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Publisher's Summary

The rags-to-riches American frontier tale of an Irish immigrant who outwits, outworks, and outmaneuvers thousands of rivals to take control of Nevada’s Comstock Lode - the rich body of gold and silver so immensely valuable that it changed the destiny of the United States.

Born in 1831, John W. Mackay was a penniless Irish immigrant who came of age in New York City, went to California during the Gold Rush, and mined without much luck for eight years. When he heard of riches found on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1859, Mackay abandoned his claim and walked a hundred miles to the Comstock Lode in Nevada.

Over the course of the next dozen years, Mackay worked his way up from nothing, thwarting the pernicious “Bank Ring” monopoly to seize control of the most concentrated cache of precious metals ever found on earth, the legendary “Big Bonanza”, a stupendously rich body of gold and silver ore discovered 1,500 feet beneath the streets of Virginia City, the ultimate Old West boomtown. But for the ore to be worth anything it had to be found, claimed, and successfully extracted, each step requiring enormous risk and the creation of an entirely new industry.

Now Gregory Crouch tells Mackay’s amazing story - how he extracted the ore from deep underground and used his vast mining fortune to crush the transatlantic telegraph monopoly of the notorious Jay Gould. When Mackay died in 1902, front-page obituaries in Europe and the United States hailed him as one of the most admired Americans of the age. The Bonanza King is a dazzling tour de force, a riveting history of Virginia City, Nevada, the Comstock Lode, and America itself.

©2018 Gregory Crouch (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

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Stellar narration, biography exemplar!

Narrator John Keating made the experience feel like a bedtime story filled with mystery, adventure and fantasy. The audio sample selected highlights a representative passage of the story, and good as it is, doesn't do justice to Keating's performance.

John Mackay's story comes close to the Horatio Alger rags to riches ideal. Beginning in extreme poverty, he quietly worked his way to fortune that surprisingly came a late in life given the type of work he did. He was a mustang in the military slang sense, becoming a mine superintendent through having started near the very bottom and working two full-time mining jobs on the Comstock Lode for years, always with a workmanlike, sunny disposition.

The author developed context throughout in an entertaining way, explaining details of the Irish Migration, life in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City, early boom years of San Francisco, the emergence of law in a mining town prior to the presence of local government, technological changes in mining methods, the west during the American Civil War, the intercontinental telegraph industry, prominent persons of the time and what it was like to discover the Big Bonanza.

Author Gregory Crouch is a storyteller. His transitions between pivotal moments in Mackay's life are works of art that evoke feelings. Anyone who plans to write a biography might benefit by experiencing the Crouch style. As listeners, we don't spend a high percentage of the 23 hours and 24 minutes with Mackay, yet we continue to feel his presence.

Most of my listening experience was in short bursts while eating, driving, waiting for something and nearly whenever possible. The author, and to a greater extent the narrator, transported me over a one-week period to another time when large fortunes were made and lost continuously.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful