The Bonanza King
John Mackay and the Battle Over the Greatest Riches in the American West
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in Environmental StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in the American WestNew Books Network July 20, 2018 Stephen Hausmann
John Mackay’s life began humbly, immigrating as a child from an impoverished Irish household to New York City where he worked selling newspapers in the streets. Within four decades, he was a stakeholder in one of the wealthiest precious metal strikes in the history of the American West, and by the end of his life was one of the wealthiest men in the United States. Gregory Crouch tells Mackay’s fascinating story in The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle Over the Greatest Riches in the American West (Scribner, 2018). Crouch’s book is about more than Mackay’s rags to riches tale, however. The Bonanza King is also a portrait of Virginia City, Nevada, as it grew from dusty mining camp to mountain boomtown before falling again into relative obscurity. Mackay and Virginia City together encapsulate how the mineral economy of the Great Basin could create and destroy seemingly on a whim, and The Bonanza King is a rollicking retelling of how the man and the place were inseparably linked during the heady days of the Gilded Age West.
Stephen Hausmann is a doctoral candidate at Temple University and Visiting Instructor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently writing his dissertation, a history of race and the environment in the Black Hills and surrounding northern plains region of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.