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A Rush of Dreamers: Being the Remarkable Story of Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico Hardcover – December 4, 1997

3.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A winning, freshly voiced debut novel by the author of several children's stories (The Southernmost Cat, 1996, etc.), about one of the nation's odder celebrities, Joshua Norton, who declared himself Emperor of the United States in San Francisco in 1865--and became a beloved ornament of the city as a result. Cech's novel-within-a-novel purports to be Norton's biography, as compiled by a Boston man (at the urgings of Mark Twain), a printer's devil who has gone west with the forty-niners in quest of gold. The arduous journey includes a marvelously rendered rounding of the Cape of Good Hope; later, when the captain dies of cholera in Frisco Bay, his wife dismantles the ship's timbers and starts up a boardinghouse. While shilling for her, the narrator meets Norton, an ambitious, well-heeled, naive but pig-headed British Jew from North Africa. Norton buys and sells cargoes, and builds and rents buildings, doing well in those boomtown days. Meanwhile, a palm- reader confirms for Norton what his mother told him as a child, that he is the son of the Catholic Emperor of France, a pedigree that he takes with absolute seriousness. Then a failed investment in Peruvian rice wipes out his fortune. Verging on suicide, he attends a s‚ance and is told to look for a lake of gold, so he and the ever-willing narrator set off, successfully finding the lake and a little gold but also facing a shootout with bandits. The bandits are, at any rate, too late: Norton has already invested his gold dust with a passing balloonist. Finally, broke and despairing, he goes mad, reinventing himself as Norton I, the Emperor. Festooned in a gaudy uniform, he spends the remainder of his life attending San Francisco's civic events, greeting visitors to the city, and becoming himself one of the great early tourist attractions. Richly imagined and extremely well written, a tale Twain would have loved. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 215 pages
  • Publisher: Marlowe & Company; 1St Edition edition (December 4, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569247757
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569247754
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,409,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By OAKSHAMAN VINE VOICE on October 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is not a biography of Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. It is instead a work of historical fiction, in which the Emperor is the foremost of a wide range of famous and eccentric characters drawn from real life (from Sam Clemens and William Tecumseh Sherman to Rufus Porter (inventor of the aerial locomotive) and Abe Warner (proprietor of the Cobweb Palace.)) It is also very good, especially for a first novel.
While the characters are presented as larger than life, they are not cartoonish. The character of Joshua Norton is especially painted with depth, or at least as much as such an enigma can be. Sure, most people today would write him off as a penniless bum, madman, con artist, or worse. There was much, much more to him, though. Invariably, those that knew him spoke of his dignity, moral strength, and kindness. If he were simply mad, in a city like San Francisco (then or now) he would hardly have merited a second glance. Yet for over 20 years he was accepted as Emperor. Newspapers printed his edicts, restaurants fed him for free, citizens accepted his currency, heads of state corresponded with him (Lincoln, Victoria, and the Tsar) - and over 10,000 turned out in pouring rain to attend his funeral at the Masonic Cemetery. Norton the First was respected, he was listened to, and his moral example was followed- there are many called "Emperor" that could not claim this much.
In addition, this book presents a colorful and detail filled picture of gold rush times in early California. The author has done his research. I was especially taken by how he got the details of placer mining correct. My only minor criticism would be his knowledge of firearms of the period- there are a few obvious inaccuracies there.
If you are looking for a formal biography, then try _Norton I, Emperor of the United States_ by William Drury. The author also lists it as his primary reference.
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Format: Hardcover
While Joshua Norton, aka Emperor Norton I is an incredible character, not just in San Francisco, California or Gold Rush lore, but in Americana, this book is only margainally about him. It seems actually that the author saw what remarkable qualities Norton represented as a story, but had to build around him another story.

This other story is of a young man's journey west, from Boston at the height of the rush to California.

He travels by boat, south past the Cape of Good Hope and through the Golden Gate. Then from a burgeoning San Francisco towards Sacramento and the Sierra Nevadas and Sutter's Fort, where anyone with a prayer and some tools seems to have come seeking the proverbial pot of gold and a life of luxury and joy.

Through this journey he meets other wild and interesting chracters, interspercing his relationship with Joshua Norton throughout. Eventually he, Norton and others we've met on the way venture for gold and find adventure, life lessons and violence.

All of this culminates as a backstory for who, what, why and how Joshua Norton, a South Africa of English and Jewish descent, became Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

In truth that build up is interesting, engaging and vibrant. But perhaps a tact regarding this not as a historical and fictional biography, but as a historical fiction of San Francisco and environs as of the Gold Rush era would have been better. Because it is not just "the Remarkable Story of Joshua Norton Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico." It is other things and about other people.

But for San Fran lovers, natives or transpants, Gold Rush enthusiasts, eccentric character fans, or Westward Ho! affecianatos this is a good book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This fictionalized account of the life of Emperor Norton fails utterly to convey any sense of the man who is an icon in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reading this artless book is neither enjoyable nor informative.
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