In this vivid account of the birth of modern California, J.S. Holliday frames the gold rush years within the larger story of the state's transformation from the quietude of a Mexican hinterland in the 1840s to the forefront of entrepreneurial capitalism by the 1890s. No other state, no nation experienced such an adolescence of freedom and success. By 1883 California was hailed as "America, only more so."
Holliday's boldly interpretive narrative has the authority and immediacy of an eyewitness account. This eminent historian recreates the masculine world of mining camps and rough cities, where both business and pleasure were conducted far from hometown eyes and conventional inhibitions. He follows gold mining's swift evolution from treasure hunt to vast industry; traces the prodigal plunder of California's virgin rivers and abundant forests; and describes improvised feats of engineering, breathtaking in their scope and execution.
Holliday also conjures the ambitious, often ruthless Californians whose rush for riches rapidly changed the state: the Silver Kings of the Comstock Lode, the timber barons of the Sierra forests, the Big Four who built the first transcontinental railroad, and the lesser profit-seekers who owned steamboats, pack mules, gambling dens and bordellos—and, most important for California's future, the farmers who prospered by feeding the rapidly growing population. This wildly laissez-faire economy created California's image as a risk-taking society, unconstrained by fear of failure.
The central theme of Rush for Riches is how, after decades of careless freedom, the miners were finally reined in by the farmers, and how their once mutually dependent relationship soured into hostility. This potential violence led to a dramatic courtroom decision in 1884 that shut down the mighty hydraulic mining operations—the end of California's free-for-all youthful exuberance.
Unique in its format, this beautiful book offers not only a compelling narrative but also almost two hundred fifty illustrations, one hundred in full color, that richly illuminate the themes and details of the text: daguerreotypes, photographs, paintings, lithographs, sketches, and specially drawn maps.
Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction Book of 2000