The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream

The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream

by H. W. Brands
4.1 10

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The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream by H. W. Brands

The California Gold Rush inspired a new American dream—the “dream of instant wealth, won by audacity and good luck.” The discovery of gold on the American River in 1848 triggered the most astonishing mass movement of peoples since the Crusades. It drew fortune-seekers from the ends of the earth, accelerated America’s imperial expansion, and exacerbated the tensions that exploded in the Civil War. 

H.W. Brands tells his epic story from multiple perspectives: of adventurers John and Jessie Fremont, entrepreneur Leland Stanford, and the wry observer Samuel Clemens—side by side with prospectors, soldiers, and scoundrels. He imparts a visceral sense of the distances they traveled, the suffering they endured, and the fortunes they made and lost. Impressive in its scholarship and overflowing with life, The Age of Gold is history in the grand traditions of Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307481221
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/10/2008
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 201,029
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

H. W. BRANDS holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin. A New York Times bestselling author, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography for The First American and Traitor to His Class.

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Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an inspired work of history. Brands's raw writing talent, combined with his diligence as a researcher, breathes life into the worldwide drama of the unfolding migration toward California's gold fields. This is every bit as good as Ambrose's book on the transcontinential railroad. Brands is a much more vivid (and often witty) writer than Ambrose.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
On January 24, 1848 at about 7:30 A.M. a carpenter named James Marshall made a discovery that would change the world. Gold! There it was for the taking glistening in the cold water of the race just beyond the saw mill that Marshall and his band of mostly Mormons was building for his boss, John Sutter. Cleverly, Marshall let the river 'El Rio De Las Americanas' cut its own course just beyond the mill site. Each morning he would inspect the work that Mother Nature had performed overnight. As he stepped along the race conducting his daily inspection that cold January morning a few sparkles caught his eye. At first he thought it was merely some shiny quartz but it proved to be the real McCoy, Gold - with all of its economic, political and social implications. The area where the Gold was discovered was wilderness. It was known by the Indian name, Coloma and was located about 100 miles or so inland from San Francisco. The territory was still owned by Mexico as President Polk had not yet succeeded in grabbing it from Mexico. In a few weeks however, with the lopsided Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the territory would fall into American hands and with it huge deposits of gold. Within several months the United States President 'Polk' would confirm the existence of the Gold and, according to the Author, the largest migration of people since the Crusades began. The Argonauts came from Asia, South America, Europe, Australia and, of course, from the United States. Many in the U.S. traveled to the gold fields over difficult land routes others by stormy sea voyages and some by a combination of both. The trip to San Francisco ¿ gateway to the gold fields ¿ from the East Coast of the U.S. took about 6 months if done entirely by sea. For General William Tecumseh Sherman 'of Civil War fame' it took 196 days! But by the middle of the 1850¿s, with the advent of the Clipper ships the trip around the South American horn had been shaved to a record 90 days ¿ though a voyage of 120 days was not uncommon. The shorter route from the Eastern U.S. was to cross the Isthumus of Panama. But that trek involved 50 miles of jungle crossing and was treacherous and disease-ridden. The ¿around the horn¿ route was not much better. The voyage was some 16,500 miles! Storms were plentiful. The trip around the horn often meant that ships had to travel further south of the Equator than New York or Montreal is north of the Equator. Some storms off the tip of South America blew for 2-3 weeks trying man and vessel to exhaustion. These were sailing ships subject to shifting, unpredictable winds. The crew was often composed of marginal types who were given alcohol, kidnapped and awoke to find themselves at sea. Their sailing skills were obviously lacking and there were discipline problems. Often the Captain and officers brutalized the crew. Any sailor will appreciate the rigors these men and their passengers endured on their fortune seeking journeys. Sailor or non-sailor will be amazed to learn that upon arriving in San Francisco Bay hundreds of crews simply abandoned their vessels and took off inland for the gold fields. Thus, hundreds of vessels lay abandoned in the harbor. The cross-country trip across the U.S. was dreadful. Death was everywhere. As the famous explorer John Freemont led a winter expedition of starving men and animals across the Rockies they were delighted to spy some grass ahead for the starving animals. But when they reached the ¿grass¿ it turned out to be only the tops of trees! Still, and despite the obvious dangers, gold seekers from all over the Planet descended onto the gold fields of Northern California. Hundreds at first then thousands then tens of thousands and ultimately an estimated 250,000 fortune seekers made their way to California. Their ranks included lawyers, physicians, farmers, accountants, tradesmen of all sorts and a number of women and children. Such was the a
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gold has been struck in California - mountains of it! All a man has to do is work hard, and he'll be rich beyond his wildest dreams. Such was the irresistible lure of gold that millions of men (and a few women too) suddenly dropped their lives and prospects of moderate success at home - and left their families - for the chance of a lifetime. But they would have to gamble with their lives! Such was the power of gold to beckon men to tempt fate on their quest for instant wealth. In a similar vein, H.W. Brands, the author, does a magnificent job of capturing the spirit of the age along with all the very real, often fatal consequences of this unquenchable thirst for miraculous fortune. He recounts pre-Gold Rush California - it's a sparsely populated, mostly peaceful Spanish colonial backwater. Tens of thousands of native Americans with a sprinkling of locally-resident Spaniards, missionaries and private ranch holders, marked the extent of California's population till 1846. In 1846, Fremont led a cavalry unit across the largely undefended Spanish colony and planted the US flag there. Following that and a book, Two Years Before the Mast, a trickle of immigration began to flow into the new US territory. But when Sutter and Brannan announced the discovery of gold, the trickle became a stream and finally a raging torrent. People flooded into California from South America, Australia, China, Europe, and of course the United States. American gold-seekers could choose one of two routes - by ship (either around Cape Horn or across Panama) or overland by horse or wagon. The first option, though somewhat safer and quicker, was also more expensive. So, many loaded up their wagons and headed West from Missouri into unknown and dangerous country. Brands relates the journey with firsthand accounts and does a masterful job of weaving the sufferings the argonauts faced into an exciting adventure story - really amazing stories! The book then continues to describe the life of the miners, their settlements and towns - especially San Francisco, the rapid evolution of the gold-mining industry, and other aspects - bars, gambling, prostitutes, gangs, etc. This provides a very revealing insight into life among these men. Brands traces the rise (and often fall) of many Gold Rush personalities, including the founders of the famed Central Pacific Railroad, George Hearst, and others. The first half of the book was almost addictive, as I didn't want to put it down. As the book goes on however, it appears to lose its focus, but it still remains quite good. I very highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in adventure stories or American history. An excellent work!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thought i knew about the gold rush of 1848 but THE AGE OF GOLD made it come alive and meanful in my increasing knowledge of american history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent and fun rendering of early California history via telling stories of historical characters. Thus in many ways it reads like fiction, but truth is always more fun, and this is a fun way to take in some history. I'm not sure it has anything new to say, but it's certainly a great overview of the period and an interesting take on the American Dream we live with today. "Maybe I will get lucky and get mine." Remember it did not happen for Sutter or his mill.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that, unlike most historical non-fiction, leaves you with a gnawing feel for the life and times of the characters. You're drawn into the story, not wanting to set it aside, and yet you linger over each paragraph, savoring the beauty of the fluid prose. As is the case with any fine work of art, you're engaged both intellectually and emotionally, gaining knowledge and appreciation, but more importantly feeling uplifted by the refined mastery of an expert craftsman. What could be better?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great if you like slap-dash summing-ups based almost entirely on secondary-sources.