Mining California by Andrew C. Isenberg
An Ecological History

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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.


About Andrew C. Isenberg

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Andrew C. Isenberg is the author of Mining California: An Ecological History (H&W, 2005) and The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750–1920, and the editor of The Nature of Cities: Culture, Landscape, and Urban Space. He is a historian at Temple University and lives in Penn Valley, PA.
Published August 24, 2010 by Hill and Wang. 256 pages
Genres: History, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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“much of the agenda of the wilderness movement,” Isenberg writes, can be seen as a “reaction to or a negation of the most prominent forms of industrial resource exploitation in the nineteenth-century West.” A strong complement to the work of William Cronon, Richard White, Patricia Nelson Limeric...

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Publishers Weekly

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Isenberg's densely written text provides an overview of the industrialization of mining, logging, ranching and agriculture in California between 1850 and 1900 that, while well researched and exceedingly informative, assumes a greater familiarity with North American and California history than mos...

Aug 01 2005 | Read Full Review of Mining California: An Ecologi...

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