Books by Michael Kowalewski

Released: Dec. 7, 1997

A large, lively gathering of primarily firsthand recollections of the California Gold Rush of 1848, drawn from memoirs and letters, and being published as a companion volume for a PBS documentary airing in January 1998. Massive numbers of would-be miners, the majority blithely ignorant of life in the West, hurried to get to the gold fields. The journey overland to California was hazardous and harsh, as noted in such pieces as the record of a disastrous march across Death Valley by William Manly. Once there, travelers found conditions not much better. Still, life in the gold fields had a vigor and variety nicely caught here. And if very few of the many thousands of miners who made it to California got rich, many, these selections indicate, seem to have had a hard but grand adventure. A final section offers views of the Gold Rush experience as filtered through 19th-century fiction and art (Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Frank Norris, Robert Frost, Czeslaw Milosz), illuminating the continuing resonance of the event that had the most to do with the opening of the American West for settlement—and exploitation. (55 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >