California Gold Review
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Set years after the end of the gold rush, John Jakes’s California Gold is an epic tale following James Macklin “Mack” Chase as he tries to make his fortune and leave behind a life of poverty. Mack has nothing but determination and a strong work ethic going for him, but he believes that California is his land of opportunity. Still, he’s opposed at every front by greedy landowners, the railroad monopoly, and corrupt politicians.

Mack sees first-hand the prejudices of the “native” Californian society: those who want to block anyone not of their stature from thriving. As Mack stubbornly resists and builds his fortune, he becomes a friend to the working man and all races who face oppression, until this wealth begins to turn him into the kind of man he always hated.

California Gold is a well-researched journey into California history, taking vivid trips to San Francisco, Palo Alto, Riverside, and Los Angeles. The novel is peppered with a great supporting cast of characters, who help Mack navigate his climb in California society—including the women in his life: an independent suffragette and a spoiled society princess.

Throughout the years, Mack also meets historical figures, such as Leland Stanford, John Muir, Jack London, and William Randolph Hearst. Some readers will love learning more about these historical figures, while others may find it unrealistic for a penniless drifter to have met so many society figures.

California Gold is more than historical fiction. It also offers social commentary on the greed of the railroad barons and the prejudices that immigrants faced. And the landscape of California Gold is so richly written that you may decide to take a road trip to see the landmarks described for yourself.

This book is great read, but it’s a bit slow on plot development. Still, anyone who’s interested in California history will love it. You’ll learn more here than in many college courses—with the added bonus of a great story to ease you along.

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