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31 July 2016

John Jakes: California Gold: A Novel

The real California Gold didn't come from the goldfields
This story of California Gold is not about the goldfields, it is about the wealth that came when the gold rush was over.

James Macklin Chance started off being a wanderer who saw California as the gold at the end of the rainbow. His main incentive was a small travel promotional book that described the promised land in glowing terms. He crossed the country, endured great hardship but eventually got to California and to San Fransico, some 30 years after the peak of gold fever. The State and the City were virtually under the control of the railroad barons - the "Big Four," who were instrumental in building the Central Pacific Railroad who had a stranglehold on most business in the State.

After Chance tried to set up a ferry business in competition with a ferry owned by the railroad he was virtually run out of town by thugs employed by the Four. Again Chance left everything behind him and moved to Southern California, and inadvertently invested in some land with huge oil deposits. When he becomes a very rich man he also invests in citrus growing and water rights and gets even richer.

Wealth doesn't always bring him happiness, choosing an unhappy marriage to a very spoilt rich girl over happiness with an ambitious independent journalist/author. Eventually Chance returns to San Francisco to face up to his old rivals. He keeps in touch with Southern California and even gets involved with the early tumultuous days of Hollywood movie-making.

This is a good but very lengthy tale of the early days of California which brought home to me the really terrible aspects of untrammeled capitalism. John Jakes captured both the ambition and energy of California’s pioneers and how they would stop at nothing to achieve their personal and often very greedy objectives. I really liked the way that John Jakes authenticated his story by using some actual historical figures from these days and incorporated some major events, such as the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

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