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Publisher's Summary

A Most Anticipated Book by: 

  • The New York Times Book Review
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Time
  • Esquire
  • The Millions
  • Vogue
  • People
  • New York Post
  • USA Today
  • Medium
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Newsday

From the number-one New York Times best-selling 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 20th century.

An intimate story of brotherhood, love, sacrifice, and betrayal set against the panoramic backdrop of an early 20th 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 16-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 19-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). 

©2020 Jess Walter (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about The Cold Millions

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good Story ....Hard to follow on Audio

Enjoyed the story. Learned some interesting history about the labor movement in the 1900s. The problem was trying to follow all of the characters on audio. Interesting story, but didn’t flow on audio. The use of different narrators was distracting as they were of various quality.

17 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

An extraordinary work of historical fiction

If you are looking for a window into a time when the rule of law was used to suppress workers and also used to support a clueless wealthy class, look no further.

Like all great works of historical fiction, The Cool Millions illuminates a forgotten world and shines a bright spotlight on our own. Its themes and characters are as relevant today as the daily news feeds. Replace Wobblies with Antifa and Black Lives Matter and you get the sense that the struggle for justice never ends.

14 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A Worthy Successor to Wallace Stegner

One Amazon reviewer was reminded of Steinbeck. I found The Cold Millions even more reminiscent of Wallace Stegner's Joe Hill or Angle of Repose. The events in 1909 Spokane, Washington read like contemporary life — an oligarchy of wealthy industrialists, a huge divide between the rich and poor, civil unrest, the fight for equality and free speech, police corruption, even a wildfire that burns 3 million acres and wipes whole towns off the map. Some things apparently never change. The struggle seems perpetual.

Some readers will be put off by the number of points-of-view (including narration by the dead), and that does slow the pace substantially. But I thought that it was a bold artistic choice and added to the richness of the story. My only complaint is the almost complete lack of humor. Of course, the events weren't funny, but a good sense of the absurd would have helped.

Finally, a shout-out to the narrators of the audiobook, who helped bring the characters to life.

9 people found this helpful

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Another tumultuous time

This is an engaging story of another era of political turmoil, haves and have nots. The narration was excellent. The characters were somewhat melodramatic but became more engaging as the story unfolds. I found myself comparing the situations in the book to current day politics, social upheavals, and economic realities. Highly recommend

8 people found this helpful

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Beautifully written story, wonderful performance

This is one of the few books that I probably enjoyed more listening to on audio instead of reading the book directly. The performances were wonderful, and I enjoyed the occasional change of performer with the changes of character point-of-view. Each performer had an authentic voice, as if they were truly telling you their story, not reading it from a page. The story was beautifully written and unique, and unfolded in its own time. The themes were thought-provoking, yet very subtle. Enjoyable!

6 people found this helpful

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Meh

Weak storyline. After 10 hours of listening I couldn’t root for any character. I was expecting more and received way less.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastic narration

I chose to listen to Jess Walter’s “The Cold Millions” narrated by an amazing cast: Edoardo Ballerini, Gary Farmer, Marin Ireland, Cassandra Campbell, MacLeod Andrews, Tim Gerard Reynolds, Mike Ortego, Rex Anderson, Charlie Thurston, and Frankie Corzo. It is the cast that provided this historical fiction story with the depth and richness of the saga of a turbulent time in America’s history. Walter embeds historical figures in his creative story which lends the reader to research the figures and events highlighted in the story.

The story is anchored by two vagrant brothers, Rye and Gig Dolan. Gig is twenty-three and idealistic, wanting a better world for the working man. Rye is only sixteen and wants a steady life since he’s living a life of poverty and uncertainty. The boys get mixed up in a “new” workers union, the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and the 1909 Spokane Washington free speech fight. Both men end up jailed, and Rye gets sprung as a result of (the true historical figure) feminist Elizabeth Gurly Flynn’s influence.

Walter must have enjoyed writing his creative depiction of Gurly Flynn. He used actual events to moor his story and added very colorful events and speeches. Gurly figures prominently in this story. After listening to the story, I researched Flynn, and didn’t realize what an historical impact she had on our country. She was born in 1890, and at the tender age of 16 she gave her first speech to a Harlem Socialist Club entitled “What Socialism Will Do for Women” (she was expelled after her speech). That little historical bit is not in the novel, although after reading how Walter used her character in his story, I am not surprised.

Walter captures the time in American history well. He adds burlesque shows highlighting the women of such shows and how they survived the male dominated world. The police, who are both corrupt and some ethical are featured. The injustices to the working class and the brutality that was allowed at the time create a mesmerizing read.

Innocent Rye is the story’s mainstay. He just wants to get his brother out of jail, and he wants to live a life of stability. Poor Rye is used as a pawn and stooge. He is earnest in his desire to be good. He is drawn to the politics of the IWW, but only in that it will help him get his brother out of jail.

I highly recommend listening to the audible production of this fine novel. With all the various character voices, it allows the listener to create his/her own visual with the help of fine voices.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Another tour de force from Jess Walter

We waited for the next work from Jess Walter, and The Cold Millions does not disappoint. In short, a period piece with lessons for today. Like Mr. Walter’s other books, suspenseful and engaging. Beautifully written and performed.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating and well told historical fiction

The book started out slowly and dark but as the characters became more developed I found myself with a vested interest in their well-being. This period of time in history is fascinating and Well represented in the story.

3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Never got into this

After listening for a couple of hours, I realized that my mind kept drifting and I could not follow the plot. In addition, I did not care about any of the characters. The author seemed more interested in getting historic accuracy than building characters and a plot. It seemed to do a decent job of capturing the times, the early 20th century. Maybe had I continued, this might have come alive, but there needs to be some spark of interest to earn my patience. There was none to me.

2 people found this helpful