THE RICHEST HILL ON EARTH by Richard S. Wheeler
Kirkus Star

THE RICHEST HILL ON EARTH

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Wheeler (The Deliverance, 2003etc.) brings to life robber barons, Irish immigrant miners and lost souls among the trash heaps and bawdy houses, headframes and smelters of 1890s Butte, Mont.

Two iron men grow rich as copper, silver and gold are pried from the ground to power the Industrial Revolution. Marcus Daly, a miner who blasted his way to ownership of Anaconda Copper, and William Andrews Clark, a dour and bloodless Scot, war over The Richest Hill on Earth, and the casualties litter Butte, a "battered, filthy, chaotic, ugly city." Miners do the hard work that makes the copper capitalists rich, miners who earn three-and-half dollars a day and die of silicosis, tuberculosis and typhus in the shadow of pristine mountains. Wheeler adds the rapacious Rockefellers and a real-life opportunist named F. Augustus Heinze, but the power within this beautifully researched novel lives through the fictional characters that rage among the pits, sheds, stamp mills and saloons. There is J. Fellowes Hall, a newspaperman imported by Clark to edit his mouthpiece, the Butte Mineral. Clark lusts for an appointment to the U.S. Senate no matter the cost in bribes and "boodlers." There is Slanting Agnes, a "fey woman" who catches flashes of the future. Royal Maxwell, a syphilitic undertaker, finds comfort on Mercury Street, "precinct of the bawds." "Red Alice" Brophy, a Dublin Gulch widow and dollar-a-day washerwoman, grows angry, begins to agitate for socialism and the ouster of corrupt union leader Big Johnny Boyle, earning beatings as a reward. Wheeler’s work isn't character study, nor is it a shoot-’em-up, hero-centric tale. It is a mirror to a time and place where copper, for wires, for brass, for war and peace was clawed from the earth by men as disposable as machinery, men left without care or comfort to hide away in the tunnels so they might once more be warm as they cough up their lives.

Passionate, intelligently written, thoroughly entertaining historical fiction.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2816-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2011




2011 BEST OF FICTION: THE COMPLETE LIST:

FictionLAST MAN IN TOWER by Aravind Adiga
by Aravind Adiga
FictionUNTIL THE DAWN'S LIGHT by Aharon Appelfeld
by Aharon Appelfeld
FictionTHE SENSE OF AN ENDING by Julian Barnes
by Julian Barnes
FictionONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS YOU by Elizabeth Berg
by Elizabeth Berg

MORE BY RICHARD S. WHEELER

FictionTHE FIRE ARROW by Richard S. Wheeler
by Richard S. Wheeler
FictionTHE EXILE by Richard S. Wheeler
by Richard S. Wheeler

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionEMPTY MANSIONS by Paul Clark Newell Jr.
by Bill Dedman
FictionPALE HARVEST by Braden Hepner
by Braden Hepner
NonfictionBANQUET AT DELMONICO’S by Barry Werth
by Barry Werth
FictionGUTENBERG'S APPRENTICE by Alix Christie
by Alix Christie