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Mile-High Fever: Silver Mines, Boom Towns, and High Living on the Comstock Lode Hardcover – July 7, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1St Edition edition (July 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312379471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312379476
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A contributing editor and mysteries editor for the Washington Post Book World, Drabelle brings to life the drama surrounding a large Nevada silver vein called the Comstock Lode, which through the 1860s and '70s yielded $300 million in ore. A central figure is opportunistic Nevada lawyer Big Bill Stewart, who helped develop the lode, bilked investors and occupied center stage of the [1861] litigation pageant over mine claims. Drabelle describes conflicts with Native Americans and the early sightings of silver, sinking shafts, the influx of settlers and fortune seekers, Virginia City's brief heyday as a Babylon of the Great American Desert, while relating the importance of Comstock for American history and culture. It played a role in the launching of the Hearst publishing empire, railroad expansion and technological advances from cable cars to elevators. Mark Twain, who sojourned in Comstock country, mined outcast lingo to create a new direction for frontier humor and American prose. Drabelle introduces a vast cast of colorful characters as he explores how fortunes were won and lost, skillfully recreating the boom-and-bust atmosphere of this period in American history. 8 pages of b&w photos. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


We know of the Gold Rush, the hunt for El Dorado, even Hernando de Soto's wild search for a passage to China. But in Mile-High Fever, Dennis Drabelle brings us the little-known Silver Rush, told in full technicolor, seasoned with wisdom, and rendered with all history's shadows in tow."--Marie Arana, author of American Chica, Cellophane, and Lima Nights

“It's rare that you find so much shameless misbehavior between two covers! Fraud, larceny, downright theft, untrammeled greed, not to mention fancy women, gambling dens, demented journalists -- all adding up to incredible fun. The Comstock Lode is no longer with us, but you can still visit it in this wonderful, wacked-out book.”--Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life

Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Konrad Baumeister VINE VOICE on January 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Mile High Fever isn't a book about the Comstock Lode or Virginia City per se, though the subtitle might give you that impression; instead, it is something of a multiple biography of several personalities of note who made Virginia City and the surrounding area what it became. This would include everyone from predatory lawyers-turned-Senators, self-aggrandizing bankers, self-destructive mine owners, newspapermen like Alf Doten, Dan De Quille and Mark Twain, the Banking Ring, the four partners of the Big Bonanza days, entrepreneurs like Sutro, and so on.

The action starts with a small Indian war, shifts to Virginia City, then to San Francisco (where the money for mining originates, and where the profits end up), off and on out to Washington DC, and back to a Virginia City skidding into bust times. Along the way, the author explains something of then-modern mining technology; how the banks had it all over the little investor in terms of using a vertically intregrated business model to funnel all profits their way, and zero or less to the speculator; how mining stock swindles were pulled off again and again; how various business interests competed for elements of the side trade, for example how the banks built the V&T Railroad to head off potential loss of mill profits threatened by the building of the Sutro tunnel. This material is all interesting to the reader interested in the Comstock and western mining in this time period.

However, it cannot be said to be a strictly chronological tale of the rise and fall of Virginia City. The chapters are built around the personalities, and as such are choppy and sometimes repetitive.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Chuck Brooks on April 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Nevada's Comstock Lode rivaled the fantastic wealth of Potosi, but was exploited by freemen whose sense of self was larger than the mountain itself. As is usual with these things, the ones who made the most money were those who supplied the miners, and then the corporate mining companies that soon replaced the individual prospectors. Unlike gold, silver is chemically bound to hard rock, and can only be profitably harvested by industrial processes that required organizations and huge amount of capital. In surprising ways, technology and techniques developed for the harsh conditions deep underground found applications in the creation of the American Empire. It also led to some of the first modern financial excesses, when more money could be made by manipulating the mines' paper assets rather than through mining itself. It was no accident that the city of San Francisco, with its growing mercantile, manufacturing and financial infrastructures, benefited far more than state of Nevada. The Comstock's vision, energy and freewheeling ways nourished larger than life characters whose influences are still with us today. One of them was Mark Twain, who honed his writing skills during his time in the Comstock country, from which his international career was launched. A delightful book with amazing details on how things were then and how they influence us now. Well researched and easy reading, the book moves much like a western novel that happens to be true to life.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John R. Johnson on July 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have read a number of books on the comstock, being a Nevada history buff like my dad was & we were active in historical preservation in 17 yrs i lived there on the LeBeau Sisters Grave near Sand MTN, I visited Virginia City many times on Family vacations & i only perused the volume in one sitting & i didnt think it had much if anything in new insights on the comstock. It looks like a great primer for someone seeking a good book to begin a study on that era. I think the text couldve been enhanced by photos or illustrations of the people & places pivitol to that era. Kudos to the author for giving the public a new volume on that era.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By jvv227 on March 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to like this book. And for its focus, it is good. But if you're looking for a general history of the Comstock, go elsewhere. I had a great-great-uncle who died in a mine fire in the Comstock, so was looking for some insight into living conditions, technological developments, etc. All of that is treated very lightly in favor of a detailed history of the men who took control and advantage of the lode, and shipped its wealth out of state. There is more on the House of Representatives voting record of Comstock Kings than there is about the people who dug the silver, or kept saloons, or invented mining techniques, etc. If you want a strictly business and political history, this is a good place, and is worth the read. But look elsewhere if you want to find out about regular folk.
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