The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War
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The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  74 ratings  ·  25 reviews

It has always been understood that the 1848 discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada influenced the battle over the admission of California to the Union. But now, in this revelatory study, award-winning historian Leonard L. Richards makes clear the links between the Gold Rush and many of the regional crises in the lead-up to the Civil War.

Richards explains h

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Published February 13th 2007 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2007)
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Tara Dawson
So. Boring. Richards was off to a promising start, however the deeper you get into the book, the more you realize that the book is less about the Gold Rush, and more about the politics and intra-party strife. While I did not find this book very enjoyable to read, it does have its historical values. It helps the reader understand how and why California came to be, while also demonstrating the party conflicts that led to California joining the union as a free state. While I'm glad I don't have to...more
Susan
I was at first disappointed in this book because it wasn’t more about the gold rush and less about California politics in the early years before and right after statehood. I guess I should have read the reviews first. Still it’s was enjoyable.
Richards’ discussion of the effect of the gold rush is fascinating. How so many people rushed to the gold fields that San Francisco was, for awhile, a ghost town. How ships would come into the harbor and find hundreds of other ships—from China and Peru and...more
Brian
This is a very random but interesting collection of stories from the gold rush to the civil war in California but lacked a solid thesis to connect them together. The book does do an excellent job of showing how California became a state via its population boom. It tracks the lives of those who impacted California from the Pathfinder, to Thomas Hart Benton and Jefferson Davis as well as the players within California many of whom would shape the transcontinental railroad. As noted by an earlier re...more
Lindsay
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...more
Jacob
This book was really a gem in my semester reading list. The California Gold Rush was an area I just was not terribly familiar with, nor did I link it specifically with causes of the Civil War. Richard's book is a fantastic collection of biographies, stories, and political fights that seamlessly flow into a climax that was the secession of the South and the fight for the Union. Its a book of pure adventure mixing wars of words, duels, and cunning politics. Not only do the readers get a first hand...more
Ray
In the interest of time, and because his assessment matches mine, I've plagerized Stuart's 5/12/08 review of this book. As he wrote: "An interesting subject - how California nearly became a slave state, or was nearly severed into two states, one free and one slave. Some nice detail about the infamous Broderick-Terry duel, and some gee-whiz facts about how William Walker got his ass kicked in Nicaragua, not by the Nicaraguans, but by getting on the wrong side of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Unfortunatel...more
Marv Himmel
Another good book for the American history fan. I like books that cover areas I no little about, and this was one of them. It details the political history of California, from the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill and the ensuing gold rush of 1849 through the development of local power brokers in San Francisco and Sacramento, the tensions between northern and southern California, the wranglings over boundaries and the most contentious machinations, both on a national and on a local level about...more
Jon Johnson
The book is about US History from the discovery of gold in California to the beginning of the Civil War. California politics and especially the question of free state vs slave state is the central theme. The book makes one think the rough and tumble politics of today is not so unusual except for the lack of the occasional duel.

The book was a quick read if you don't chase the footnotes. It is mostly a series of events. I'm not sure the theme helped guide the narrative so it seems a little disjoin...more
Nicole Marble
Absolutely outstanding!
I went to school in California - and none of this ever made its way into my classrooms.
David R.
An outstanding piece of scholarship. Richards covers entirely new ground by examining the political and economic environment of California when it served as a Deep South auxiliary in the 1850s. California, in fact, was the only "free state" that reliably supported the southern fire-eaters in Congress and which gave Lincoln less than a third of the 1860 vote. Along the journey are a bevy of fascinating characters the most important of which are faction major domos -cum-U.S. Senators William Gwin...more
Walter



A history book with a strong narrative drive; and it’s demystifying in a warm cordial sense. Well worth reading if you’re interested in how the West was settled, and some of the economic reasons behind the Civil War. I say “Demystifying” as the author presents the facts in a welcoming manner. I’ve read so many history books that re-examine a period of time and there seems to be this authorial scorn present…as in: You think life was like this back then? Well, YOU’RE WRONG BUDDY! Richards isn’t li...more
Stuart
An interesting subject - how California nearly became a slave state, or was nearly severed into two states, one free and one slave. Some nice detail about the infamous Broderick-Terry duel, and some gee-whiz facts about how William Walker got his ass kicked in Nicaragua, not by the Nicaraguans, but by getting on the wrong side of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Unfortunately, for every page of interesting stuff like that, there's 25 pages of mind-numbing detail about the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and exhaustiv...more
Janis
This is one of those moments when the star rating system just doesn’t work. The author deserves high praise for his scholarship and thorough research, but, for me, this minutely detailed account of the political machinations before and immediately after the statehood of California grew so very tedious. I felt the book failed to support the premise offered in the title, and lacked coherence. It offers much as a research tool, and was disappointing as a general history.
Jim Bronec
This was a interesting read while it lasted for me. It speaks alot about the forming of California as a state during the gold rush and the struggle for what side of the slavery debate it was going to fall on. It then moves into the political situation leading up to the civil war. It is well written with some interesting stories of the poeple involved and the time period. I just got a little tire of the details and found myself ready to move on from this book.
Comicfairy (Leanne)
The author struck upon an awesome premise and writes in an engaging enough fashion, but this book is a difficult read if you aren't a devoted student of the political sphere. Keeping up with the numerous personalities who were regularly introduced was very harrowing. Lots of names, lots of politics. If you don't like the latter, then I would recommend bypassing this book. Grammar could use a bit of help as well, unfortunately..
Dolores
This book started out great--it was most compelling when the author discussed the Gold Rush and the ways in which people migrated to California. Once he started talking about less engaging topics however (like policy debates in Congress) I started to lose interest. That might not be the author's fault though.
Victor
More like 3.5 stars. Interesting connection between California statehood and the Civil War. The connection is certainly there but maybe was not as strong as the author suggests (equally likely that I just missed it!). Still, I liked it as a view of California history that is seldom explored.
Ron
Fascinating Story...An interesting read after reading team of Rivals....many of the same players. Book is a bit long and bit to detailed for my taste, but the story is really fascinating....particularly the serious talk of seperating California into two States....North and South.
Jen
Nov 17, 2007 Jen marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
i love any books about american life in the 1800s, although sometimes nonfiction works are hard for me to swallow, i am a picky reader. but so far this is keeping my attention.

update: started in october, didn't get very far... hopefully i'll pick it up again.
Richard
I just bought this today! I went into Cambridge (Massachusetts) and, of course headed straight to the Harvard Book Store! They have an amazing history section and this one jumped right out at me.
More about it later, I'm sure!
Bridgett
A well written account for California's role in the coming of the Civil War. Easy to breeze through, while getting a solid understanding of the various bills and sentiments of the politicians of the era.
Smalls
Excellent history of a critical linkage of two defining events in U.S. history that I'd never seen paired before. Rich stories and characters, interesting thesis about early origins of 'two Californias'.
Ari
Aug 21, 2009 Ari rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: californians, history buffs
A fascinating history of a pivotal time in CA history. Forced me to drastically revise my preconceptions about California and gave me a much better sense of the slavery debate between 1850 and 1861.
Darlis
I really enjoyed listening to all the stories of the politics and people in the early statehood period of California. This was very interesting.
Kylia
The idea behind it was interesting, but I found that a much shorter version would have kept my attention more easily.
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