Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Edward Dolnick's "The Rush"

Edward Dolnick is the author of The Clockwork Universe, The Forger's Spell, Down the Great Unknown and the Edgar Award-winning The Rescue Artist. A former chief science writer at the Boston Globe, he has written for The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications.

Dolnick applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853, and reported the following:
The key to the Gold Rush story, the single most important fact of the whole saga, is that Americans in 1849 had never experienced such a thing. Everyone knew that the world could fall apart overnight. What no one imagined was that good news could arrive just as suddenly.

And then it did! When the president himself declared that all the rumors were true – California’s gold was real! – tens of thousands of young men quit their jobs, abandoned their families, and set off for the gold fields.

They had not the least notion of what they were in for. Once across the Missouri River, one historian wrote, “civilization ended and the Middle Ages began.” And, because the trip was expensive, lots of emigrants were clerks or lawyers or doctors, greenhorns rather than outdoorsmen. They shot one another by accident. Their mules ran off. They tried to cross a river and drowned. They tried to take a shortcut and starved.

My goal in The Rush was to capture their voices and make vivid what it was like to live in a world that had, without warning, turned upside down. Page 99 finds us poised on the brink. A handful of restless young men lament their cramped fates.

From page 99:
In Wisconsin, teenaged Lucius Fairchild could hardly bear to think that he was stuck behind the counter of his father’s store, “showing rags to the ladies of Madison.” Rural life was no better. In Mark Twain’s Hannibal and in countless towns like it, “the day was a dead and empty thing,” despite all the era’s talk of progress. The sun beat down, a fly buzzed against a window, the town drunk rolled over, life drowsed on.
Then came the astonishing news and the stampede to the gold fields. The lure was money, beyond a doubt, but freedom played nearly as large a role. You didn’t have to follow behind a horse for the rest of your life or copy legal forms in an office or live under your father-in-law’s thumb. You could leap out of the rut that fate had assigned to you. If you had nerve and luck and ambition, you could get rich.

This was new in American history, and astonishing. The Declaration of Independence had given every American the right to pursue happiness. The gold rush promised the chance to catch it.
Learn more about the book and author at Edward Dolnick's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Forger's Spell.

The Page 99 Test: The Clockwork Universe.

--Marshal Zeringue