Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose
I love trains, and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad opened up American expansion. It is also over 600 pages long, and has a reputation of historical inconsistencies. Maybe this book would best suit my personal library.
The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800- 1890 by Richard Slotkin.
Here are two ideas I would not put together. Slotkin theorizes that the American image of the lone cowboy is an allegory of territorial expansion. Once again, here is a book that is over 600 pages, and the limited time of this assignment (two weeks!) facilitates that such a book be shelved (do you see the word play?! Love it.).
More likely to read:
The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hawthorne explores the doomed commune of Blithedale against a backdrop of social and cultural issues of the 19th century.
My Antonia by Willa Cather
An immigrant's story, Antonia comes from Bavaria to Nebraska. Underlying her story is Jim's transition from the country (agrarian) to the city (industrialization). Good read.