The Bonanza King

“A monumentally researched biography of one of the 19th century’s wealthiest self-made Americans…Well-written and worthwhile…John Mackay spent a lifetime defying odds.” Wall Street Journal

“No one does a better job than Crouch when he explores the subject of mining, and no one does a better job than he when he describes the hardscrabble lives of miners.” —San Francisco Chronicle


The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle Over the Greatest Riches in the American West

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“In the annals of American capitalism, there is probably no crazier, wilder, more chaotic, boom-to-bust-and-back-again phenomenon than the Comstock Lode. Gregory Crouch has given us the definitive story of the man who clawed his way to the top of all that madness, and he has done it in a way that makes for irresistible reading.” —S.C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell


The Comstock mining claims ran right through the heart of Virginia City. Once upon a time, this was the richest place on earth

“The cattle towns of Dodge City and Cheyenne have lodged in American memory as epitomizing the “wild West,” but they were sedate as 1950s Scarsdale in comparison with the silver Golconda of Washoe, which contained the Comstock Lode—in the 1860s, the richest couple of square miles on earth. In the struggle to extract the metal from Nevada’s impervious rock, and to own it once it was out, Gregory Crouch finds a story of violence and high color and national significance, a tale of industrial genius and breathtaking rascality that is engrossing from start to finish. Crouch’s swift, strong, lucid prose makes problems of metallurgy and mineshaft framing seem as lively as a gunfight, and the rise of his Irish immigrant hero, John Mackay, from the mire of a New York City slum to become one of the wealthiest men in the world has all the elements of a preposterous fantasy—save that it is entirely true. Moreover, in a brass-knuckles era of peril and general scurrility, Mackay was always as honest as he was tough, and so among its many other pleasures The Bonanza King offers a heartening saga of virtue rewarded.” —Richard Snow, author of Iron Dawn and I Invented the Modern Age

Virginia City in the bonanza times. (The Con. Virginia hoisting works in the next image are right in the center of the picture.)
The hoisting works of the Consolidated Virginia Mine, the mine which made John Mackay one of the richest men in the world

“There are plenty of marvelous legends that surround the gold rushes of California and Alaska, the copper mines of Arizona, and the silver deposits of Deadwood and Leadville. But in the end, there was only one Comstock Lode—and like the men who hacked out the ore chambers more than a thousand feet beneath Virginia City, Gregory Crouch has brought to the surface a glittering, grit-encrusted, and utterly glorious tribute to the greatest trove of precious metals ever discovered in the United States. The Bonanza King drills unerringly through the human themes that cut across the heart of this narrative, from ambition and corruption to ingenuity and greed, braiding together a saga whose jaw-dropping scope and monumental history are worthy of the American West itself.”  —Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile

“Crouch’s comprehensive narrative combines the history of Nevada’s bustling Comstock Mine with the tale of how penniless miner John Mackay became a famous multimillionaire. The book’s first half establishes background on the life of miners and the technical elements of mining. Mackay takes center stage in the second half, rising from poverty (so abject that the family shared quarters with its pig) to form a partnership that eventually built a very successful mine operations company. Since the former miner was a man of few words (and had a stutter), Crouch lets Mackay’s work speak for him, showing how his firsthand mining knowledge gave him a competitive edge: while other mining companies engaged in speculation over mine stocks, Mackay focused on the tangible ore itself and was shielded from a major economic bust in 1860. The taciturn Irishman also enjoyed an unconventional but happy personal life; Crouch provides an admirably well-rounded description of Mackay’s wife Louise’s difficult early life and the balance that she offered him, despite their living apart most of the time. Helpful footnotes relate historical sites to modern landmarks or locations. This is a thorough tribute to the life and work of an honest man who earned his fortune and kept his good name in an era of fierce competition and astounding corruption. (June)—Publishers Weekly, 05/07/2018

1869 map of the Kentuck mine, the tiny slice of the Comstock Lode from which Mackay made his first “raise.”
Comstock miners, three youngsters who might have worked as pick carriers or engineers assistants, and a dog wearing a miner’s slouch hat

“Admirers of scrupulous entrepreneurship will find much of value in this book…full of useful pointers on how to treat people and build an enduring legacy and fortune.” —Kirkus Reviews

“. . . a well-written and laudatory biography of a remarkable and admirable man.”               —Booklist

“. . . paints a striking picture of how one man’s hard work and ingenuity forever altered the West.” —Noozhawk

“No one does a better job than Crouch when he explores the subject of mining, and no one does a better job than he when he describes the hardscrabble lives of miners.” San Francisco Chronicle

Pre-order THE BONANZA KING at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booksamillion, or Indiebound, or through any other bookseller.