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Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899 [Paperback]

Pierre Berton
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct 2001
With the building of the railroad and the settlement of the plains, the North West was opening up. The Klondike stampede was a wild interlude in the epic story of western development, and here are its dramatic tales of hardship, heroism, and villainy. We meet Soapy Smith, dictator of Skagway; Swiftwater Bill Gates, who bathed in champagne; Silent Sam Bonnifield, who lost and won back a hotel in a poker game; and Roddy Connors, who danced away a fortune at a dollar a dance. We meet dance-hall queens, paupers turned millionaires, missionaries and entrepreneurs, and legendary Mounties such as Sam Steele, the Lion of the Yukon.

Pierre Berton's riveting account reveals to us the spectacle of the Chilkoot Pass, and the terrors of lesser-known trails through the swamps of British Columbia, across the glaciers of souther Alaska, and up the icy streams of the Mackenzie Mountains. It contrasts the lawless frontier life on the American side of the border to the relative safety of Dawson City. Winner of the Governor General's award for non-fiction, Klondike is authentic history and grand entertainment, and a must-read for anyone interested in the Canadian frontier.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Canada; Revised edition (Oct 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385658443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385658447
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 14.7 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 229,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The Russians were the first on the river, in 1834, but they cared not a hoot for gold; no more than the natives who had given the river its name of Yukon, meaning "The Greatest." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my all time favorites 17 Mar 1998
By A Customer
If all history books were like this one, we would have a lot more History Majors. Berton has taken a time in the past and written a wonderful book. The trouble and hardship that these people of a by-gone era are willing to endure and die for is unbelievable. Fiction can't touch what actually happened in the late 1800's as thousands headed North for what was to be the last great gold rush.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a terrific account. 20 July 2006
I purchased this book for my holiday, and it's absolutely great. I've found is totally absorbing and hard to put down, and found myself reading it long into the night. Truth is, truly, stranger than any fiction. I wish I'd had this in school!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Klondike 31 May 2012
By Dale
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Anyone fascinated by the call of the wild frontiers must read this man`s books. From French Canadian stock, Pierre Berton captures the grand scale of these pioneering days. If you have an interest in amazing engineering feats, read his books on the driving through of the Canadian Pacific railway in "The National Dream" and "The Last Spike". Beautifully written even for the technically-challenged reader such as me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 10 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Really interesting book.
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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wild-West scholarship from a man who was (almost) there! 10 May 2004
By bensmomma - Published on Amazon.com
This is the best-written, most entertaining history book I've read in ages. What an amazing story! In January 1897, a message went out from Dawson City in the isolated Yukon Territory of Canada: gold had been discovered! It took until July for anyone to notice, but then it seemed like the whole world stampeded toward the Klondike. Most did not make it over the mountains before winter, but were stuck in lawless Skagway, Alaska, enduring frostbite, graft, and privation, until arriving in Dawson in June of 1898. Suddenly, Dawson went from a few tents to as many as 10,000 people; then, in August of 1899, a rumor of gold in Nome, Alaska emptied the town as quickly as a fire: 8,000 people left in the course of a week.

Berton spins a mighty good yarn: careless prospectors paying for drinks with gold dust; dance-hall girls; wiley villains like the infamous Soapy Smith, boss of Skagway's underworld; heroic Mounties keeping order over treacherous mountain passes. All of this is the result of an enormous amount of primary research: in the 1950's Berton personally interviewed a large number of the last survivors of the stampede, and appears to have memorized every printed word, published and unpublished, ever written on the subject.

Berton caps off his expert handling of the narrative with a wonderful chapter reflecting on the meaning of the Klondike rush for the American and Canadian national characters. I was charmed to discover, at the very end, that Berton's parents were prospectors and that he himself grew up in Dawson, almost a ghost town, playing among the abandoned gold dredges and cast-off dance slippers.

This 2001 version of "Klondike" is significantly updated from the 1958 original; it's considerably longer and reflects many new primary sources. "Klondike Fever" still available via Amazon (ISBN 0786713178), is the older and less up-to-date book. This 2001 edition is the one you want!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back in the days when Yukon Gold wasn't a potato 14 Jun 2005
By Smallchief - Published on Amazon.com
For those of us whose knowledge of the Klondike Gold Rush comes mostly from the 1950s radio drama, "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon" this is a fine book to read. (Trivia question: What was the name of Sergeant Preston's preternaturally intelligent huskie?) This is a revised and updated version of the book "Klondike Fever" published in 1958. Read "Klondike" if possible, although the earlier "Klondike Fever" is still perfectly readable. The maps are much better in this edition.

This Gold Rush, named after the Klondike River in the Yukon territory of Canada, was the last great scramble for gold in the old West. One hundred thousand persons, mostly from the U.S., set out for the Klondike in 1897, 30,000 or 40,000 got there, after an arduous journey through killing winter snows, and a few hundred found gold. The stories of the long, hard journey into this Arctic wilderness are often horrific. In one party of 19 men, 15 died or were killed along the route and the other four had eyes damaged by snow blindness. The gold seekers included author Jack London, Wyatt Earp, and poet Joaquin Miller. By late-summer 1899, "one of the weirdest and most useless mass movements in history" was over. Most of the gold seekers went home to live normal lives, although a few moved on to the beaches of Nome, Alaska where gold could be picked up among the grains of sand.

The author tells a compelling tale of the men and women who participated in the Klondike Gold Rush. It was indeed a fever. The characters in this book include crusty old miners who suddenly became rich beyond their wildest dreams, stalwart, incorruptible Canadian Mounties, conmen like Soapy Smith -- who in the dramatic tradition of the West receives his just deserts -- prostitutes, madams, gamblers, angels of mercy, last-chance losers, rich adventurers, Indians, and missionaries. It's a fascinating read, based on research that included interviews with many of the oldtimers who lived to talk to the author in the 1950s. The author's standard of truth telling is high; he identifies a tall tale or an unlikely exaggeration when he finds them.

The text would be enhanced if there were photographs, but I doubt you'll find a better book about the Klondike Gold Rush. Oh, yes, Sergeant Preston's dog was named "Yukon King."

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Berton! 31 Oct 2005
By Bart Breen - Published on Amazon.com
As a Canadian living away from home, I never miss an opportunity to read a book by Pierre Berton. Berton had a talent for making History come alive in a way that is rare not only among Canadian authors, but indeed is rarely equaled and certainly not surpassed by any other author I have encountered abroad.

Klondike is one of those books that is so well constructed and written that you forget you are reading History and instead are absorbed into the story-line as if you were reading a first-rate novel. Burton develops the story-line and characters so that you are drawn into the history and come to appreciate the facts of the era and location. The people become real. You leave having experienced history instead of just having been served warmed over facts with a few theories as to how they tie together.

Despite the difference in genre, reading Burton's account of the Gold Rush in the North is every bit as entertaining as reading Farley Mowat or Jack London.

I recommend this book highly. It is a good introduction to Berton, to the Canadian North, the history of the Yukon, and a good primer before you launch into the other great books of Berton if you have never read him before!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Northern Lights have seen queer sights . . ." 28 Sep 2005
By Bomojaz - Published on Amazon.com
THE book on the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99. Berton tells the story in chronological order, beginning with the pre-Gold Rush period when individual prospectors roamed the Yukon River territory looking for El Dorado. A million dollars worth of gold was hauled out of Circle City, an early camp, in 1896; a year later they would do the same in a matter of weeks in Dawson City, a few hundred miles up the Yukon from Circle City. Of course, after the big strike was made on Rabbit Creek in August 1896, Circle City was emptied of its population by the spring. Gold camp communities that had lived and thrived under a well-understood frontier code lost their cohesiveness; the thousands of outsiders rushing into the Klondike could never abide by such a code.

Berton relates the human interest stories, too. The infamous Soapy Smith, the dictator of Skagway, is here, as are the thousands of crazies who came north to the Arctic Circle underclothed, unprepared, unprovisioned, full of the gold fever. Things got so bad by the winter of '97 that the government had to appropriate $200,000 for those in the Yukon to prevent mass starvation. And still they came, heading up the Chilkoot Pass like ants. It was called a stampede, but progress was so slow it seemed anything but. Only the outbreak of the Spanish-American War put an end to it, along with the discovery of gold in Nome.

It's an exciting story, the last gold rush anyone will ever see. Factual, without unnecessary hype, Berton's book is an excellent account of this period in history. Highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story of interesting people 12 Nov 1997
By Steve Phallen - Published on Amazon.com
This forgotten piece of Canadian and American history is brought back to life. Berton vividly describes the characters and treats each one with care. His enthusiasm is easy to catch and the stories of hardship, greed, friendship and fun describe the atmosphere well. Crooks, lawmen and fortune seekers come together to weave incredible tales that fiction could never touch. Although I was not particularly interested in this era of history, I must admit this is one of the best histories I have read. I would have preferred some pictures to link with the stories and perhaps some better maps. Otherwise, a strong recommendation.
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