The California Gold Rush was a shot of adrenaline in the settlement of the American West. While settlors had been trickling into California and Oregon prior to the discovery of gold by James Marshall in 1848, news of the his gold find energized people around the world to travel to the gold fields. In The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, H.W. Brands vividly tells the story of not only the immediate effects of Marshall’s discovery, but also the broader effects of the California gold rush on the United States.
Brands’ narrative is engaging and well thought out. Beginning with Marshall’s discovery of gold on the South Fork of the American River, Brands relies heavily on and the journals and memoirs of the men and women who risked their lives in the perilous journey to California. Providing the tale an international flavor, Brands also focuses on the foreigners from France, Australia, and elsewhere who made the journey to the gold fields. The story ends after the effects of the railroad begin to be felt in California, a drastic contrast from the hardships of the early treks to the Pacific coast
In addition to providing a wonderful account of the action on the ground in northern California during the gold rush, The Age of Gold also focuses on the political consequences of California’s ascendance to the national stage. From the push for statehood to the debate of slavery in the Golden State, Brands does a commendable job of illustrating how California fits into the national political scene in the years leading up to the American Civil War.
The Age of Gold is a well written telling of the history of California beginning with the Gold Rush and ending in shortly after the Civil War with the emergence of the railroad. From its use of primary sources to an engaging, well-thought out presentation, The Age of Gold is a welcome read for anyone interested in the development of the American west.