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The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War    by Leonard L. Richards Amazon.com order for
California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War
by Leonard L. Richards
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Most of those who have gone through the American educational system in the last half century, if asked a few questions about American history, can tell you something (but not much) about the Civil War. Usually their answers will not go much further than some disconnected comments on slavery, Abraham Lincoln, one or two significant military battles between northern and southern armies (Gettysburg usually heads the list), and - if they did some reading on their own beyond the curricula requirements which is not often likely - something about states' rights and economic interests. Too often, you will also hear about Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, as if that wonderful but limited novel represents all that one needs to know about one of America's most important historical periods. (Many of those same people questioned, however, often have trouble identifying the years during which the Civil War occurred; sadly but truthfully, many cannot even correctly identify the century, although they might volunteer other irrelevant information about Gone With the Wind and Scarlet O'Hara!)

Going a bit further, if you pursue another line of questioning, those same people - products of the not-so-effective American (public) educational system - might also be able to tell you something (but not much) about the California gold rush. You would be na´ve, in fact, to believe that more than a handful queried could talk coherently at any length (beyond a few disconnected words and phrases) about the closely connected relationships between the Mexican War, world-wide immigration into California, the discovery of gold (in northern California), and the entry of California as a state into the United States.

Then, if you want to get bewildered silence without a response, ask the following question: What are the connections between the discovery of gold in California and the Civil War?

So, that being the case, here finally is the book you can share with those same people (and - if you're being honest about your own limited knowledge on the foregoing topics - here is the book for you): Leonard L. Richards' The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War. Written with a narrative flair and built upon a foundation of solid and exhaustive research, this superb study zeroes in upon a neglected chapter in American history. Readers of this highly recommended book will be introduced to the many compelling personalities - social, political, and entrepreneurial - whose interactions and conflicts were fueled (and exacerbated) by gold (as well as economic and political developments) in California and political passions (and economic interests) throughout the country (particularly the hardened ideologies east of the Mississippi).

Richards carefully presents a detailed analysis of the complicated connections between the gold rush and the coming of the Civil War, and the bottom line is clear: If gold had not been discovered in California, the outcome of American history - particularly as it involved the Civil War, the future of slavery, and the Constitutional (and congressional) response to each individual state's rights - would probably have been very different. So, if you want to understand the how's and why's of this bottom line analysis, you simply must read (and you will certainly enjoy) Richards' quite readable and fascinating study.

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