Brands, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, chronicles the mad scramble for easy money that obsessed a generation of footloose Americans during the gold rush, and the picture he paints is reminiscent of a hundred shoot-'em-up flicks. The discovery of gold near Sutter's Fort in 1848 triggered a wild westward stampede, added still-familiar names to the American language (among them Death Valley and the Pony Express) and briefly turned California into one big saloon. According to Brands, it also changed the American national character: "The old American dream, the dream inherited from ten generations of ancestors, was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard, of Thomas Jefferson's yeoman farmers: of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time.... But in the goldfields the entrepreneurial spirit took flight, freed from the inherited fetters of guilt and blame. And once a-wing in the Westthe region to which America had always looked for its futurethe spirit soared over all the country." It's a convincing argument, especially when bolstered, as it is here, by a mother lode of memorable anecdotes. This is a long book, but it earns its keep from start to finish.
The gold rush of 1848, says Brands, was a watershed in American history, helping mold the country into its modern shape, transforming the wilderness and pushing the country into civil war. Noted biographer Brands (his life of Benjamin Franklin, The First American, was a Pulitzer finalist) makes good use of a sparkling cast of characters: George Hearst, Leland Stanford, Levi Strauss, even William "War Is Hell" Sherman, all raced to California to make their fortunes. For most of the hundreds of thousands who flocked to California, though, life in the mines of the Sierras was hard and rarely paid off. Yet the hopeful kept coming not only from the East but from around the world, with profound implications for California and the rest of the country. The question of statehood would California be a slave state or free? accelerated the onset of the Civil War, says Brands. He believes the gold rush changed the national psyche, pulling the country away from a Puritan ethic of "steadiness and frugality" and toward a new American dream of "instant wealth," the fruits of "boldness and luck." With solid research and a sprightly narrative, Brands's portrait of the gold rush is an enlightening analysis of a transformative period for California and America. Agent, Jim Hornfischer. (On sale Aug. 20) Forecast: Brands deserves a place alongside Stephen Ambrose as a popular historian. The First American made bestseller lists; this vivid narrative could do so, too. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The California gold rush of 1849 revolutionized expectations. It gave material promise to the American Dream and made gold the lubricant of the world economy. Brands (history, Texas A&M), the author of acclaimed works like his life of Benjamin Franklin, The First American, here fashions a smoothly flowing narrative from diaries, journals, letters, and other contemporary accounts. He recounts how the famous, like John Sutter, John Fr mont, Leland Stanford, and the filibuster William Walker, and the not famous, like settler Sarah Royce, slave Archy Lee, Chinese immigrant Yee Ah Tye, and trader James Savage, changed their lives and shaped the history of California, the United States, and the world. These and the hundreds of thousands of other individuals who sparked the Age of Gold catapulted California into the center of a sectional and slavery controversies and of modern U.S. economic issues concerning gold vs. silver standards and debtors vs. creditors. Brands writes history as the art of storytelling that enthralls and informs the reader. Highly recommended, especially for public libraries.-Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Historian Brands (The Strange Death of American Liberalism, 2001, etc.) crafts a rich study of Gold Rush-era America that enfolds the period's bigger-than-life personalities and big ideas. Levi Strauss, Leland Stanford, John Sutter, John Charles Fremont, William Tecumseh Sherman: all took part in the California Gold Rush, though most would become famous for other reasons. A supporting cast of dozens of other players enlivens the drama, from the famed Chinese prostitute Ah Toy ("the finest-looking woman I have ever seen," one miner sighed) to the enterprising teenager James Folger, who made his early fortune selling coffee to thirsty gold-seekers. Rather than concentrating exclusively on these colorful characters, however, Brands (History/Texas A&M Univ.) addresses the sweeping effects of the Gold Rush, which not only opened the American West to settlement but also "helped initiate the modern era of American economic development" by forging the largest and arguably most efficient unified market in the world, a development that a few decades later would help the US to emerge as a great power. Perhaps less favorably, Brands writes, the Gold Rush also changed the national psyche: the old American Dream was a vision of "men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year"; the promise of instant wealth in the faraway hills of California yielded a widespread view that speculation and daring were at least as important as frugality and plain hard work. Combining this wealth of ideas with vivid biographies of actors great and small in the expansionist drama, Brands has produced a work that stands far above the tide of mostly forgettable titles thataccompanied the 150th anniversary of the Gold Rush three years ago. A lucid, literate survey of events that transformed the nation, for better and worse.
“An engrossing, multifaceted history.” —The New York Times
“A barn burner. . . . Masterfully sketched historical figures, subtly developed themes, and epically well-braided stories. . . . There’s only one thing to say . . . and that’s ‘Eureka!’ ” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Exuberant. . . . Entertaining, lively. . . . Brands [is] a wonderfully skilled narrative historian.” —Los Angeles Times
“Highly readable and entertaining. . . . History titles loom large, and perhaps none larger than The Age of Gold.” —Houston Chronicle
“A triumph. . . . Brands has struck gold.” —The Oregonian
“[H. W. Brands] will change the way you see history. . . . The Age of Gold brilliantly pans the historical record for nuggets of hardship and, in the process, hits upon a mother lode of a story.” —Austin American-Statesman
“Gripping. . . . Thoroughly researched. . . . An eminently readable, detail-filled book.” —Chicago Tribune
“A serious, comprehensive study, filled with memorable visions and interesting observations. . . . A book that explores history, politics, geology, adventure and industry with omnibus enthusiasm. . . . Its author, like the miners of the gold rush themselves, leaves no stone unturned.” —The San Diego Union-Tribune
“A fine, robust telling of one of the greatest adventure stories in history.” —David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize—winning author of John Adams
“Brands assembles a colorful collection of people swept into this craze from around the world . . . in[to] a dazzling setting that conveys the world-changing effects of this era. . . . [He is a] master storyteller.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Few historians can tell a tale better than Brands.” —Dallas Morning News
“Populated with colorful California characters. . . . Brands makes a convincing case that the discovery of gold was a seminal event in American history.” —Boston Herald
“Fascinating. . . . Brands brings the era and its characters to life in a remarkably entertaining narrative that is meticulously researched and crisply written. . . . The Age of Gold is historical reporting at its best.” —Arizona Daily Star