The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West by Gregory Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bookshelves: american-history, there’s-gold-in-them-thar-hills, wild-wild-west, made-me-homesick, biography, non-fiction, rags-to-riches
I am one of those weirdos who at least skims the acknowledgment pages of books, hoping to find someone I know. My son, as a university special collections librarian, is in these acknowledgments, so that was the number one selling point. The other was that Virginia City, Nevada, was part of my stomping grounds as a kid. I’ve had good times getting hammered at noon in the Delta Saloon of touristy, modern-day Virginia City. I’ve tramped its surrounding hills and old mine tailings on childhood rock-hunting trips with my grandparents, and gone through some of the old buildings on ghost-hunting expeditions. There’s a lot of fun to be had in Virginia City.
This book is not about rocks or ghosts; it’s a history of the Comstock Lode and a biography of John Mackay, a fabulous rags-to-riches story of an Irish immigrant who journeyed from hawking newspapers on NYC street corners, to toiling through the California Gold Rush, to becoming one of the richest men in the world through honest hard work and innate business savvy. Few deserved it more than Mackay, who remained down-to-earth and likable despite his unimaginable wealth. He stayed at the top by treating his employees well, jealously guarding his good name and reputation, and successfully taking on some notably unscrupuled heavy hitters of the time, including Jay Gould and William Sharon and his notorious Bank Ring. I might have learned more than I’d ever planned to about the science and engineering involved in mining, and I’m okay with that. It was fascinating.
Mary Jane Simpson was AWESOME. I’m talking about the mule, not the newspaper correspondent, although I’m sure she was a very nice person. But this mule!
It’s not an easy-breezey read; I had to renew my library copy twice, and I’m frankly surprised they didn’t email me saying, “You’ve had it long enough. Give it back. Go buy your own.” Which I probably will.
Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews