Mineral; Gold Rush Literature

By Jo Phillips

Gold; a dream, a savior, and an obsession.



Gold that finest of minerals one we associate with love, with power, with kings (the Sun King Louis XIV of France and King Midas come to mind), and of course wealth.

We also think of the Great American gold rush. The 1849 discovery of gold in San Francisco that beckoned fortune seekers around the world to try their hand at finding gold. In the beginning of the gold rush, this precious mineral to society became a symbol to dream. Gold was the life-disrupter and the savior for the everyday man where before, life was already laid out for you. The opportunity to find gold and strike your luck was too enticing not to attempt. Its glittering possibilities drove some to madness, adventure, or to a new life. In some cases, a little bit of all three! These books bring to mind the romanticism and adventure the Gold Rush brought and paints us a picture of what the race to riches was like.


Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow

Calico Palace depicts the story of 900 inhabitants of a (once) sleepy town called San Francisco in 1848, one year before a few flecks of gold were unearthed and changed the town and the world forever. Calico Palace follows the upcoming events leading up to the 1849 gold rush and the euphoric rise of San Francisco becoming one of the most prominent cities in the United States. It illustrates the experiences of the people who weren’t prospectors, from the original inhabitants of San Francisco, the mining suppliers, merchants, and businessmen who built up the city.

Spanish cover by Ana Juan

Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende

Selected as Oprah Winfrey’s February 2000 must-read in Oprah’s Book Club, the story follows Eliza Sommers, a Chilean girl adopted into an English Victorian family. In spite of being provided the best education and grooming, Eliza leaves her sheltered life to chase after her secret lover Joaquin to California, where he tries his hand at prospecting for gold. The life of the gold rush is seen through Eliza’s experiences as well as through Eliza’s family and friends she meets along the way. They sought adventure, freedom, and opportunities beyond gold which were the real gems of the gold rush.



The Rush: America’s Fevered Quest for Fortune

Published in 2014 Edward Dolnick regales us with tales of America’s past. Mixing fiction with real-life accounts from old diaries and letters, he paints a picture of this new type of society where you can be rich one day and poor the next day. He divided his book into three parts: hope, journey, and reality. These stages highlight the fascinating affect Gold Fever had on people where they were allowed to dream for a better future and challenged themselves to discover what lengths they would go to grasp their dreams and the cold reality that awaited them.



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