201. The Floor of Heaven by Howard Blum

The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush by Howard Blum (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 426
Ages: 18+
Finished: Sept. 8, 2011
First Published: Apr. 26, 2011
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Genre: non-fiction, history, 1890s, gold rush, Alaska
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

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!


  1. My knowledge of American history is very sketchy - I have just read one book which covered this period and life was not just tough and rough but seemed so depressing for the thousands who did not get that fortune they were striving for.

    Thanks for this review

  2. Oh, yes, you are so right. It was miserable for them but so many seemed almost addicted to the lifestyle. There were several goldrushes starting with the one in California in the 1830s. Some people seem to have just followed the gold from one place to the other! The smart ones were the ones who went up there to make money off of the goldseekers, the merchants, the restauranteurs, etc.!

  3. Hi,
    I am the author of ALIAS SOAPY SMITH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL. Howard Blum used my book as a source and I communicated with him quite a bit. I have not heard from him since receiving and reading my copy of THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN. I know a number of historians on Alaska and the Klondike and they all agree that the book is mostly fiction. As the leading historian (as well as a great grandson) on Soapy Smith I can tell you that Mr. Blum added fiction to every chapter on Soapy. I can't understand why he did so as he had my book as a source which covers Soapy's life in great detail within its 650 pages.

    For those interested in the real history of Soapy Smith I invite you to reaqd my book and visit my web pages below. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    Website: http://www.soapysmith.net
    Blog: http://www.soapysmiths.blogspot.com


Post a Comment

Popular Posts