California Gold begins thirty years after the Gold Rush as James Macklin (Mack) Chance leaves the Pennsylvania mining town where he grew up and heads for The Golden State to make his fortune. After working and walking his way across country, Mack arrives in Oakland and is in for a rude surprise when he thinks he can stow away on the railroad's ferry across the bay and they wouldn't dare throw him overboard -oh yes they would! Once he makes it to San Francisco he witnesses a young woman jumping into the bay and fails in his attempt to "rescue" reporter Nellie Ross (much to her chagrin as he ruins her story for Hearst's newspaper) and the two begin a strong friendship that eventually turns into much more.
Mack's fortunes continue up and down as his drive and temper finally upset the movers and shakers of San Francisco and after surviving a vicious beating he leaves for Los Angeles to take old traveling companion J. Paul Wyatt up on his offer to join in with him in the "real estate" market -- selling worthless lots to unsuspecting tourists. The land boom busts (where did Wyatt originally get the funds to purchase the land from?) and the unstable Wyatt leaves Mack high and dry with creditors and angry buyers knocking at his doors. Seeing potential in the worthless tar pits of the surrounding countryside Mack seeks employment with the oil prospectors as he learns the trade - finally striking black gold and setting him on his way to fortune and power.
Despite their lifelong love for each other, Mack and Nellie's goals for their individual futures are too diverse for marriage (at least they think so) and Mack marries alcoholic Carla Hellman, daughter of wealthy land baron Swampy Hellman. It doesn't take Mack long to realize the mistake he's made, although grateful for the son Carla gives him. Mack continues to expand his business prospects, delving into real estate, agriculture, the burgeoning Hollywood film industry and these enterprises eventually lead him into increasingly dangerous conflicts with corrupt government officials and the growing labor unions.
Mack's story takes the reader from 1886 California and on into the early 1900's, as California struggles with the old and the new ways, including the catastrophe of the 1906 earthquake that results in a profound personal loss for Mack that forever changes his perspectives on life. As Mack assembles his great fortune, he finally realizes the empty shell his life has become and how little happiness all that wealth can bring without loved ones to share it with. All in all a very good (but not great) read, although IMO Jakes tried to stuff way too much into the story and had Mack's business enterprises spread into way too many pies - I have to confess my eyes glazed over a bit at times - especially the complicated mechanics of getting that oil out of the ground. Four stars, although tops with me on big old fat sagas of Old California is still Celeste De Blasis' The Proud Breed.
I'm a big John Jakes fan. His historical fiction is always easy to read, sweeping, passionate and infused with memorable characters, fictional and real. CALIFORNIA GOLD has many of Jakes' familiar elements, but on a reduced scale. The KENT FAMILY CHRONICLES is his crowning achievement, of course, and those books dare to cover the entire first 150 years or so of American history. The NORTH AND SOUTH saga is in many ways the best work of fiction about the Civil War ever written. It makes history burst off the page, and the characters live that history in a way that makes it immediate. The real problem (which costs the book the one star) is that CALIFORNIA GOLD just doesn't have that kind of sweep and immediacy. It does a fine job showing how California developed after the Civil War era into the glorious state it is today. Jakes, as always, isn't afraid to paint things both good and bad. The railroad's importance to the development of the state is accentuated...as is the horrendous monopoly that railroad exercised. But for all the grandeur, it is frankly hard to care all that much about the history being presented to us. The book has great characters, usually memorably presented in a few brief sentences so that when they reappear 300 pages later, we remember exactly who they are. Our hero, Macklin Chance, is a character we root for, faults and all. He is faced with many terrific obstacles, including several villianous characters, both male and female. It isn't hard to cheer for the guy when things go well and wince when things turn ugly. Jakes has an easy-going writing style. We know we're getting spoon fed history with our melodrama, but we don't mind...he knows how to make it IMPORTANT to our story, not just a sidenote (although there are literally some sidenotes to start each chapter...they are a type of Cliff Note to California History, and must be read to follow the developments in the novel.) But it feels just a little rote. Some passages, such as the violent polo match leap right off the page. Others, such as the discovery of oil, are fumbled a bit...they could have held more emotional payoff. All in all, it's a solid read and a good introduction to Jakes. You don't have to jump into an entire series. But it makes me WANT to have a new Jakes series to read. Most certainly there are better historical novels out there, and surely many that are more "literate" or "learned," but few will entertain you and divert you more. Check it out!
This was certainly a book that you could enjoy. This book also gave you a good picture of the history of California. This book chronicles the rise from poverty to massive riches for a young man from Pennylsvania. He first grows immensely wealthy by taking part in the oil industry of California. From making big money in petroleum he moves into the citrus industry. He is able to continue making money in the citrus business. His next step is in water rights. This novel also tells of some of his lady loves that he becomes familiar with. Also interesting is some of the potent enemies that he gets in the state of California. This is a good depiction of wealth and power gained in the Golden State. If you read this book you will read a good story as well as get a good history of the state of California. It is also very unique the way that John Jakes uses some historical figures from these days in this story. Read this book,you will not be dissapointed.
CALIFORNIA GOLD is the story of Macklin Chance, who like many others of his day, journeys to the land of California with the hopes of finding a new life and fortune. It is the start of the gold rush, and Macklin, along with thousands of others, help build the state of California in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Macklin starts from the bottom and works his way to the top,and along the way he encounters the men that helped build California: Leland Stanford, Randolph Hearst, to name a few. As in all John Jakes novels, CALIFORNIA GOLD is filled with a lot of history and a lot of great characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although I do not feel it's Jake's best. I felt the ending was a little disappointing - can't explain it but it felt wrong to me - but otherwise this was one of those books that I couldn't put down. A must-read for all John Jakes fans!
In California Gold, John Jakes has once again created a very engrossing story wrapped in lots of interesting history about California. As usual, his plot moves along at a brisk pace and he introduces many interesting characters -- both fictional and real-life. The main character, James Macklin Chance, is one of Jakes' more memorable ones. I'm sure you'll enjoy how he comes to California as a young man, poor financially but rich in ambition, and his adventures in building one fortune on top of another. If you enjoy historical fiction, and especially if you're a John Jakes fan, do yourself a favor and get a copy of California Gold. You'll be richer for the reading experience.
There are some people that feel that reading fiction is a waste of time. For people giving a second thought to this line of thinking, this would be a book worthy of attention. Understanding history requires a context that cannot be defined with a simple equation or any number of footnotes. Fiction makes this possible and John Jake's efforts in this book should be noteworthy as well as entertaining. As with anything worth value it will be debated sooner or later again and again from numerous perspectives that never come together. This is the thing that makes this interesting. If you have an interest in history and how if effects us as far as where we are going it should be viewed as having fun, as it is going to repeat itself again and again given human nature. Given the effort given in producing this book I am a little surprised at the few reviews it has been given on this board. History, political science and the interactions of how personal relationships are masterfully presented in this book. Sure it a work of fiction. Presenting the perspectives how people being part of it could not be done any better than what was presented in the tale this book presented. Of coarse this is just my opinion. Rich