Finished: Sept. 8, 2011
First Published: Apr. 26, 2011
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Genre: non-fiction, history, 1890s, gold rush, Alaska
As the millionaire's steamboat chugged north against the current, up the Yukon River, and sidled past the distant Mackenzie Mountains that late-summer day in 1882, the river remained smooth and wide, easy to navigate, but the water had suddenly turned gray and opaque.
Acquired: Received a review copy from Crown Publishers.
Reason for Reading: I've never consciously thought about this before but I do seem to have a penchant for reading about the Klondike/Yukon gold rush. I'm even reading aloud a fiction book to my son on the topic at this moment! This was a must read for me.
This is a true story told in narrative form which really reads like a novel and thus a quick page-turner. The book focuses in on three people: George Carmack, AWOL Marine who "ignites" the biggest gold rush the world has seen; Soapy Smith, conman, bamboozler, thief and murderer who starts off by taking control of Denver's underworld but eventually end's up in Alaska running the lawless boom town of Skagway; and finally, Charlie Siringo, a former cowhand turned Pinkerton detective who is sent to Alaska to solve a crime no other has been able to solve and Pinkerton's name itself is on the line.
The book of course is about the gold rush but it is first and foremost about these three men. The narrative shifts from one to the other telling their stories in detail from early adulthood until they all end up in various parts of Alaska, making each others acquaintance, though never on friendly terms. The book concentrates on the American side of the story, all three men have eventful lives in the States before they head North. Main events are centered in Skagway, Dyea and Juneau. It isn't until quite close to the end of the book that the story crosses over into Canadian land and the actual accumulation of gold in the Bonanza Creek. This book is more about the getting there, the life the prospectors lead, the mindset of these people and specifically the lives of the three main characters.
A truly brilliant, riveting read that would make a great novel if it weren't all true! A fascinating time in history when the lust for gold took over man's sense of reason and turned a barren land into a small collection of roaring last stop boom towns. I have of course previously read all about Skagway and also Soapy Smith as well as a bit about George Carmack but only in the context of the gold rush. Finding out about their backgrounds was fascinating and made for great reading. Charlie Siringo was relatively new to me, I've heard him mentioned briefly, but his fascinating story was fresh. A great read for anyone interested in the harsh, rough and tumble life of the gold rush days, whether you've read much on the topic before or not. The narrative story telling voice is so captivating to read that I am very interested in reading more of Mr. Blum's previous works. He has a very interesting backlist!