Gold! The Story of the 1848 Gold Rush and How It Shaped a Nation

Overview

There isn't an American alive today who hasn't been affected by what happened at Sutter's Fort east of Sacramento on January 24, 1848. Carpenter James Marshall was building a sawmill when he accidentally discovered a pea-shaped nugget of gold in a ditch. Just like that, the American character changed, and the gold rush became the focal point of mid-nineteenth-century America. From 1848 to 1850, ninety thousand people trekked across the continent when California was still a vast wilderness. By 1854, that figure ...

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2005 Hard cover New in fine dust jacket. Book is in MINT condition. Dust Jacket has very minor handling wear and is NEAR NEW. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. ... 318 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Read more Show Less

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Overview

There isn't an American alive today who hasn't been affected by what happened at Sutter's Fort east of Sacramento on January 24, 1848. Carpenter James Marshall was building a sawmill when he accidentally discovered a pea-shaped nugget of gold in a ditch. Just like that, the American character changed, and the gold rush became the focal point of mid-nineteenth-century America. From 1848 to 1850, ninety thousand people trekked across the continent when California was still a vast wilderness. By 1854, that figure had risen to three hundred thousand. Representing every ethnic group, a substantial fraction of the American population migrated to California's gold fields in six years. The mortality rate in the gold camps was over 25 percent. There was no law, only vice. And despite that, the fortune hunters knew that the gold rush afforded them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rocket to the top of the economic and social ladder. The gold rush marked the moment when people stopped believing that good work leads to a good life, which then leads to a good afterlife. They started believing, instead, that anyone could make it rich. Americans thus began their phantom pursuit of wealth that continues to this day.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rosen, a former arts columnist for the New York Times and true crime writer, is out of his element in this mundane history. He proposes that the American character is dominated by an unrestrained desire to get rich quick, an affliction directly traceable to "when [President] Polk's lips uttered the magic word `gold!' " in his 1848 State of the Union address. According to Rosen "[the] announcement let loose something primordial that had been lurking in the American character since John Adams had been a boy." But facts to support such broad premises are sorely lacking. Much of the book is true to Rosen's crime-writing roots, with chapters devoted to the lawlessness that pervaded the mining camps and lurid tales of notorious gold rush criminals. Rosen also speculates that Jesse James's predations were linked to the gold rush because James's father headed for California, leaving Jesse bereft of moral guidance. Rosen describes the toddler Jesse "in halting though plain language" begging his father not to go. Such melodrama, along with the lack of source notes and a very brief bibliography, put this in the category of history super-lite. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Lori Perkins. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An uneven study of the California Gold Rush. Former New York Times columnist Rosen (Cremation in America, not reviewed) argues that the Gold Rush changed American culture and character, and well as the essence of the American Dream. Before the 1848 discovery of gold in California, Americans were more apt to believe in diligence and hard work. If you did not achieve material success in this world, well, no worries: God would reward you in Heaven. Then suddenly it was possible for anyone, regardless of merit, birth or intelligence, to make big bucks. The author suggests that this get-rich-quick mentality persisted throughout the 20th century and that it explains everything from stock-market crashes to the dot.com explosion of the '90s. Less innovatively, he argues that the Gold Rush accelerated the growth and development of America, as antebellum railroad barons fell over themselves to lay tracks across the continent. Too many shortcomings diminish the sparkle of Rosen's argument. The prose is mediocre. Occasionally, lovely turns of phrase are greatly outnumbered by awkward clinkers straight out of a high-school term paper ("regardless of the president's policies, what no one in the world of the 1850s disagreed with was that the president of the Untied States told the truth"). The self-indulgent autobiographical preface and epilogue are out of place and irrelevant, and Rosen never adequately explains or interprets the many long quotations from primary sources. Fool's gold would be too generous a description.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560256809
  • Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue : Missouri, 1847
1 New Helvetia 1
2 Marshall on the move 15
3 Marshall in the race, January 24, 1848 33
4 "All I had heard ..." 51
5 The confidential agent 71
6 Traveling to the gold fields 95
7 MeNeil's travels 111
8 Across the mountains and the ocean 129
9 The diggings 147
10 Crime wave 169
11 The five Joaquins 187
12 One stayed behind 207
13 More gold rushes 223
14 The belief lives on 237
Afterword : Coloma, 2005 255
App. I The treaties 261
App. II Advice to miners by Samuel McNeil 291
App. III President Polk's 1848 State of the union address 293
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