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A contributing editor and mysteries editor for the Washington Post Book World, Drabelle brings to life the drama surrounding a large Nevada silver vein called the Comstock Lode, which through the 1860s and '70s yielded $300 million in ore. A central figure is opportunistic Nevada lawyer Big Bill Stewart, who helped develop the lode, bilked investors and "occupied center stage of the  litigation pageant" over mine claims. Drabelle describes conflicts with Native Americans and the early sightings of silver, sinking shafts, the influx of settlers and fortune seekers, Virginia City's brief heyday as "a Babylon of the Great American Desert," while relating the importance of Comstock for American history and culture. It played a role in the launching of the Hearst publishing empire, railroad expansion and technological advances from cable cars to elevators. Mark Twain, who sojourned in Comstock country, mined "outcast lingo" to create a new direction for frontier humor and American prose. Drabelle introduces a vast cast of colorful characters as he explores how fortunes were won and lost, skillfully recreating the boom-and-bust atmosphere of this period in American history. 8 pages of b&w photos. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.