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The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush Hardcover – April 26, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 139 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Guest Reviewer: Michael Korda on The Floor of Heaven

© Lars Lonninge
Michael Korda is the Editor in Chief Emeritus of Simon & Schuster.  His books include With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain; Ike: An American Hero; Another Life and Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.

At frequent intervals the “Western” has been declared dead and buried, this despite the fact that Larry McMurtry has been keeping it alive and well for almost half a century, and that in the motion picture business it regularly reappears and scores a huge success, as in Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven or the Cohen brothers’ brilliant remake of True Grit. As Faulkner put it, the past is not only not dead, it is not even past. Judging by the daily newspaper, events along the border with Mexico seem pretty much like events along the border in the days of the Earp brothers, except that drug smuggling has replaced cattle rustling. The Old West is not only not dead, it is still there, and filled with bigger-than-life figures and endless shootings.

Of course the West that is fixed in the American mind tends to look towards the south, and resonates to the clink of spurs and the jangle of bridles and bits. The most unusual aspect of Howard Blum’s brilliantly readable new book is that while it’s clearly a non-fiction Western story, it takes place along the border of Canada, not Mexico, and is centered on the Yukon Gold Rush, in Alaska, rather than Texas.

To say that it reads like a novel is a cliché of course--people say that about half the non-fiction books published, and it’s mostly not true--but in this case Howard Blum’s narrative skill is such that The Floor of Heaven does read like a novel, and a rich and entertaining one at that. At the heart of it of course is the discovery of gold in 1896, and the way it draws people like a magnet to a hitherto pretty empty spot on the map (to the extent that it was mapped at all), and one moreover with a killer climate. Blum manages to make this exciting reading--the first fifty pages of the book, in which he “sets up” the event and his major characters are so artfully done that one only gradually realizes that these are real people, not fictional characters, and that Blum has in fact done a painstaking job of research, and uncovered a remarkable amount of documentation--in fact his main problem, as he himself notes, is that these people left too much material behind them, not any lack of it. As in Larry McMurtry’s books, the villains and heroes of the West were so busy telling their stories to writers while they were still alive and kicking that it’s a wonder they ever found time to rob a bank.

Blum’s chief characters, are a Marine Corps deserter named George Carmack, whose discovery sets off the stampede to the Yukon, a flamboyant western villain named “Soapy” Smith, and a cowboy turned Pinkerton detective named Charlie Siringo, and it would be a disservice to the reader to tell the story of the interaction between them, which is full of suspense, and includes, at the very end, a real-life western gunfight. Suffice to say that he managers at once to produce a very readable work of history and an amazing real-life adventure story, peopled with characters that any novelist would be proud to have invented: first rate entertainment.

--Michael Korda

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Blum, author of the bestselling and Edgar-winning American Lightning, displays all his creative gifts here. Using primary source materials from the three individuals around whom the narrative revolves, he tells a fascinating story of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush. Charlie Siringo was a larger-than-life hero, a cowboy turned successful businessman turned Pinkerton detective renowned for his sense of duty. Jefferson "Soapy" Smith epitomized the frontier "confidence man" who considered dishonesty a way of life. George Carmack, the prospector who precipitated the great Alaska gold rush that drew the men together, deserted from the Marines, married a Native American, and pursued his prospecting dreams to the Klondike. Detailing crimes perpetrated and solved, relationships both happy and tragic, hardships unthinkable in the modern age, and the cold, magical allure of Alaska and the Yukon, Blum captures the spirit and mood of the last of the Old West. The final pages, especially, are filled with drama and a strange yearning. From a purely historical perspective, there should have been more information on Alaska as a Russian colony and American territory, but as an exciting narrative, this is a huge success. 8 pages of b&w photos; 1 map. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st Printing edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307461726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307461728
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By DC_Fan_52 VINE VOICE on April 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've never written a book review before, so excuse me if I'm not on par with the other reviewers. I'm a modern guy and I like TV more than anything, so my measure of a book is how engrossing it is and how much it manages to pry me away from the television. "The Floor of Heaven" is pretty damn good. The back of the book compares it to "a horseless-carriage episode of 24." I've never watched 24, but I can definitely see them squeezing one or two seasons out of this book for television.

What's hard is trying to criticize this book. It's based on a true story. So, I'm looking at how it's presented, and if it's a story worth listening to. The answer to both is, "Yes." First we're introduced to the three main characters a Cowboy, a Conman, and a Dreamer, and they are very interesting individuals. Once I was invested, I couldn't wait for all three to crash into each other in Alaska. There are a handful of really great tales inside, but the main story is the "Great Gold Robbery" in the middle of the book. That part is what peeled me away from the TV for the longest time. It's pretty ingenious how the thieves stole the gold, and tracking down the perpetrators has the detectives tossed around Alaska and in some tights spots.

"Is this book going to turn into Treasure of the Sierra Madre?" I thought it would, but no it doesn't. Greed plays only a tiny part.

I was going to give this book 4-Stars. I thought I'd learn about all the different techniques prospectors used for mining gold or how they survived in the wilderness. There wasn't much new to learn. I'm giving it 5-Stars, because Charlie Siringo is my new hero. He's not Batman, he's just a cowboy/detective with his wits, and he favors caution over resorting to violence.
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Format: Hardcover
I am, like a previous reviewer, a tour guide and naturalist in Alaska and the Yukon. Let's get straight to the point: this book is lying when it claims to be "A True Tale Of The Last Frontier And The Yukon Gold Rush". The author clearly made up events. Just as offensive to us who love this northern region, the author didn't even bother to learn some basics about the area's geography and ecology...and so he gets some things very wrong. Observe:

p. 106 "Dark herd of walruses pounded through the water like a freight train. And beyond the horizon...was the gold town of Juneau, Alaska". Walruses do not live anywhere near Juneau and the Inside Passage; they live far away on the western Alaska coasts of the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea. The author should have spent 10 seconds looking at a walrus range map, easily Googled.

p. 216 Describing a whale hunt: ""Sighting carefully, he took a bead on a broad spot right behind where he imagined the gills might be." Whales don't even have gills. Fish have gills, and whales are not fish - they are mammals.

p. 217 After sailing into an inlet, "A swift inland river pulled them along to the banks of an Indian village." A swift river never pulls the boat along when you go upstream from salt water; just the opposite - the downstream current fights you and tries to push you back out to the coast.

p. 257 The author states that the Klondike (aka Throndiuk) River is 50 miles north of the settlement of Fortymile. Wrong - it is near Dawson City, way SOUTH of the old Fortymile village. Look at any map; the Klondike River enters the Yukon River near Dawson City.

p. 286 Describing George Carmacks out prospecting: "As before, George was pulled toward Eldorado Creek.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Howard Blum is candid about his intent with the writing of The Floor of Heaven. In his note on sources he says he wanted to write a true story about the early days of the old west and of the far north. "True" is a key word here because stories of that period are notoriously embellished by participants and observers. Finding the truth in the accounts of the time is a treacherous journey. Blum knows this and realized from the outset that he would have to proceed cautiously. I believe he has assembled his material, carefully vetted it, and written his story as he intended it to be. It is fine investigative reporting.

The Floor of Heaven is subtitled as a true tale of the American West and the Yukon gold rush. It's an intriguing story of three men very different in mind-set and integrity who eventually are drawn together by their individual aspirations. It's a story of a hard-working miner who strikes it big and needs the protection of a dedicated detective from a ruthless robber and con-man. Blum puts it all together in a masterful, exciting book.

I got a true sense of the time frame. Even the font at the beginning of each chapter made me think "old west." The individuals were carefully crafted as genuine pioneer characters and the dialogue was authentic and believable. The events were familiar milestones in American history. It all came off believable, but I had a problem with the overall feel of the book.

The author didn't draw me into the grit and turmoil of the old west and early Alaska. When I read Jack London my hands and feet become icy, I feel cold snow on my neck, and I smell a wood fire and frying bacon. I see spreads of impenetrable forest, heavy snow, and frigid mountain peaks.
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