Jerry Smith's Reviews > The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier & the Yukon Gold Rush

The Floor of Heaven by Howard Blum
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's review
May 30, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: history, 2011-read
Read from November 23 to December 05, 2011

I was very anxious to read this book ever since I travelled to Alaska early this year and spent a few days in the Skagway/Dyea area and having my imagination captured by the story of the Yukon Gold Rush. We walked a short section of the Chilkoot trail and I was keen to learn more about the whole episode in history, particularly the hardships endured by the prospectors and the slim chance of actually striking it rich.

This book sheds little light on that and, as such, rates as a serious disappointment for me. That is unfair on the author who sets out to tell the tale of 3 men rather than the tale of the gold rush years themselves. However I think that a trick was missed here - at least for this reader.

The lives of the main protagonists in this book are tenuously linked at best. Their paths cross but fleetingly and one is left feeling unsatisfied at the end. The stories of the prospects and the bunco life of Soapy Smith have some interest and merit in their own right, but overall they don't hold enough interest to hold attention in a book of this length and nor do they shed any light on the historical context of the gold rush or the hardships the prospectors went through.

For example: Having seen the Chilkoot trail one can appreciate the arduous nature of the treck up to the head waters of the Yukon. However this is glossed over frequently by Blum with only a passing reference to the trial it was even to get to Dawson City. He makes statements that suggest the trip was a mere trifle. That is a shame and missed the broader context in a desire to tell individual stories.

It's not a horrible book, just poorly constructed in my view and dwelling on a three marginally interesting characters in the overall drama of the gold rush while failing to explain or capitalize in the greater drama of those drawn to Dawson City who probably never made a dime. Missed opportunity in my view.

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