THE AGE OF GOLD by H.W. Brands

THE AGE OF GOLD

The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Historian Brands (The Strange Death of American Liberalism, 2001, etc.) crafts a rich study of Gold Rush–era America that enfolds the period’s bigger-than-life personalities and big ideas.

Levi Strauss, Leland Stanford, John Sutter, John Charles Frémont, William Tecumseh Sherman: all took part in the California Gold Rush, though most would become famous for other reasons. A supporting cast of dozens of other players enlivens the drama, from the famed Chinese prostitute Ah Toy (“the finest-looking woman I have ever seen,” one miner sighed) to the enterprising teenager James Folger, who made his early fortune selling coffee to thirsty gold-seekers. Rather than concentrating exclusively on these colorful characters, however, Brands (History/Texas A&M Univ.) addresses the sweeping effects of the Gold Rush, which not only opened the American West to settlement but also “helped initiate the modern era of American economic development” by forging the largest and arguably most efficient unified market in the world, a development that a few decades later would help the US to emerge as a great power. Perhaps less favorably, Brands writes, the Gold Rush also changed the national psyche: the old American Dream was a vision of “men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year”; the promise of instant wealth in the faraway hills of California yielded a widespread view that speculation and daring were at least as important as frugality and plain hard work. Combining this wealth of ideas with vivid biographies of actors great and small in the expansionist drama, Brands has produced a work that stands far above the tide of mostly forgettable titles that accompanied the 150th anniversary of the Gold Rush three years ago.

A lucid, literate survey of events that transformed the nation, for better and worse.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-50216-8
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2002




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Kirkus Interview
H.W. Brands
October 11, 2016

As noted historian H.W. Brands reveals in his new book The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, at the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way. Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. “An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >

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