The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream
Earlier this year I read another book on a similar subject; it had less than I really wanted to know about the Gold Rush and more than I wanted to know about
Brands’ book covers the same time period and some of the same material but there’s a lot more on the Gold Rush per se and on its consequence—not just the political fallout. There are excellent early chapters telling the story of James Marshall who ran the mill at Coloma where gold was first found and his partner, John Sutter, a Swiss national who was the power figure in the area as well as on the wide range of people who came to the gold country and, even more interesting, how they got there. They came by sea, around Cape Horn from NY and the East Coast, though some went to Chagras in Panama and overland to Panama City hoping to pick up a ship on the Pacific and cut the time to San Francisco. The
Brands goes on to develop the technology and the economics of gold mining, the social consequences for the individuals he followed to the American River, as well the politics. He profiles other well known characters of the period such as John Fremont, the first Republican candidate for president, Leland Stanford, who “built” the transcontinental railroad, William Tecumseh Sherman, Mark Twain (don’t forget the jumping frog of Calavaras County) and others.
Brands, like the late Stephen Ambrose, is an academic historian who writes exciting tales that happen to be readable history. This is the second of his I’ve read and will look for more.