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American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture

Overview

California during the gold rush was a place of disputed claims, shoot-outs, gambling halls, and prostitution; a place populated by that rough and rebellious figure, the forty-niner; in short, a place that seems utterly unconnected to middle-class culture. In American Alchemy, however, Brian Roberts offers a surprising challenge to this assumption.

Roberts points to a long-neglected truth of the gold rush: many of the northeastern forty-niners who ventured westward were in fact ...

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American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture

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Overview

California during the gold rush was a place of disputed claims, shoot-outs, gambling halls, and prostitution; a place populated by that rough and rebellious figure, the forty-niner; in short, a place that seems utterly unconnected to middle-class culture. In American Alchemy, however, Brian Roberts offers a surprising challenge to this assumption.

Roberts points to a long-neglected truth of the gold rush: many of the northeastern forty-niners who ventured westward were in fact middle-class in origin, status, and values. Tracing the experiences and adventures both of these men and of the "unseen" forty-niners--women who stayed back East while their husbands went out West--he shows that, whatever else the gold seekers abandoned on the road to California, they did not simply turn their backs on middle-class culture.

Ultimately, Roberts argues, the story told here reveals an overlooked chapter in the history of the formation of the middle class. While the acquisition of respectability reflects one stage in this history, he says, the gold rush constitutes a second stage--a rebellion against standards of respectability.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
An important work within the context of gold rush studies.

Enterprise & Society

A welcome addition to work on the California gold rush and on nineteenth-century white, middle-class culture.

Journal of American History

Offers a fresh look at a familiar episode in U.S. history.

Journal of the Early Republic

[This book] achieves a "gold standard" by making something as familiar as the Gold Rush uncomfortably new.

American Historical Review

An important book, convincingly relocating the opening cultural crisis of the American middle class.

Harvard Business History Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807848562
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 5/31/2000
  • Series: Cultural Studies of the United States Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Brian Roberts is assistant professor of history at California State University in Sacramento.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1. California Gold and Filthy Lucre
Chapter 2. Gold Fever as a Cure
Chapter 3. Husbands and Wives
Chapter 4. Numberless Highways to Fairy Grottos
Chapter 5. A Great and Perverse Paradise
Chapter 6. California Is a Humbug
Chapter 7. Widows and Helpmates
Chapter 8. A Wild, Free, Disorderly, Grotesque Society
Chapter 9. The Prude Fails
Chapter 10. The End of the Flush Times
Conclusion
Notes
Index

A section of illustrations follows.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2009

    Not the Usual Gold Rush Book

    I came across a reference to this book in another Gold Rush history and found it to be more interesting and valuable to my research than the ones I had been reading. It's amazing that the author was able to pack so much information into such a short book. It's far more enlightening and readable than most such academic treatises.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2000

    This is one of the best books on California History

    This is a very well written book. It makes it very clear that the miners of the California gold rush were mostly middle class. It makes the point that the wives and families left behind by the gold miners were very much a part of the gold rush. This book should be on the shelf of any California historian.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2000

    Witty, humarous, and informative

    Great resource for new studies on the Califonia gold rush. Brian Roberts has brought a new enlightenment to the gold rush historiography with a well thought out selection of diaries and letters surounding the cultural history of the Califonia gold rush. Roberts rebells against popular notions that the gold rush was in large made up of a working class people. Rather Roberts explain that these forty-niners were primarly of the middle class origin from the the Midwest and East coast. The fort-niners came to california as a form of rebellion and escape from the suffocating, stufy middle class values of the time.

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