The 64th volume in the Rivers of America series, this has the power to persuade that life on a riverbank is heaven on earth. About 100 miles long, the American river rises in three forks in North Central California, in the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe, and flows west into the Sacramento. It's most famed as the site of Sutter's Mill, where gold was found gleaming on the sunlit riverbottom. Before the Gold Rush -- the greatest voluntary migration since the Crusades -- California had indeed been an Eden of bountiful game and physical beauty -- it was work enough just to lay back and consume the fruits of the sun. That is, once you got past the frozen mountains into the warm valleys. After the rape began in 1848, the American became the scene of widespread venality. Women were rare and considerably idealized by sex starved prospectors. Entertainers brought high class music and Shakespeare -- some miners became experts on Chinese theater and orchestras. The American is familiar history but brings new blooms to the perennial.