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The Nature of Goldby Kathryn Taylor Morse
Synopses & Reviews
In 1896, a small group of prospectors discovered a stunningly rich pocket of gold at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers, and in the following two years thousands of individuals traveled to the area, hoping to find wealth in a rugged and challenging setting. Ever since that time, the Klondike Gold Rush — especially as portrayed in photographs of long lines of gold seekers marching up Chilkoot Pass — has had a hold on the popular imagination.
In this first environmental history of the gold rush, Kathryn Morse describes how the miners got to the Klondike, the mining technologies they employed, and the complex networks by which they obtained food, clothing, and tools. She looks at the political and economic debates surrounding the valuation of gold and the emerging industrial economy that exploited its extraction in Alaska, and explores the ways in which a web of connections among America's transportation, supply, and marketing industries linked miners to other industrial and agricultural laborers across the country. The profound economic and cultural transformations that supported the Alaska-Yukon gold rush ultimately reverberate to modern times.
The story Morse tells is often narrated through the diaries and letters of the miners themselves. The daunting challenges of traveling, working, and surviving in the raw wilderness are illustrated not only by the miners' compelling accounts but also by newspaper reports and advertisements. Seattle played a key role as "gateway to the Klondike." A public relations campaign lured potential miners to the West and local businesses seized the opportunity to make large profits while thousands of gold seekers streamed through Seattle.
The drama of the miners' journeys north, their trials along the gold creeks, and their encounters with an extreme climate will appeal not only to scholars of the western environment and of late 19th-century industrialism, but to readers interested in reliving the vivid adventure of the West's last great gold rush.
"Morse demonstrates the dramatic environmental damage created by the gold rush, but she also helps us understand the very real accommodations that miners had to make if they hoped to survive in these far northern landscapes....She is a superb storyteller with a wry sense of humor, a flair for the quirky detail and the revealing anecdote, and a keen appreciation for the tragicomic underside of this famous event." from the Introduction by William Cronon
"This environmental history of a gold rush is as surprising, revealing, and complicated as gold itself. I know of nothing quite like this wry and clever book." Richard White
"If you're only allowed one book about the Klondike Gold Rush, I suppose it has to be Jack London. But this volume definitely comes next — a wonderfully compelling acount of what it actually felt like to pack up and head to the Yukon. Scholars will find it provacative and deep, but all readers will find it absorbing, touching, funny — a truly revealing window on our national history and our national character." William McKibben
"Kathryn Morse recognizes how profoundly the economic and political culture of the 1890s shaped the rush for gold in Alaska and the Yukon. And she details the varieties of interconnected human and animal labor that sustained the Klondike rush....The Nature of Gold effectively and seamlessly blends both older and newer environmental history methodologies, and does so in an eminently accessible and compelling prose style." Susan Lee Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Book News Annotation:
Gold miners who set out seeking fortune in the Alaskan Yukon in the final years of the 19th century lived in a network of production and consumption that constantly shifted between preindustrial forms of subsistence to wider nonlocal industrial economies, significantly shifting their relationship to nature. This relationship, suggests Morse (history, Middlebury College), could be transformed, but never escaped. She explores these relationships and the meanings ascribed to them by miners and others affected by the impact of the Gold Rush. The transportation of food and miners, the culture of travel, and political representations of nature, are discussions given as much weight as the culture of the miners themselves. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Kathryn Morse is assistant professor of history at Middlebury College in Vermont.
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History and Social Science » Americana » Alaska