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The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream Paperback – October 14, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (October 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780385720885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720885
  • ASIN: 0385720882
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Texas A&M University professor H.W. Brands enhances his reputation as one of America's great popular historians with The Age of Gold, which tells the story of the California gold rush through rollicking narrative and intelligent analysis. "James Marshall's discovery of gold at Coloma [in 1848] turned out to be a seminal event in history, one of those rare moments that divide human existence into before and after," he writes. It launched "the most astonishing mass movement of people since the Crusades" and "helped initiate the modern era of American economic development." Brands describes how thousands of people from all over the world hazarded the journey, faced the scientific challenge of extracting precious metal from the earth, and finally struggled "to sink roots" where so many came merely "to strip the land." This book is something of a departure for Brands, who most recently has written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt (both of them excellent). Yet he tackles this new topic with confidence, telling dozens of stories about John Fremont, Leland Stanford, and less famous forty-niners. He concludes by describing why these tales have a national and even global importance. The Age of Gold is magnificent in its sweep, and not to be missed by fans of American history. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The gold rush of 1848, says Brands, was a watershed in American history, helping mold the country into its modern shape, transforming the wilderness and pushing the country into civil war. Noted biographer Brands (his life of Benjamin Franklin, The First American, was a Pulitzer finalist) makes good use of a sparkling cast of characters: George Hearst, Leland Stanford, Levi Strauss, even William "War Is Hell" Sherman, all raced to California to make their fortunes. For most of the hundreds of thousands who flocked to California, though, life in the mines of the Sierras was hard and rarely paid off. Yet the hopeful kept coming not only from the East but from around the world, with profound implications for California and the rest of the country. The question of statehood would California be a slave state or free? accelerated the onset of the Civil War, says Brands. He believes the gold rush changed the national psyche, pulling the country away from a Puritan ethic of "steadiness and frugality" and toward a new American dream of "instant wealth," the fruits of "boldness and luck." 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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

H.W. Brands taught at Texas A&M University for sixteen years before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History. His books include Traitor to His Class, Andrew Jackson, The Age of Gold, The First American, and TR. Traitor to His Class and The First American were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

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Gold has been struck in California - mountains of it!
George Coppedge
His book is well-researched and the author has a flair for capturing the essence of the historical figures involved.
Brian D. Rubendall
I heard this book being discussed on NPR and checked it out from the library.
P. Adkison

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on September 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
H.W. Brands shows again why he is one of America's foremost historians with his compellingly readable account of the 1849 California Gold Rush and the early history of the state. Brands digs down through the myths about the Gold Rush and unearths the fascinating stories of the people (immigrants and Americans alike) who caught America's first big burst of gold fever. Among the key players were William T. Sherman (later the famous Civil War General), explorer John C. Fremont (later the first Presidential nominee of the Republican Party), and Leland Stanford (founder of the University that bears his last name). They all come together at what was truly one of American history's major crossroads.
Brands does not limit himself to just recounting the adventures in the gold fields. He focusses on the larger political, social and even military effects of the gold rush. The chapters recounting the lengthy, perilous journeys by land and sea that the gold miners took to get to Califorinia are particularly compelling. Brands also discusses at length the growth of San Francisco into a major city and the establishment of California's state government. Additionally, he devotes time examining the U.S. congresional Compromise of 1850, which allowed California to be admitted as a state only after a bitter and acrimonious sectional feud over slavery.
Brands is an excellent writer with that rare ability among historians to make his historicals accounts read like fiction. His book is well-researched and the author has a flair for capturing the essence of the historical figures involved. He also argues strenuously that the gold rush's effects on American politics as a whole, including pushing the country toward Civil War, should not be underestimated.
Overall, an outstanding work of history that can be enjoyed by serious students and casual readers alike.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Scott Snyder on October 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is the story of the California Gold Rush, its impact on the American people then and now, and its contribution to the Civil War and the ultimate forging of the American nation.
Like his biography of Franklin, "The First American," Brands presents history in an engaging manner that allows the reader to imagine vividly conditions and lives in times gone-by. He brings history to life.
The narrative follows from the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill and the mass, world-wide movement of humanity to California to the settling of San Francisco, the rush to statehood and the Compromise of 1850.
The core significance of the book for me wasn't so much about the gold, as about the debates and mounting animosities between slave and free states back east as California sought admission; and about how California, and the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads united a country on the East-West axis, even as the Civil War was forging a new union between North and South.
As Brands presents them, Leland Stanford and William Tecumseh Sherman are as large in the union of East and West as Lincoln and Grant are in uniting North and South. Stanford as the first Republican governor of California met with Lincoln - the "rail-splitter" and former railroad attorney. Grant and Sherman worked together in the war, but before then, Sherman was a banker in San Francisco, commuting between New York and the West coast.
From California gold, the narrator follows the prospectors into Nevada and its silver mines. Brands includes Mark Twain's observations on the silver bubble of that day. In a manner of speaking, Twain worked for a time as a stock analyst covering Nevada mining companies in very much the same way analysts operated in recent years.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By David J. Loftus on August 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This kind of larger scale canvas is a bit of a switch for Teddy Roosevelt and Ben Franklin biographer H.W. Brand, a history prof at Texas A&M. Yet he has turned out a smooth and accessible work on the process and possible long-term effects of the California gold rush.
Brand manages a fine mix of the larger view -- statistics, maps of larger immigration movements, etc. -- with storylines of various specific characters, from the familiar (General William Sherman and John Fremont), to the vaguely familiar (Leland Stanford and the actual discoverer of gold at Sutter's Mill, James Marshall), to the unknown (fortune hunters and settlers who chronicled their trips across the western prairies as well as from Australia, France, and China). Although the Chinese experience still gets short shrift, Brand has chosen some terrific characters (and decent writers) from other foreign lands to tell their stories.
This book also makes very clear how hard a time most people had of it. Brand describes in detail the effort of crossing the raw continent, the many human and animal carcasses that fell by the wayside (or succumbed to violence), and the arduous physical process of extracting precious metals from the earth until industrialization took over that work too.
One of the more eye-opening sections for me was the description of how many fires -- big, devastating ones -- San Francisco suffered in the 1840s and 1850s.
In trying to make a case for the larger and long-term effects of the gold rush (impressive shifts of world population, the decline of the Native American west due largely to the railroads), Brand gets a little far afield from California's gold fields toward the end of the book, but the text is always interesting and very readable.
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