At the beginning of 1848, the California village of Yerba Buena had less than 1,000 inhabitants and was technically still Mexican territory. On January 24, foreman James Marshall picked up some “glittering morsels” of gold from the nearby American River, and what was soon called our “national madness” quickly began. The gold rush transformed the nation, fueling the instantaneous growth of Yerba Buena, which quickly assumed the name of San Francisco; within several months, the population had mushroomed to approximately 25,000. Soon after, the so-called forty-niners poured into the gold fields from around the world, promoting even greater growth of the city. This is not a history of the gold rush itself; rather, Richards has written a concise and engrossing study of a year in the life of San Francisco, illustrating how it was shaped into a metropolis almost overnight. It is an exciting, often humorous, often sad story filled with colorful characters, boundless greed, and brilliant innovation. Some of the players, like William Tecumseh Sherman, would go on to greater fame; other, more obscure figures also played fundamental roles in a great human drama. This is a fine popular history. --Jay Freeman
About the Author
Rand Richards is a San Francisco-based historian, author, and lecturer. Two of his books are local bestsellers: Historic San Francisco: A Concise History and Guide and Historic Walks in San Francisco: 18 Trails Through the City's Past. He has lectured before many groups, including the California Historical Society, the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and the San Francisco History Association. The latter organization recently awarded him their Oscar Lewis Award for his contributions to knowledge of San Francisco history.