Synopses & Reviews
There isn't an American alive today who hasn't been affected by what happened at Sutter's Fort east of Sacramento on January 24, 1848. Carpenter James Marshall was building a sawmill when he accidentally discovered a pea-shaped nugget of gold in a ditch. Just like that, the American character changed, and the gold rush became the focal point of mid-nineteenth-century America. From 1848 to 1850, ninety thousand people trekked across the continent when California was still a vast wilderness. By 1854, that figure had risen to three hundred thousand. Representing every ethnic group, a substantial fraction of the American population migrated to California's gold fields in six years. The mortality rate in the gold camps was over 25 percent. There was no law, only vice. And despite that, the fortune hunters knew that the gold rush afforded them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rocket to the top of the economic and social ladder. The gold rush marked the moment when people stopped believing that good work leads to a good life, which then leads to a good afterlife. They started believing, instead, that anyone could make it rich. Americans thus began their phantom pursuit of wealth that continues to this day.
"Rosen, a former arts columnist for the New York Times and true crime writer, is out of his element in this mundane history. He proposes that the American character is dominated by an unrestrained desire to get rich quick, an affliction directly traceable to 'when [President] Polk's lips uttered the magic word 'gold!' ' in his 1848 State of the Union address. According to Rosen '[the] announcement let loose something primordial that had been lurking in the American character since John Adams had been a boy.' But facts to support such broad premises are sorely lacking. Much of the book is true to Rosen's crime-writing roots, with chapters devoted to the lawlessness that pervaded the mining camps and lurid tales of notorious gold rush criminals. Rosen also speculates that Jesse James's predations were linked to the gold rush because James's father headed for California, leaving Jesse bereft of moral guidance. Rosen describes the toddler Jesse 'in halting though plain language' begging his father not to go. Such melodrama, along with the lack of source notes and a very brief bibliography, put this in the category of history super-lite. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Lori Perkins. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In this engaging history, Rosen chronicles the story of the 1848 Gold Rush, which began at Sutter's Fort east of Sacramento with the accidental discovery of gold. Rosen then goes on to show how this event shaped the nation from that time forward.