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Railroads were America’s first big business. Their bosses were perhaps America’s first celebrity tycoons; their laborers constituted one of the country’s first mass industrial workforces. In the years after the Civil War, Sherman-sized armies of Chinese and Irish immigrantsnot to mention battle-hardened war veteranslaid rails to the Pacific along routes determined by the robber barons and visionaries who owned the companies. Appropriately enough, historian Stephen Ambrosewhose body of work thus far includes books about everyone from ordinary folks like the troops who landed on D-Day to powerful creeps like Richard Nixon to traveling visionaries like Lewis and Clarkhas now taken on the transcontinental railroad. Nothing Like It in the World traces both boss and coolie as the tracks slowly grind their way from San Francisco and Omaha to Ogden, Utah. Learn more about the geese who laid the golden spike when Ambrose reads from his book at 7 p.m. at National Press Club Ballroom, 529 14th St. NW. $5. For reservations call (202) 338-9544. (Michael Schaffer)