American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture

By Brian Roberts | Go to book overview

Acknowledgments

About a year ago we, meaning myself and my “better half,” were driving cross-country, heading west to new jobs in Sacramento. “Ho for California!” I screamed at the top of my lungs each morning as we approached the car and the long day's drive. About the time we crossed into South Dakota we began to notice something: we were surrounded by motorcycles. As luck would have it, our trip corresponded with the last days of South Dakota's famous Sturgis Rally, the largest gathering of bike enthusiasts on the planet. The participants were not just enthusiasts, their machines not mere motorcycles. Most of the rally-goers were rough-looking men, bearded and dangerous Hell's Angel types. Their bikes were “choppers,” great and thundering beasts. What man and beast seemed to be saying was this: “HEY PERFESSOR, WE ARE GONNA … KICK! YOUR! ASS!” Later on we faced the unavoidable meeting with these ruffians, for they occupied every cafe, campground, motel, service station, and restroom in the state. It turned out that most of these men were lawyers, stockbrokers, or college professors. For hours I babbled incessantly over this discovery, and all my babblings made the same point: “IT'S MY BOOK! IT'S MY BOOK COME TO LIFE!”

This is what happens to a person who has been working on a book for eight years. All becomes the book. The book becomes all. For eight years this book has taken over my life. Many people and institutions have stood by while this was happening and many have actually helped the process along. I am responsible for all the errors here, the errors of fact, interpretation, and judgment. But they are going to have to take responsibility for something, maybe for helping me, maybe for not telling me to stop.

Research for this project was supported by a fellowship from the

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American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • American Alchemy *
  • Introduction 1
  • One - California Gold and Filthy Lucre 17
  • Two - Gold Fever as a Cure 43
  • Three - Husbands and Wives 69
  • Four - Numberless Highways to Fairy Grottos 93
  • Five - A Great and Perverse Paradise 119
  • Six - California Is a Humbug 143
  • Seven - Widows and Helpmates 169
  • Eight - A Wild, Free, Disorderly, Grotesque Society 197
  • Nine - The Prude Fails 221
  • Ten - The End of the Flush Times 243
  • Conclusion 269
  • Notes 277
  • Index 321
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