Summary and book reviews of The Age of Gold by H.W. Brands

The Age of Gold

The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream

By H.W. Brands

The Age of Gold
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2002,
    560 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2003,
    560 pages.

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Book Summary

They went West to change their lives and in the bargain they changed the world. This is the extraordinary story of the men and women of the Gold Rush.

When gold was first discovered on the American River above Sutter's Fort in January 1848, California was a sparsely populated frontier territory not yet ceded to the United States from Mexixo. The discovery triggered a massive influx as hundreds of thousands of people scrambled to California in search of riches, braving dangerous journeys across the Pacific, around Cape Horn, and through the Isthmus of Panama, as well as across America's vast, unsettled wilderness. Cities sprang up overnight, in response to the demand for supplies and services of all kinds. By 1850, California had become a state -- the fastest journey to statehood in U.S. history. It had also become a symbol of what America stood for and of where it was going.

In The Age of Gold, H. W. Brands explores the far-reaching implications of this pivotal point in U.S. history, weaving the politics of the times with the gripping stories of individuals that displays both the best and the worst of the American character. He discusses the national issues that exploded around the ratification of California's statehood, hastening the clouds that would lead to the Civil War. He tells the stories of the great fortunes made by such memorable figures as John and Jessie Fremont, Leland Stanford and George Hearst -- and of great fortunes lost by hundreds now forgotten by history. And he reveals the profound effect of the Gold Rush on the way Americans viewed their destinies, as the Puritan ethic of hard work and the gradual accumulation of worldly riches gave way to the notion of getting rich quickly.

Chapter 1
In the Footsteps of Father Serra

A less likely terminus of all these journeys could scarcely have been conceived. A principal attraction of California in the period before Coloma was that it was so far off the beaten track. John Sutter could hide there from his wife and creditors; James Marshall could hope to shake the failure that had dogged his steps since Missouri. At a time when long-distance travel averaged little faster than a man could walk--railroads were appearing in the most advanced countries, and promised to revolutionize transport, but for now they were primarily local or regional affairs--California was about as far from the centers of Western civilization as a land could be. The sea voyage around South America from New York or Liverpool or Le Havre required five or six months, depending on conditions off Cape Horn, which could terrify the most hardened unbeliever to prayer. Recently, intrepid and lightly laden travelers had begun to attempt the Central ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
The San Francisco Chronicle

A barn burner...There's only one thing to say...and that's ‘Eureka!'

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

An engrossing, multifaceted history... Its author, like the miners of the gold rush themselves, leaves no stone unturned.

Book Magazine

Reminiscent of a hundred shoot-em-up flicks...Earns its keep from start to finish.

The Austin American Statesman

Brilliantly pans the historical record for nuggets of hardship and, in the process, hits upon a mother lode of a story.

Raleigh News and Observer

Brands weaves a grand tale about Americans, of all races, of diverse origins, who were heroic but not perfect.

Publishers Weekly

With solid research and a sprightly narrative, Brands's portrait of the gold rush is an enlightening analysis of a transformative period for California and America.

Library Journal - Charles L. Lumpkins

Brands writes history as the art of storytelling that enthralls and informs the reader. Highly recommended, especially for public libraries.

Kirkus Reviews

Brands has produced a work that stands far above the tide of mostly forgettable titles that accompanied the 150th anniversary of the Gold Rush three years ago. A lucid, literate survey of events that transformed the nation, for better and worse.

Author Blurb Stephen E. Ambrose
Fascinating stories that transcend the mundane and take us to new levels of the human experience...Brands tells it, superbly.

Author Blurb Michael Beschloss, author of The Crisis Years Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963
A magnificent, compelling story that takes us into one of the most thrilling and important moments in the American past.

Author Blurb Jay Winik, author ofApril 1865
The unforgettable story of… the Gold Rush—big, brassy, raucous… H.W. Brands tells it all—and more. Terrific.

Author Blurb David McCullough, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of John Adams
A fine, robust telling of one of the greatest adventure stories in history.

Author Blurb Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center and professor of History at the University of New Orleans.
A gripping narrative account of the mad rush for California riches that forever changed America… A real page-turner.

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