In California Gold, John Jakes marries the historical sweep of a James A. Michener novel with the cloying romance of a Danielle Steel novel. The result is a very thick book that’s very easy to forget.
Jakes’ hero, James Macklin Chase, arrives on foot in California in 1886 determined to make his fortune. Mack carries his inspiration with him: T. Fowler Haines’s “Emigrant’s Guide to California and Its Gold Fields.”
Mack has just arrived when he learns a lesson not in Haines’s book: “When you own the water, you can drink all you want.”
Mack doesn’t own water. He is penniless, uneducated, and hopelessly naive. But he’s also handsome, kind, brave, hardworking, intelligent, and willing to take risks.
Jakes moves Mack up and down California from 1886 to 1921.
Mack cleans up well and looks great in black tie.
He fights the corrupt Southern Pacific monopoly, supports the right of labor to organize, pays his workers a fair wage, and protests racism.
He survives the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, meets William Randolph Hearst, Leland Stanford, John Muir, Jack London, “Gentleman” Jim Corbett, Teddy Roosevelt.
Bad guys hate him.
Good guys respect him.
Women fall at his feet.
And Mack lives happily ever after.
California Gold: a novel
By John Jakes
Random House. ©1989. 658 p.
©2019 Linda G. Aragoni