Final resting place of THE BONANZA KING

Of the man. Hopefully not the book. ;-)

Yesterday, Scribner Associate Editor Sarah Goldberg made a pilgrimage out Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery to pay her respects to THE BONANZA KING, John William Mackay.

The bluff old miner would appreciate how hard Sarah and Editor-in-Chief Colin Harrison worked on the book. Both deserve heaps of credit. Both have my everlasting gratitude. Sarah forwarded these photos this morning. Clicking on the images enlarges them nicely. According to her, Mackay has by far the most impressive mausoleum in the cemetery, atop a shady hill.


Thanks, Sarah!


Booklist reviews THE BONANZA KING

Booklist, 6/1/2018: 

“In the history and mythology of the American West, the gold strike at Sutter’s Mill and subsequent California gold rush have iconic status. However, in terms of concentrated precious-metal wealth, the so-called Comstock Lode in the Sierra Nevada was unmatched in the nineteenth century, yielding more than $300 million in gold and silver. A chief developer and promoter of this treasure trove was an Irish immigrant, John Mackay. Raised in poverty in New York, he spent eight years digging unsuccessfully in California, then crossed the mountains to Nevada in 1859. When he died, in 1902, Mackay’s net worth, in adjusted terms, was well over $10 billion. According to Crouch (China’s Wings, 2010), Mackay was no robber baron. As one who had worked claims himself, he understood the needs and aspirations of his workers. In an age of industrial turmoil, he maintained harmonious relations with his employees, contributed heavily to charities, and fought against various monopolies as his business interests expanded. Crouch presents a well-written and laudatory biography of a remarkable and admirable man.” 

I’ll forgive them the few errors for that last sentence. However, the Comstock Lode is in the Virginia Range, not the Sierra Nevada; the modern emotional impact of Mackay’s net worth is more like $40-$60 billion (measured as an equivalent slice of GDP); and China’s Wings published in 2012.


“How to Read Nature” by Tristan Gooley, reviewed by Gregory Crouch

Here’s “What’s Written in the Wind,” my review of How to Read Nature by Tristan Gooley for The Wall Street Journal, December 16 & 17, 2017.



“[Mr. Gooley] leaves us with the shining insight that although it’s expected that we find “wonder in a vast mountain landscape,” and “a more serious challenge” to find it in a hill, “it is a great achievement to find it in a molehill.””

Click the image below to enlarge it for easy reading.

Here’s the full list of the 30 books I’ve reviewed for The Wall Street Journal (16), The Washington Post (4), The New York Times (1), NPR (3), and others (6).


“It Takes a Tribe” by Will Dean and Tim Adams, reviewed for the WSJ by Gregory Crouch

Here’s “Things You Don’t Tell Your Mudder,” my review of It Takes a Tribe by Will Dean and co-author Tim Adams in The Wall Street Journal, Friday, October 13, 2017.


Credit to National Geographic photographer and good friend Stephen Alvarez for his classic quip, “What could possibly go wrong?” We’ve done trips together to Oman and Iran, both with sky-high fiasco potential.

Clicking the image below should enlarge it to readable size.

Here’s the full list of the 29 books I’ve reviewed for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, and others.


“The House of Memory” by John Freely, reviewed by Gregory Crouch for the WSJ

Here’s “Beholding Hell Before Age 20,” my review of The House of Memory by John Freely in The Wall Street Journal on March 16, 2017.



(Clicking the picture below should enlarge the story to reading size.)

Here’s the full list of the 27 books I’ve reviewed for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, and others.


More on the Electoral College

Building on yesterday’s post about why we have the Electoral College.

This comes out of the Electoral College Facebook thread I started. (Lots of interesting commentary within.)

I get that people don’t think it’s fair that Presidential votes in one state seem to be worth more than Presidential votes from another state. But guess what? IT’S TRUE! They are. In order to help illustrate why, I’m going to post a grossly oversimplified string of arguments from the Constitutional Convention when the framers were trying to settle on a system of government that would make it possible for 13 individual, independent states to surrender power to a federal government:

BIG STATES: We should elect presidents based on a nationwide popular vote.

SMALL STATES: NO! We don’t have many people. That would  subject us to the tyranny of the big states. All states are equal, we should elect presidents based on one vote per state.

BIG STATES: NO! We have many more people and will contribute much more to the national treasury. That would subject us to the tyranny of the small states.

ALL STATES: What do we do? It is clearly in all of our best interests if we can form one unified country so that we can live in peace, secure the blessings of liberty, and enjoy the incredible benefits of free commercial intercourse between us. Perhaps we can find some compromise that allows us to join together?

And after much discussion, they design a system called the Electoral College that gives the votes of the small states a slightly larger weighting in the national presidential election and the big states a slightly smaller weighting.

SMALL STATES: Well, this is still kind of a drag for us because we still don’t have a very big say in Presidential elections, but it’s better than it was and the BENEFITS OF UNION should be pretty huge. I guess we can live with this.

BIG STATES: Yeah, it’s kind of a drag for us, too, but because we still have the great preponderance of Electoral College votes and the BENEFITS OF UNION greatly outweigh the cost to us of a decrease in the weight of our votes in national presidential elections, we can live with it, too.

ALL STATES: Great! Let’s ratify this thing.

The Electoral College is part of THE ORIGINAL COMPROMISE that made it possible for 13 independent states to come together and form THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Feel free to revise it–if you can get three-quarters of the states to agree.

So how does the Electoral College do that, and how large are the distortions caused? My friend Anna Birdy Ball asked that question. She lives in South Dakota, I live in California, and therein lies an excellent example:

First, the how:

Each state gets one Electoral College vote for each member it has in the United States Congress. So, 2 senators from each state, which every state gets regardless of its population, plus the number of members of the House of Representatives as determined by the US Census conducted every ten years.

Since every state has at least one member of the House of Representatives and two senators, no state has less than 3 votes in the Electoral College (including Washington, DC).

The key to bumping up the influence of the small states (and diluting the power of the big states) in the EC is those senatorial votes because the +2 given to the small states is much more proportionally significant than the +2 for the large states.

Back to Anna’s example (using statistics from the 2012 election):

There are 538 Electoral votes in the United States. South Dakota has three of them. So South Dakota has a .0055 say in the Presidential election. (Six tenths of a percent, rounding up; note that this is a lot less than the 1 vote per state method, which would give SD a 2% say.)

In  2012, SD had 528,621 registered voters, out of 146,311,000 registered voters in the United States, which means that South Dakota would have had a .0036 say in a popular vote Presidential election. (Four-tenths of a percent, rounding up.)

As for California, we had 11.8% of the registered voters (again 2012), and our 55 EV’s were worth 10.2% of the EC total. And since 270 EC votes are all that are needed to push a candidate over the top, California has fully a 20% say in the election of a President. (Holy cow, that’s a lot! Even if our per capita votes are weighted slightly less than those in South Dakota and other small states.)

So South Dakota electoral votes are worth 33.33% MORE in the Electoral College system than they would be in a popular vote presidential election (the difference between 4 tenths of a percent and 6 tenths of a percent), and California’s votes are worth about 10% LESS than they would be in a nationwide popular vote election. Which feels just about right in terms of what is the maximum “bump” large states would be willing to allow small states to have and the maximum “dip” they would allow their own votes to suffer because they still have a relatively large share of the national total.

And even with the distortions intentionally caused by the Electoral College, California has more than 10% of the say and South Dakota has less than 1%.

(Hopefully, I’ve done the maths correctly.)

BTW: Alaska, North Dakota, Washington, DC, Vermont, and Wyoming all have smaller populations that South Dakota. They are all 3 EV places, so their electoral votes will be proportionally more “heavy” than South Dakota’s in the above example.


The Electoral College–why we have it

In my social media feeds this morning, I’ve seen a lot about how we should replace the Electoral College system for electing Presidents with “the popular vote.” It’s point #5 in Michael Moore’s “Morning After” prescription for Democrats.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out that the electoral college system was an essential part of the plan that got the original 13 states to surrender some of their sovereignty to the federal government and ratify the Constitution of the United States. There is NO WAY the small states would have agreed to a popular vote system in 1787 -1789 and there is NO WAY they would agree to it today–its practical effect would be to disenfranchise them in presidential elections.

No electoral college system–no Constitution–no United States of America, simple as that.

Look at our name: we are not “America.”

We are “The United States of America.” The electoral college system (or something like it) was (and is) the only compromise acceptable to both small and large states. Getting rid of a system expressly designed to preserve the voice of small states in Presidential elections is such a non-starter that it isn’t worth wasting energy over.

(For what it’s worth, Abraham Lincoln, often considered our best President, received 39.9% of the popular vote in 1860. You can look it up. They were almost perfectly distributed to translate into electoral college votes.)