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Mining California

An Ecological History

Andrew C. Isenberg

Hill and Wang

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title
 
Between 1849 and 1874, almost one billion dollars in gold was mined in California. The California gold rush was a key chapter in American industrialization, not only because of the wealth it produced but because of its heavy environmental costs. With labor costs high and capital scarce, California miners used hydraulic technology to shift the burden of their enterprise onto the environment: high-pressure water canons washed hillsides into sluices that used mercury to trap gold but let the soil wash away, and eventually thousands of tons of poisonous debris entered California's rivers. The profitability of hydraulic mining spurred other forms of resource exploitation in the state, including logging, large-scale ranching, and city-building. These, too, took their toll on the environment. This resource-intensive development, typical of American industrialization, became the template for the transformation of the West.

Not since Williams Cronon's Nature's Metropolis has a historian so skillfully applied John Muir's insight—"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe"—to telling the ecological history of the American West. Succinct and provocative, Mining California is environmental history at its finest.

REVIEWS

Praise for Mining California

“Superbly written. This excellent read, a model for future studies, deserves highest recommendations.” —D. Steeples, Choice; An Outstanding Academic Title

“As entertaining as it is insightful, Isenberg's book does justice to the dramatic ecological transformations California underwent in the half century after the Gold Rush. This is environmental history at its best.” —J. R. McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World

“Andrew Isenberg's superb new book analyzes the ecological domino effect set in motion by the California Gold Rush, which touched off the cycles of environmental degradation the scale of which we can only now fully appreciate. Filled with lessons and warnings, Mining California is a timely and important book.” —William Deverell, Director, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

“The book offers a mother lode of descriptions of the sheer scale of projects undertaken, and a keen portrait of the ecological domino effect of new industries…. At a time when the state’s residency has been forecast to grow by 13 million in the next 25 years, with its population probably stretching into its farthest regions, Mining California offers sobering reading on the consequences of unchecked expansion.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Andrew C. Isenberg

  • Andrew C. Isenberg is a professor of history at Temple University. He is the author of The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920 and is a former fellow of the Huntington Library and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies.
  • Andrew C. Isenberg © Elena Isenberg
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    Mining California

    An Ecological History

    Andrew C. Isenberg

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