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.