Christine Ryan

"The mania that attended the mass migration of fortune seekers to California and other points west starting in 1848 inspired artists to lampoon the would-be prospectors, their gear, and their various modes of transportation."*

Exhibit 1,865 (or so): The just-published coffee-table book Mark Twain's America, by Harry Katz and illustrated with a multitude of images from the Library of Congress. Sounds dusty, dry, and historical, right? Hardly!

Not only are the excerpts from Twain's writings as witty as you'd expect, but the window into a long-ago Western boom time gives, as always, an interesting perspective onto one's own, current golden age. But here, we'll let Mr. Clemens speak for himself in this quote from his 1872 book Roughing It:

It was a driving, vigorous, restless population in those days. It was a curious population. It was the only population of the kind that the world has ever seen gathered together, and it is not likely that the world will ever see its like again…It was a splendid population…It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day—and when she projects a new surprise, the grave world smiles as usual, and says "Well, that is California all over."

*Excerpted from "Mark Twain’s America" by Harry Katz and the Library of Congress. Published in October 2014 by Little, Brown and Company. Copyright © 2014 by Harry Katz and the Library of Congress. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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