Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards


About a month ago, the most wonderful thing happened. I got a call from my bf and he said "I'm in the Borders browsing, they are going out of business, come browse with me!" If that isn't straight out of my dream book, I don't know what is. Anyway, I, of course, proceeded to buy way too many books. The fiction section was mostly picked over, but there were still some great history non-fictions left. In fact, because everything was so dramatically on sale, I was able to really branch out and try some different historical genres. This book was one of my finds. Being from California (and since I'm going back), I wanted to know more about one of the most famous events/trends. Although the book was more focused on the Civil War than I expected (I clearly stopping reading the title after the Gold Rush part), I really enjoyed it! It's not super long (under 300 pages of writing), has lots of great portraits and is fairly small in size, so it's a quick read. But the writing is colorful, dramatic and it is written like one long story, so it's a very pleasant experience.

I learned a great deal about the politicians that dominated the scene in California and Washington at the time, as well as their intrigues, duels, passions and failures. Seriously, these characters make politicians look like the most dull, unanimated sissies (yes, even Rep. Weiner's got nothing on these guys). I was also really surprised that California was dominated by so many pro-slavery southern men prior to the Civil War. Granted, I guess I don't really expect 4th grade history books to go deeply into the racism and less-than-pleasant path of the state. The book also talks a lot about the anti-slavery contigent in the state and how their actions and political positions were driven from a desire to preserve jobs for miners and other poor white settlers, rather than a humanitarian concern.

While corruption still exists today, it's amazing to see how rampant and public the process was in the 1840's, 1850's and 1860's. The concept of corruption was totally different and the right to hand out offices as a part of the spoils of victory was a given. As a result, men were fighting for a great deal more than just one office in the elections, producing some pretty shady maneuvers, and thus, some really interesting reading material.

While I certainly wouldn't call the book a beach-read, it was fun to read and definitely something I'd recommend.

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