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Mining California

Mining California

An Ecological History

Andrew C. Isenberg

Hill and Wang


An environmental History of California during the Gold Rush

Between 1849 and 1874 almost $1 billion in gold was mined in California. With little available capital or labor, here's how: high-pressure water cannons washed hillsides into sluices that used mercury to trap gold but let the soil wash away; eventually more than three times the amount of earth moved to make way for the Panama Canal entered California's rivers, leaving behind twenty tons of mercury every mile—rivers overflowed their banks and valleys were flooded, the land poisoned. In the rush to wealth, the same chain of foreseeable consequences reduced California's forests and grasslands.

Not since William 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 the telling of the history of the American West. Beautifully told, this is western environmental history at its finest.


The Alchemy of Hydraulic Mining: Technology, Law, and Resource-Intensive Industrialization

Between 1849 and 1858, California produced over $550 million in gold. This mineral wealth drew tens of thousands of prospectors: in 1848,...

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

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.

image of Andrew C. Isenbergo
© Elena Isenberg

Andrew C. Isenberg

Hill and Wang

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