Mr Rosen brings to life the story most Americans have heard or read about in history class. This book tells about how this significant event fits into regional, national and even international history. Engaging and readable. Excellent.
Unlike other gold rushes in world history, the California 49ers rushed to a place filled with tremendous economic opportunity beyond mining. Moreover it occurred shortly after the Mexican-American War in which the United States obtained New Mexico and California from Mexico, and at the beginning of the "manifest destiny" phase of US westward expansion. For these reasons, the California Gold Rush transformed the country in the decade before the Civil War.
This book tells that story in a series of vignettes about a few key individuals in the Gold Rush, plus a lot of less key folks who were famous for other reasons, like Robert James (father of Frank and Jesse), James Reed (leader of the cannablistic Donner party) and Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon Church). This gives considerable insight into the effect of the Gold Rush on the entire country, but means there is limited space for discussing the actual discovery, mining and aftermath.
The story is surprisingly tame given how colorful the material is and the author's skill with sensational material in most of his other books. It's a pleasant and informative history, but it will not keep you at the edge of your seat. It also gives little feel for what life was actually like at the time. The place descriptions are detailed and vibrant, and there is a lot of primary material quoted from letters and newspapers, but the book does not take the reader back in time. If you ignore the giant one-word title with exclamation point and look only at the subtitle, you'll get a better idea of what the book is like.
Overall, this is an competent journalistic account of the 49ers and their place in US history that is mildly entertaining rather than thrilling or incisive.
I have always been fascinated by the various gold rushes in the United States. Whenever the country acquired new real estate, or even before it acquired it, it always seemed like gold was discovered. That would set off a mad rush of what were otherwise sane and rational people. Eureka, another untamed and unsettled part of the country was now full of “Americans”.
=== The Good Stuff ===
* Fred Rosen is an honest writer, and captures both the good and the bad of the gold rushes. He mostly concentrates on California of the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, but makes brief mention of other strikes. Rosen spends some time capturing the good sides of a gold rush, namely increased settlement of remote areas, new found wealth, and a growth in commerce and trade. But Rosen also shows the darker side. The gold rush tore apart families, destroyed pristine environments, brought unsavory characters and crime, and in general, brought more hard work and misery than gold to the average prospector.
* The author writes in an easy-to-read style, and kept the narrative moving. He introduces the reader to some well-known characters, such as John Sutter and the James Brothers, but also tells the story of some lesser-known and more typical prospectors. He captures their hard work, misery, occasional success, and the effects these men had on the lands they settled into.
* As part of the story, Rosen also relates the book to life in the United States during the times. During the 1850’s, the US was growing rapidly, both in area and population, was becoming a world power, and was itself getting tied up in knots over slavery. All of these events, and many others, had an effect on, and were affected by, the gold rush.
* One of the more interesting parts of the narrative was the journey from the cities of the east coast to the gold fields of California. There were three major routes, all of them having tradeoffs in terms of difficulty, expense and time. It is difficult to remember that the journey now requires a few hours of time and the equivalent of a fraction of an ounce of gold.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===
* In some ways, Rosen gets bogged down in peripheral events. I was hoping for more details on the gold rush itself-the economics of prospecting, the effect on the world economy of the gold strikes, how it affected the US. Instead, the author devotes time to Sherman’s march through Georgia, the James Brothers and other ancillary issues.
* I had also hoped for a look at how the gold rush affected modern California. Would the state have grown as fast? Would the state have been different if settled by more conventional pioneers rather than get-rich quick adventurers?
=== Summary ===
* I enjoyed the book, and did learn a bit about this fascinating time in American History. I did get a feel for life in the American River region of California, and how a man trying to build a sawmill changed history. There were areas of the book that I would have like to see emphasized and skipped over, but all-in-all it was a worthwhile read.
=== Disclaimer ===
I was able to read an advanced proof through the courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.