GOLD IS by Gina Allen


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. . . all things to all men, the author would lead us through history to believe; and while there's no question of gold's symbolic value (to the ancients and to the insecure today), its scientific spinoffs (notably alchemy) or its economic power, she tends to give it undue weight as a determinant: ""In 1453 the Turks finally conquered (Constantinople). After all, there had not been enough gold to satisfy the new demands of trade and defense as well as the old demands of royalty and religion."" In part, the story of gold in history becomes the story of gold as history, followed by episodes in which gold figured as a goal (Cortes in Mexico, Pizarro in Peru) or a goad (the gold strikes in California, the Klondike, Australia, South Africa, etc.). Throughout, the author is more conversant with mining techniques and metallurgy than with historical circumstances: that Australian officials ""were afraid that the discovery of gold would tempt the convicts to overpower their jailers and take the country's riches for themselves"" is a distortion not untypical if more flagrant than others. While artificial transitions are common (e.g. from Drake in California not knowing enough to dig to what was known about digging), instructive links are omitted (why, in the California gold rush, were Mexicans ""more experienced than their fellow prospectors""?). The concluding chapters treat of the gold standard and monetary problems generally; these are acceptable as far as they go but, like the balance, not up to other books on the subject. The plural is indicative--except as a metal, gold is not an entity but an aspect of public affairs and historic events, each of which can be studied more productively on its own terms.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1969
Publisher: Meredith