Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Book review: After the Gold Rush

I got this book for my brother, O.K., using the free trading website BookMooch, and when it arrived I started reading it. It took about a month maybe, but I love this book. Simply put it is about a Brit, John Stuart Clark, that decides to bike across the USA following the old route of the people that went to California in 1849's gold rush. The name of the book is After the Gold Rush, and it is published by Five Leaves in Britain. As of today there were no reviews of this book at the US website, and only three at the British one.

But this is a book that is wonderful find. The writing is intense, detailed, and insightful and portrays the American landscape and people in an honest and sometimes funny or depressing way. It is a refreshing book, and a book that mixes 1800s history with today's problems of interstate highways, lack of historical knowledge, patriotism, agriculture and lack thereof, unemployment, and the great feeling of biking far. He portrays and quotes people he meets in a very humane and sensitive way, even when others might have just called them white trash or losers. It shows both what is great and not so great with this country. I just really, really like this book. I have decided to keep it (sorry O.K.), but if anyone in my family want to read it, I will lend it to you. The author is also known as Brick, a famous cartoonist.

Here are some excerpts so you get a feeling for the book.

"Sam blamed the interstates for distorting the public's view of the countryside. In batting between cities on smooth blacktops with iron out contours, modern day motorists had lost the interaction they once had with the landscape and the small farming communities they old highways linked." [Clark was not only fighting with large trucks on the roads, but also piss bottles, mud, bridges where bikes were not allowed, non-existing trails, washed out trails, floods, and exloded tires.]

"With an almighty crack, the ground jolted and the heavens opened. A second shaft of lightning struck the earth and shook it, lighting up the tent for a split second in which I saw my glasses case leap in the air like a genetically modified jumping bean. " [Somewhere out on the Midwest, in the worst tornado season.]

"The sun was a bent thumb from the horizon set in a clear blue sky, and the landscape sparkled under heavy frost. Having been destroyed int he storm, millions of spider's webs were being restrung between bushes thick with time. I pissed on my bike to defrost the brakes and I struck out across the moribound plateau of the Green River Basin." [Crossing the Rocky Mountains at South Pass.]

"Beyond the ridge, Promontory Hollow opened out and I found myself back in sagebrush country with a grit railbed running beside me. Another, louder toot echoed around the hollow, though there was nothing man-made in the landscape save barbed wire and tarmac. The road took a left, flowed over gentle undulations, then crossed a couple of rail lines. A magnificent steam locomotive emerged from a shunting shed hidden in the foothills and moved towards the Golden Spike Visitor Center, where a second immaculate engine waited. [...] Finding them stuck in the middle of nowhere on an isolated couple of miles of track emphasised the extraordinary nature of America's great endeavour." [ link to the park, in Utah]

I learned a lot from this book, and not just how hard it is to bike across the salt flats of Utah and Nevada, but about the history of the conquest of the American land, the conservation and formation of National Parks and John Muir's work, and the fate of most of the gold diggers, which never struck it rich. There are also little details that leave a mark, such as San Francisco had no companies that did laundry, so laundry was sent to Hong Kong to be washed in the 1850s. I really recommend this book to anyone that likes biking, travel, history, or politics. It is the perfect mix of a personal and public documentary.

I read this book while I was waiting for my citizenship interview for 3.5 hours at the Department of Homeland Security's office in Newark. I wonder what they would have thought if they knew what I read.


LS said...

Wow, I could put so many appropriate labels on this post! This book is about everything.

O.K. said...

Sounds like a great book! And as you say, seems to contain a little of everything. Even unorthodox field maintenance of bike brakes. :)

LS said...

So, do you want to read it? Should I send it over?

O.K. said...

Sure, send it with the next transatlantic biker that passes by!

John said...

Hello America! I am the author of this book and thank you sincerely for your appreciation of the effort that went into both the journey and the writing, not to mention the pain it wrought on my family. Many thanks, John

LS said...

Hi John,

Thanks for stopping by, and I am glad you liked my review. Your book was really great, and I hope a lot more people read it. Also, I hope you and your family is well. My copy of your book is currently in my brother's hands somewhere in Sweden.