H.W. Brands   The Age of Gold  
H.W. Brands  
Read an Excerpt from The Age of Gold

Read a excerpt from The Age of Gold


With The Age of Gold, historian H. W. Brands continues his exploration of the changing nature of American identity. Where his earlier work The First American used the life of Benjamin Franklin to explore the budding of a distinct national identity, The Age of Gold tells the story of how the human tide of gold hunters that flooded into California in the middle years of the 19th century gave birth to what Brands calls the New American Dream.

Brands, Distinguished Professor of History at Texas A&M University, relies heavily on the diaries of those who were there as he recreates the Edenic world of Spanish and Indian California and the '49er boomtowns that overran it. Eschewing windy academic theorizing in favor of painstaking research, he offers readers the human stories — of the notable and the notorious, the famous and the anonymous — who all migrated to the gold fields. In so doing , he deftly limns the process by which an unprecedented mania brought cosmopolitan civilization to a remote corner of the earth.

Brands puts his readers front-and-center in a place where visions of a Puritan city on a hill or a Jeffersonian republic of yeomen farmers are dissolving into a Yankee appropriation of the Spanish dream of El Dorado. In doing so, he subtly sketches the shape of a new nation where a populace of optimistic immigrants compete for quick material gain and a limitless future is always just one big strike away.

With The Age of Gold, Brands spins an engrossing yarn that pulls together the disparate strands of politics and technology, race and class, sectional passions and political opportunism culminating in a political crisis that simultaneously pulls California into the union and puts that union on the fast track to civil war.

—John D. Sparks

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