The Alaska Gold Rush, now part of the American romance mythology, properly began with U.S. acquisition of the territory in 1867 and fizzled out at the turn of the century. Befitting an event of madcap proportions, it has been celebrated in our histories, films, and literature, from Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush to Jack London's Call of the Wild. Wharton, an academic, sifts through the manuscripts, diaries, archives and memories of those living who were there (his field work included quite a lot of bar-hopping) in an effort to separate the true from the untrue--""the glitter of the gold has so bedazzled those given to memoirs that the truth is only dimly revealed through a shimmer of nostalgia."" But withal, Wharton's history--and sparkling history it is--reads like a tale told by a local colorist gone surrealistic or just plumb brushmad. Only however because the real facts are as boisterous as the legends--it was, By Gawd, a roaring, whoring, stampeding, conning, swearing, daring good time, peopled with the likes of ""Soapy"" Smith and his gang of bunco artists, ""Packer"" Jack Newman, Mollie Walsh, ""Ma"" Pullen, Billy Quitch, ""Tex"" Richard, Blackie Morgan, and thousands more sourdoughs who lived and gambled and brawled and mined and hmphed and hoped in places like Skagway, Chicken, Seventy Mile, Beaver, Livengood, Fairbanks, and Coldfoot. There was some scurvy, many blizzards, high prices, and always stories. ""The Yukon was not a river, not a country or territory; it was a romantic pulse beat, a myth come true."" Wharton is equal to the task.