The Age of Gold

The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream

H. W. Brands

Introduced by Kevin Starr

Utilising the stories of the men and women caught up in a period of extraordinary change, H. W. Brands has created an epic portrait of the Gold Rush, illustrated in this edition with rare contemporary photography.


On 24 January 1848, the carpenter James Marshall noticed some sparkling flecks in a dry riverbed at Coloma, California. Having discovered, to his excited disbelief, that the shining nuggets were malleable, but not breakable, he approached his colleagues and uttered four words which would go down in history: ‘I have found it’.

Marshall’s discovery of gold at Coloma on the American River, writes the distinguished historian H. W. Brands, was ‘one of those rare moments that divide human existence into before and after’. It triggered ‘the most astonishing mass movement of peoples since the Crusades’, as fortune-seekers from all over the world flocked to California; their journey ‘was the epic of the age, a saga of world history, an adventure on the largest scale’. The new state’s population boomed from 15,000 in 1848 to 250,000 four years later, while the Gold Rush inspired a new American dream: the ‘dream of instant wealth, won by audacity and good luck’.

The Age of Gold, writes the eminent historian Kevin Starr in his introduction, is ‘a sophisticated and rollicking book asking us to take another look at this pivotal event in the creation of American society, character, and personality.’ This edition features numerous contemporary photographs, many of them rarely seen.

‘Written by a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Age of Gold is the definitive account of an iconic moment in American, and world, history. Our great challenge was to illustrate the real life pioneers and their struggles, and we decided the only way to do that properly was by using original, contemporary photographs throughout. I think you’ll agree this is a wonderful story in a stunning new edition’

  1. James Rose, Editor

Production Details

Bound in cloth blocked with a design by Raquel Leis Allion

Set in Miller

584 pages

Frontispiece and 24 pages of colour and black & white plates

Printed map endpapers

Plain slipcase

˝ x 6¼˝

The human impact of the gold rush

‘H. W. Brands interweaves individual lives to create one great adventure story, more action-packed than any Western movie ... he builds a gripping picture of an extraordinary moment in history’

  1. Sunday Telegraph

Brands, writes Starr, ‘is a master of … collective or communal narrative’. His fast-paced epic tells the stories of over 100 characters, from Louise Amelia Knapp, a doctor’s wife who reported from the mining camps, to Leland Stanford, a hardware retailer who organised the western half of the transcontinental railroad; from adventurers John and Jessie Frémont to a certain Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain). Scholarly and insightful, with a novelist’s eye for detail, Brands documents San Francisco’s growth from missionary settlement to booming metropolis, and analyses the social upheaval occasioned by the Rush, which accelerated both the American Industrial Revolution and the Civil War. Furthermore, the Rush offers a highly pertinent evaluation of how natural resources can be exploited by mankind.

About H. W. Brands

H. W. Brands is an historian, reviewer and author, who currently holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin. He was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography, for The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (2000) and for Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2008). His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Smithsonian, amongst many others. His other books include Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (2005), The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (2012) and most recently Reagan (2015).

About Kevin Starr

Kevin Starr is professor of history at the University of Southern California and California State Librarian Emeritus. His multi-volume Americans and the California Dream series from Oxford University Press has earned him the National Humanities Medal, the Centennial Medal of Harvard and election to the Society of American Historians.


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