from Amazon. The book has been sitting in my pile since April of 2010.

Rarely do I pick up a book that surprises me as much as this one did. I will start rather than finish by saying that I enjoyed this book a lot.

The book looks at the life of Fred Harvey. Harvey is credited with creating the first restaurant chain in the United States. He developed the Harvey House lunch rooms, restaurants, souvenir shops, and hotels which served rail passengers on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and several other railroads. The book continues the story with Harvey's son and grandson.

Harvey was also a leader in promoting tourism in the American Southwest in the late 19th century. He and his son built the La Fonda in Santa Fe and the Le Tovar at the Grand Canyon and were instrumental in developing the Grand Canyon as a tourist destination. They are also credited with popularizing Navajo jewelry.

Sharon and I enjoyed a week in Northern New Mexico in 2007. With large parts of this book are set in the Southwest, I have added a number of places from the book to my list to visit in the future.

The majority of the story takes place over the 100 years from 1850 to 1950. Using Fred Harvey's company as the vehicle, the book is a particularly interesting look at the history of the Southwestern United States in the last half of the 19th century.

The story begins before the transcontinental railroad was completed. To someone who was raised in California in the era of cars and freeways, it is fascinating how large a role the railroad played in the growth and economic development of the United States.

A number of my favorite historic figures make cameos in the book, including General George Custer, Susan B. Anthony, William Randolph Hearst, Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Limbergh. Harvey's grandson flew in World War I and with Limbergh was one of the founders of the Transcontinental Air Transport which eventually became TWA.

The book is nicely paced and well written. It is a dynamic and splendid history.

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