Rush for Riches: Gold Fever and the Making of California
by J. S. Holliday
Published by University of California Press
336 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0520214013

"The whole country from San Francisco to Los Angeles and from the seashore to the base of the Sierra Nevada," the weekly Californian exclaimed in May 1848, "resounds to the sordid cry of gold, gold! GOLD!, while the field is left half planted, the house half built and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pick-axes." That newspaper's editor understood just how infectious gold fever could be: Shortly after penning this commentary, he had to suspend publication because his employees had deserted him. They joined tens of thousands of other men -- the "Forty-Niners" -- on the quest for "easy wealth" during northern California's famous mid-19th-century gold rush. J.S. Holliday, probably best known as the author of The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience (1981), recalls again here the avaricious stampede that brought so much loot and licentiousness to early day San Francisco. But he then goes on to recount the rush's longer-term affects on the development of America's transcontinental railroad, the rise of a moneyed class in California and the state's "image as a risk-taking society, unconstrained by fear of failure." It's an enjoyable read, with ample historical illustrations.

 

The Importance of Lunch
by John Allemang
Published by Random House Canada
375 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0679309861

Combine Frank McCourt's passion and craftsmanship in Angela's Ashes with James McNair's general passion for food in just about anything he's ever written and you get a hint of John Allemang's tone in The Importance of Lunch. Except, of course, that Allemang talks food with a tinge of humor and a touch of teaching. It's a startlingly enjoyable trek for the foodie, as well as being enlightening (I really never thought about making soup with chestnuts) and appetite-inspiring. Delightfully, Allemand weaves through thoughts about food with instruction on preparing food so imperceptibly you barely feel the gear change.

 

San Francisco Album: Photographs, 1854-1856
by George Robinson Fardon
Published by Chronicle Books
176 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0811826309

It was originally produced in 1856 as San Francisco Album: Photographs of the Most Beautiful Views and Public Buildings of San Francisco, said to be "the first published compilation of photographs of any city in America." This edited and expanded edition includes large, handsome shots of California's premier town during its post-gold rush era, complete with ship masts cluttering the harbor, grandly pillared banks and a mostly bare Alcatraz Island (the U.S. Army didn't establish its fort -- later a prison -- there until 1859). There are also essays about photographer Fardon (who probably arrived in the Bay Area around 1850, and in 1859 left to work in Victoria, British Columbia) and about San Francisco society and politics in the 1850s (a period most memorable for its vigilante violence). A final section provides background notes about the buildings and people featured in Fardon's images. This is a must-have for readers enchanted by San Francisco's bawdy, boomtown past.

 

Bhutan: Kingdom of the Dragon
by Robert Dompnier
Published by Shambahala
177 pages, 1999
ISBN: 1570625107

Nestled snugly between Tibet and India, this tiny kingdom in the Himalayas is one of the most beautiful and untouched spots on earth. Independent since the 8th century, today Bhutan carefully guards its ancient culture and lifestyle. One of the results of this is the fact the very little has been published or recorded from that country. This makes Robert Dompnier's beautiful coffee table-style book on the country so much of a treat. Much of what Dompnier shows us in Bhutan has very seldom been seen outside of the country. And since Dompnier is thought to possess one of the largest collections of photographs of Bhutan, he is the perfect author to bring us this well considered view.

 

Music of the Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush: Songs and History
by Jean A. Murray
Published by University of Alaska Press
440 pages, 1999
ISBN: 1889963135

"I've got the Klondike fever/and it's settled in my head./And nothing in the world/will drive it out." So begins one of the songs that were popular during Canada's wild Klondike gold rush (1987-99), most of which haven't been heard very often over the last century. In Music of the Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush, Alaska resident Jean Murray resurrects this hopeful ditty along with more than 100 others. This is a significant addition to the already vast selection of books about the Klondike stampede and the subsequent gold rush in Nome, Alaska. It reminds us of how important entertainment was to the argonauts of the Far North. Miners required periodic relief from the drudgery of everyday digging and panning, so they would either sing to themselves or venture in to the nearest town, hoping to hear some scantily clad songbird belt out the lyrics to "The Belle of the Klondike," "You're Not the Only Pebble on the Beach," or "When the Ice Worms Nest Again." This book contains scores to all of the songs under discussion, along with reproductions of original sheet music covers.

 

Harley-Davidson Lore: Origins Through Panhead
by Herbert Wagner
Published by Chronicle Books
176 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0811825736

It's possible, apparently, to write poetry to Harley-Davidson motorcycles. At least, that would appear to be the case if you hang around with Harley enthusiasts at all. Or stand around a bookstore. The tomes dedicated to the subject seem to be without number. Harley-Davidson Lore is unlike any of them. A graceful foreword by Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum and an elegant preface by Herbert Wagner entitled "Harley Lore: Voices From the Past," are merely in place to set the stage -- albeit they do it quite successfully -- for the real meat of this book. The poetic meat, if you will, is the archival photographs from 1903 to 1965 that describe without words the evolution from mechanical beast to legend. Make no mistake: richly bound and wonderfully reproduced, Harley-Davidson Lore is a gift book. Only hardcore Harley fans need apply.

 

The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery
by Bruce F. Murphy
Published by St. Martin's Minotaur
543 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0312215541

For crime fiction readers who want to know more about the history of the genre, Bruce Murphy offers this intriguing and sometimes eccentric guide. In addition to covering well-recognized writers and works, the text supplies short studies of various subgenres (from cat mysteries and gay mysteries to celebrity whodunits); features items on famous criminal cases from the past; and includes entries about prominent authors (such as Robertson Davies and Daniel Defoe) who have made less-familiar contributions to mystery fiction or the study of crime. It's a pleasure just to leaf slowly through these pages, discovering characters who -- like Race Williams or S.F.X. Van Dusen, "The Thinking Machine" -- once attracted audiences, but have largely been forgotten since. It's only disappointing that Murphy left out a number of proven or promising talents -- Anne Perry, Gary Phillips, Edward Marston and Steven Saylor among them --as well as a variety of notable modern wordsmiths, such as Arthur Lyons, William J. Reynolds and Richard Hoyt, whose work deserves attention even if the authors haven't turned out anything new in some while. Perhaps they'll all make it into the next edition.

 

The Great Canadian Book of Lists
by Mark Kearney and Randy Ray
Published by Dundurn
326 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0888822138

The publisher of The Great Canadian Book of Lists insists that, despite the title, "This is not a shopping list of items, but a history of Canada -- in lists." However you decide to categorize it, it's a very entertaining book. For instance, did you know that Canada's first feature film was called Evangeline and premiered in Halifax in 1913? Or that the Spanish Influenza outbreak between 1918 and 1925 killed more than 50,000 Canadians and is still classified as one of the worst killer disasters? Or that, in 1986, Air Canada became the first North American carrier to ban smoking from its flights? Or that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats football team came into being when the Hamilton Tigers joined with the Hamilton Wildcats in 1950? Or that Pablum, snowmobiles, the paint roller, the zipper, the pacemaker and the anti-gravity suit were all Canadian inventions? If stuff like this interests you, The Great Canadian Book of Lists will, too.

 

Bastards & Boneheads: Canada's Glorious Leaders Past and Present
by Will Ferguson
Published by Douglas & McIntyre
326 pages, 1999
ISBN: 1550547372

If there's a Canadian curmudgeon on your list, Bastards & Boneheads is one to explore. Humorist Will Ferguson (author of Why I Hate Canadians ) looks at the country's political leaders and labels them as either -- you guessed it -- bastards or boneheads. Writes Ferguson, "... after years of research, often late into the night, I have developed a highly sophisticated scientific procedure for evaluating leadership. I call it 'Bastards and Boneheads.'" Of course, being Ferguson, his tongue stays firmly in his cheek throughout the book. But it is this writer's style to bring his own cheerful -- if slightly cynical -- energy to his work. Though Bastards & Boneheads will offend some, it will amuse more.

 

Over Canada: An Aerial Adventure
by Russ Heinl, Rosemary Neering and Bruce Obee
Published by Beautiful British Columbia
190 pages, 1999
ISBN: 0920431879

Project photographer Russ Heinl apparently wore out two Nikon F4 cameras while capturing the 90,000 images he made in the creation of Over Canada. Considering only 155 of this stupendous amount were actually used in the book, Heinl might want to consider more economical shooting practices or losing his motor drive. Though some of this culling worked impressively because Over Canada is nothing short of spectacular: a coffee table book fully the size of a generous end table with searing Canadian vistas -- all taken from the vantage point of a Eurocopter AS 355 F-1 Twinstar helicopter. The book's text is informative, but clearly second fiddle. The aerial photos take center stage here, and for good reason: no one has ever depicted Canada in quite this way.

 

Shipwrecks: An Encyclopedia of the World's Worst Disasters at Sea
by David Ritchie
Published by Checkmark Books
292 pages, 1999

Not a book of the coffee table variety, Shipwrecks will be of interest to those with a genuine and deep interest in the topic at hand. Light on illustrations but heavy on information, Shipwrecks truly is encyclopedic in tone and approach. Important wrecks and shipwreck facts are categorized alphabetically, though few are covered exhaustively: that would, perhaps, demand an encyclopedia with a lot more pages. Of interest, also, is the "Chronology of Shipwrecks," at the back of the book and an appendix with charts that illustrate fatalities. Interesting, however, that while the widely hullabalooed sinking of the Titanic is covered in great detail -- over two-and-a-half pages are devoted to that disaster -- the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in which between 6000 and 10,000 passengers lost their lives (making it the worst disaster in shipwreck history) is given only a very short paragraph.