The Cold Millions

The Cold Millions

by Jess Walter

Hardcover

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Overview

“One of the most captivating novels of the year.” – Washington Post 

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

A Best Book of the Year: Bloomberg | Boston Globe | Chicago Public Library | Chicago Tribune Esquire | Kirkus | New York Public Library | New York Times Book Review (Historical Fiction) | NPR's Fresh Air | O Magazine | Washington Post | Publishers Weekly | Seattle Times | USA Today 

A Library Reads Pick | An Indie Next Pick

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins comes another “literary miracle” (NPR)—a propulsive, richly entertaining novel about two brothers swept up in the turbulent class warfare of the early twentieth century.

An intimate story of brotherhood, love, sacrifice,  and betrayal set against the panoramic backdrop of an early twentieth-century America that eerily echoes our own time, The Cold Millions offers a  kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation grappling with the chasm between rich and poor, between harsh realities and simple dreams.

The Dolans live by their wits, jumping freight trains and lining up for day work at crooked job agencies. While sixteen-year-old Rye yearns for a steady job and a home, his older brother, Gig, dreams of a better world, fighting alongside other union men for fair pay and decent treatment. Enter Ursula the Great, a vaudeville singer who performs with a live cougar and introduces the brothers to a far more dangerous creature: a mining magnate determined to keep his wealth and his hold on Ursula.

Dubious of Gig’s idealism, Rye finds himself drawn to a fearless nineteen-year-old activist and feminist named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. But a storm is coming, threatening to overwhelm them all, and Rye will be forced to decide where he stands. Is it enough to win the occasional battle, even if you cannot win the war?

Featuring an unforgettable cast of cops and tramps, suffragists and socialists, madams and murderers, The Cold Millions is a tour de force from a “writer who has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors” (Boston Globe).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 06/29/2020

Walter (Beautiful Ruins) reconstructs the free speech riots of 1909–1910 in Spokane, Wash., in this superb tale of orphaned, train-hopping brothers Gig and Rye Dolan. After their mother dies from tuberculosis, Rye, 16, leaves their childhood home in Montana to join Gig. The brothers spend a year looking for seasonal work, then settle in Spokane, the “old Klondike town had grown into a proper city,” where “money flowed straight uphill” and a $10 pair of gloves is a class-defining luxury. Rye is arrested during a riot and charged with disorderly conduct, and his lawyer introduces him to the sympathetic Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a New Yorker and union organizer who has come to Spokane to advocate for “the cold millions with no chance in this world.” Gig and Rye also meet Ursula the Great, a bawdy vaudevillian who cavorts in corset and stockings with a caged cougar and wins Gig’s heart despite her romantic involvement with a mining boss. The novel’s cast mixes fictional characters and historical figures such as labor lawyer Fred Moore, police chief John Sullivan, and organizers John Walsh and Frank Little, and adds a literary layer to Gig’s self-determination (he travels with a library including White Fang and two volumes of War and Peace, “always on the lookout for the rest”). The sum is a splendid postmodern rendition of the social realist novels of the 1930s by Henry Roth, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos, updated with strong female characters and executed with pristine prose. This could well be Walter’s best work yet. (Oct.)

Anthony Doerr

The Cold Millions is a literary unicorn: a book about socio-economic disparity that’s also a page-turner, a postmodern experiment that reads like a potboiler, and a beautiful, lyric hymn to the power of social unrest in American history. It’s funny and harrowing, sweet and violent, innocent and experienced; it walks a dozen tightropes. Jess Walter is a national treasure.

The New Yorker

Masterly…. Shifting perspectives and sharp plot twists contribute to the richness of the story, bringing a tumultuous time in American history to life. Walter illustrates how injustice can galvanize young men but also wreck them.

Wall Street Journal

Vibrant…. Filled with a gusto that honors the beauty of believing in societal change and simultaneously recognizes the cruel limits of the possible…. The Cold Millions is reminiscent of the work of John dos Passos and EL. Doctorow…. [A] spirited and expansive novel.

Washington Post

A work of irresistible characters, harrowing adventures and rip-roaring fun … bursting with a dazzling range of outrageous characters…. One of the most captivating novels of the year.

Esquire

Walter puts forth his most ambitious work yet, solidifying his place in the contemporary canon as one of our most gifted builders of fictional worlds....  It's often said that a novel contains the world; Walter brings new meaning to this phrase, peopling The Cold Millions with vaudeville stars, hobos, suffragists, tycoons, union agitators, policemen, and dozens of other vibrant characters. Warm and deeply humane, this transporting novel is a staggering achievement from a landmark writer.

Library Journal

05/01/2020

In early 1900s America, the Dolan brothers hop freight trains and grab shady day jobs, with 16-year-old Rye wanting a more stable life and flamboyant older brother Gig working for union rights. Through vaudeville singer Ursula the Great, they meet a dangerous mining magnate even as Rye is drawn to 19-year-old activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. From the author of the No. 1 New York Times best-selling Beautiful Ruins.

School Library Journal

11/01/2020

Gr 9 Up—When his mother dies, Ryan, 16, joins his 23-year-old brother, Gig, for a life on the road. They travel from Montana and reach Spokane, WA in time for the free speech riots of 1909. Teen readers will see that current demonstrations and complaints about police brutality have a long history. Handsome, charming Gig suffers in jail after speaking out while Rye is helped by 19-year-old Ellen Gurley Flynn, union organizer and agitator for the poor, the cold millions. Curious readers will want to learn more about this real-life character. Rye joins her to visit nearby towns to try to raise money for the cause while Gig sits in jail. They almost lose their lives in a mining camp because of a terrible betrayal and return without the money Flynn was able to raise. The poverty and violence of the early 20th century may be upsetting to some readers, but Walter brings the struggles of the time to vivid life. Most characters are white. VERDICT A page-turner by a talented author who depicts fascinating characters both real and imagined.—Karlan Sick, formerly at NYPL

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-06-26
Irresistible hobo brothers, an evil tycoon, a pregnant union organizer, a burlesque star, and a shady private eye light up a tale of the great Northwest in the early 20th century.

The fact that the same author has written books as wildly different and all as transporting as The Zero (2006), The Financial Lives of the Poets (2009), Beautiful Ruins (2012), and now this latest tour de force is testimony to Walter’s protean storytelling power and astounding ability to set a scene, any scene. Here it’s Spokane, his hometown, circa 1909. Orphaned Montana brothers Gig and Rye Dolan, 23 and 16, have wound up there along with so many others—“they floated in from mines and farms and log camps, filled every flop and boardinghouse, slept in parks and alleys…and, on the night just past, this abandoned ball field, its infield littered with itinerants, vagrants, floaters, Americans.” The violent adventure that befalls Rye and Gig the next morning becomes the centerpiece of a story that Rye ends up reciting onstage when he goes on the road with 19-year-old Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a suffragette and union organizer and one of several real-life characters in the book. The free speech riots the Dolan brothers get involved in and end up incarcerated for are taken from history as well. At intervals, chapters are narrated by first-person characters both major and minor, several of whom die on the page midsentence, a literally breathtaking fictional flourish. Two favorite voices are Ursula the Great, the vaudeville performer Gig falls in love with, and Del Dalveaux, a detective in the employ of Ursula’s patron. Noted for her singing and her way with a live cougar, Ursula displays food-writing talent as well: “We were served a French red wine, a fine local beefsteak, scallops from Seattle, and gnocchi that might have been pinched from the ass of an Italian angel.” Dalveaux is a hard-boiled piece of work: “Spokane gave me the morbs. Right blood blister of a town. Six-month millionaires and skunk hobos, and none in between….The city was twice the size of the last time I’d hated being there.”

We have heard that Jess Walter writes nonstop: Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please, never stop.

CNN

"A story of brotherhood, deceit, love and sacrifice that will have you holding your breath with every turn of the page."

New York Times Book Review

"Walter has made a major career out of the minor character, and his portrait of Rye ... is generously brought to life with humanity and wit. Walter’s latest novel is more hybrid beast than those earlier books: not quite fiction and not history but a splicing of the two, so that the invented rises to the occasion of the real and the real guides and determines the fate of the invented.... Which isn’t to say the book lacks brio or invention; it is full of both."

Vogue

The Beautiful Ruins author has produced another layered, multi-character panorama.” 

starred review Booklist

Strung up around true events and a handful of real people, Walter's latest is informed by intensive, ardent research and reverence for his home city; consider this book a train ticket to a past time and place. In addition to boldly voiced characters and dramatic suspense, in this century-ago tale of labor rights and wealth inequality readers will find plenty of modern relevance.

Seattle Times

The Cold Millions will break your heart and make you hopeful at the same time.

San Francisco Chronicle

Stunning…. The Cold Millions feels timed perfectly to this moment of stark income inequality, where the crevasse between billionaires and workers widens and activism increases…. Walter marshals a motley, fascinating cast of characters so finely drawn that they lift from the page…. I haven’t encountered a more satisfying and moving novel about the struggle for workers’ rights in America.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Riveting…. With an expansive cast that includes anti-capitalist firebrands, menacing tycoons, a coalition of multifaceted, multiethnic itinerant workers and sundry ‘killers, detectives and anarchists,’ this book captures the audacity, promise, ugliness and beauty of American life.

Book of the Week People

Beautiful Ruins author Walter again brings the magic.

USA Today

It’s a tremendous work, a vivid, propulsive, historical novel with a politically explosive backdrop that reverberates through our own.

Boston Globe

Jess Walter is a superb storyteller. His plot rolls on at a steady pace. His ear for dialogue, whatever the character, is acute. He knows when to amp up the prose with a telling metaphor…. As polished and hard as a diamond, The Cold Millions reminds us of America’s tempestuous past and suggests that all this is anything but past.

the Oprah Magazine O

"Expansive, beguiling….  In Flynn, Walter has found a sublime heroine: outspoken, brave, and beautiful, too. She takes on Spokane’s brutal and corrupt establishment with the kind of bravura that makes us yearn for her to time-travel to our era. Walter does a masterful job of using historical events and characters to draw parallels with what we face today, but the greatest triumph of The Cold Millions is how it mines literary realism but remains optimistic even in the face of tragedy. It’s a thrilling yarn that simultaneously underscores the cost of progress and celebrates the American spirit.

Dan Cryer

Jess Walter is a superb storyteller. His plot rolls on at a steady pace. His ear for dialogue, whatever the character, is acute. He knows when to amp up the prose with a telling metaphor…. As polished and hard as a diamond, The Cold Millions reminds us of America’s tempestuous past and suggests that all this is anything but past.

Kevin Canfield

Riveting…. With an expansive cast that includes anti-capitalist firebrands, menacing tycoons, a coalition of multifaceted, multiethnic itinerant workers and sundry ‘killers, detectives and anarchists,’ this book captures the audacity, promise, ugliness and beauty of American life.

Kim Hubbard

Another home run for the author of Beautiful Ruins.

Washington Post

Another triumph for the versatile novelist behind Beautiful Ruins.” 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062868084
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/27/2020
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 9,091
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)

Customer Reviews