The Secret History of the Gold Rush

One of the most interesting ecological writers today has to be Rebecca Solnit, an explorer in prose whose work is so original it’s difficult to categorize. History? Essay? Polemic? The reader has to decide for himself, or herself.

Her latest journey in thought comes to us from Orion, and reads to me much like a secret history of the gold rush, revealing how little it was about gold, and how much it was about mercury. Here’s a sample:

Just as one of those useful commentators from another culture or galaxy might perceive the purpose of drinking heavily to be achievement of a splitting headache and furry tongue in the morning, so she might perceive mining as a way of ravaging great swaths of the land, water, and air about as thoroughly as it is possible to do. For from an ecological point of view, mining produces large-scale, long-term poverty of many kinds while producing short-term wealth for a small minority.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

5 thoughts on “The Secret History of the Gold Rush

  1. Ms. Solnit is a goddess of essay writing. Everytime I come across one of her pieces it tends to change the way I think.

    And yes, gold mining, diamond mining, etc., is and always has been grotesque.


  2. And what glory does one get after all the ravaging of the land and waterways? Spoils shown on dark velvet in cosseted rooms behind thick glass…


  3. Mike: I totally agree. I’m hoping this fall to read her “Field Guide to Getting Lost” (I think that’s what it’s called). Again and again she seems to write the book or essay I would have liked to have written, before I even thought of writing it!


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