The staggeringly prolific Wheeler (Aftershocks, 1999, etc.) returns with a memoir, begun on January 1, 1900, of the Comstock Lode as told by reporter Henry Jackson Stoddard at an elderly 61—an age not many men reached in his day. Most lives aren’t worth telling, Stoddard thinks, but his is full of amazing events and amazing men and women. Among them is his fellow journalist Sam Clemens, who later became famed as Mark Twain. As a Wisconsin youth who had spent his life around miners, young Stoddard took his nest egg, left his parents, and struck out for the Comstock mines gold rush, locating himself in Virginia City, Nevada, and aiming to become a millionaire while also avoiding service during the Civil War. In Virginia City, he takes up betting on the stock exchanges, wins and loses several modest fortunes, and joins The Territorial Enterprise as a reporter. He’s been there a year before Clemens arrives in 1962. Clemens lasts for only two years in Virginia City, having gotten himself into various jams and pulling off some amusing hoaxes, though he sends the Enterprise dispatches from San Francisco. A few years later, Clemens returns, having written “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country,” the story that made him a famous humorist. Aside from background on printing presses and news gathering, some of Stoddard’s most compelling pages describe the technology of mining and the later introduction of dynamite. The genius of this activity leads to mining metals cheaply and becomes the foundation of the Industrial Revolution. Vastly well researched and understated throughout.