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Gold Rush: A Literary Exploration [Paperback]

California Council for the Humanities , Michael Kowalewski , Andrew Dean Nystrom
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 1997 0930588991 978-0930588991
The news of gold in California beckoned people from every continent on earth. This astonishing and instant migration would leave its mark forever on California and, indeed, the entire world. Taking a comprehensive look at the excitement, unrest, exploitation, and romanticism of the California gold rush, this unique and authoritative anthology combines firsthand accounts by the participants themselves and retrospective writings by later authors with dozens of historical photographs, cartoons, and other illustrations.

Long sea voyages, arduous overland trips, life in early, bohemian San Francisco, and the feudalism of late gold rush society - all are vividly described in the words of those who experienced them. The writings of well-known authors like Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, Dame Shirley, Henry David Thoreau, and Jack London blend with less familiar voices - Native Californians, Jews, immigrants from Asia, South America, and Europe, and women. Modern authors such as Bill Barich, Czeslaw Milosz, and Gary Snyder offer contemporary perspectives on the gold rush's environmental, economic, and cultural legacies. Together, these rich writings evoke the spirit and emotions of this legendary era.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The California Gold Rush, which began in 1848, was a pivotal event in American history, turning the isolated settlements of California into boom towns overnight. Yet the "popular imagination," as editor Kowalewski notes in his excellent introduction, has consistently ignored its significance (perhaps the heady case of gold rush fever is too coarse for our national mythology to incorporate). Kowalewski has compiled the reminiscences of participants in the rush?one cannot call them "miners" because individuals from all walks of life were drawn to the lure of instant wealth?as well as outside contemporary observers such as Twain, Emerson, and Thoreau. First-person narratives give a good sense of those times, from the wealthiest of prospectors to the poorest Chinese immigrant. Since this is the companion volume to the PBS series The Gold Rush, airing in January and narrated by John Lithgow in honor of the 150th anniversary, it is a worthwhile purchase for both large and smaller public libraries, as well as for academic collections.?Diane G. Premo, Rochester P.L.,
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A large, lively gathering of primarily firsthand recollections of the California Gold Rush of 1848, drawn from memoirs and letters, and being published as a companion volume for a PBS documentary airing in January 1998. Massive numbers of would-be miners, the majority blithely ignorant of life in the West, hurried to get to the gold fields. The journey overland to California was hazardous and harsh, as noted in such pieces as the record of a disastrous march across Death Valley by William Manly. Once there, travelers found conditions not much better. Still, life in the gold fields had a vigor and variety nicely caught here. And if very few of the many thousands of miners who made it to California got rich, many, these selections indicate, seem to have had a hard but grand adventure. A final section offers views of the Gold Rush experience as filtered through 19th-century fiction and art (Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Frank Norris, Robert Frost, Czeslaw Milosz), illuminating the continuing resonance of the event that had the most to do with the opening of the American West for settlement--and exploitation. (55 b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Heyday Books (September 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0930588991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0930588991
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,565,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For the past dozen years, I've worked full-time as a freelance writer, editor, photojournalist, bicycle messenger and adventure travel planning consultant.

I've contributed text and images to two dozen Fodor's and Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, and my writing has been translated into a dozen languages. For 2+ years, I was a regular contributor to the syndicated newspaper column, Travels with Lonely Planet. My main area of interest and expertise is adventure and responsible/sustainable travel with a purpose in the Americas.

I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a BA in Geography and Education. Prior to launching my freelance writing career, I was the senior writer/producer of the Webby Award-winning travel site

If I'm not scribbling or shooting photos, I'm probably out scouting new hiking trails, biking to a farmers' market, hunting sublime tacos, cooking up a storm or foraging for wild edibles.

When not out rambling, I advise the National Geographic Society's Sustainable Tourism Initiative and edit and produce the Los Angeles Times Travel website (, for Tribune Co. and Los Angeles Times Interactive.

I'm based just the other side of Dodger Stadium from Downtown LA, where I garden and inhabit a wild urban pocket with my wife and young son.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars California considered June 1, 1999
By A Customer
150 years later, we in California are still struggling to understand the legacies of the Gold Rush. How much of California's present "character" can be traced to the tumultous 1850s? GOLD RUSH: A LITERARY EXPLORATION attempts to answer this question from two directions: first, by examining the diaries, letters, and journals of the 49ers who actually participated in the rush, and second, though the generations of later writers who have re-interpreted the Gold Rush again and again. The book's many short selections and splendid illustrations provide many access points; though sometimes old, the accounts are never dull. At turns humorous, chilling, and thought-provoking, GOLD RUSH is a compelling read for any Californian interested in the state's roots.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reveals the grit, glory, and pain that made California. November 19, 1997
By A Customer
Growing up in California you are taught that the future is always gold . "Gold Rush: A Literary Exploration," edited by Michael Kowalewski, pulls back the curtains on perhaps the most important event in the Golden State's history to reveal a place filled with dreams, nightmares, courage and cowardness. A place that became America's future.
Published by Heyday Books and the California Council for the Humanities, "Gold Rush" is 500 pages of short selections (1-8 pages) that lend insight to the California and American character. Writing includes: poems from Robert Frost, Gary Snyder and Wendy Rose; journal entries from William T. Sherman and John Muir; and essays from Thoureau, Dame Shirley, and Emerson.

On the eave of California's 150 anniversary of the discovery of gold (January 24, 1848), this book is a great read for anyone curious about how California shaped America.
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