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The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold… (2011)

by Howard Blum

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2037122,766 (4.08)9
Using primary source materials from three individuals around whom the narrative revolves, best-selling author Blum tells a story of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.

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1897 Klondike Gold Rush told in three separate narratives. One follows a diligent Pinkerton man, another a con-man and thief and then there is George Carmack, a hard-working miner that first discovers the bonanza on the Klondike river. This is solid narrative nonfiction. I also loved the rough and tumble Alaska setting, which the author captures vividly. Good audio pick too. ( )
  msf59 | Mar 3, 2021 |
Three frontier archetypes circle warily in this account, which culminates in a show-down between lawbreakers and vigilantes in the streets of Skagway, Alaska, at the height of the Yukon gold rush. There is the lawman, the law-breaking cut-throat, and the gold miner who struck it rich – and whose lives entangle and intersect at odd intervals, first in the wild west of the 1870s and 1880s, and then in the gold fields, mines, and ramshackle mining towns of Alaska. All three were real, and left fairly well-documented lives, although it is the lawman, Charlie Sirinigo, the cowboy-turned-Pinkerton who left the most material about himself. The other two – George Carmack, the gold miner, and Jeff “Soapy” Smith, the criminal mastermind and grafter – came to Alaska seeking a fortune; in the case of Soapy Smith – someone elses’ fortune would do, thank you. Charlie Siringo is just doing a job, tracking down stolen gold: sternly ethical, persistent – and a very fast draw.

The back-stories and adventures of all three are meticulously outlined; has been a gift to the historian and the historian that there were so many absolutely true yet incredible adventures, and so many outsized personalities that one hardly ever has to make anything up, when writing about this era on the western frontier. Considered on that basis, this is a fascinating read . . . but it seems a little juiceless, even with such little touches as the proper form for drinking alone in a gold-rush era saloon. (Eyes down, on your drink and don’t display unseemly curiosity about the other patrons). One gets very little sense of place; of the weather, of how it would have felt, trekking through the mud and snow, of how places would have smelt, of how the twilight nights on the Arctic Circle would have looked at high summer. There is a lot of ‘tell’ . . . but not all that much ‘show’, to put the reader vividly into that time. If a writer is going to go through the trouble of relating how the characters felt, and what they said – why not go all the way, and really make a ripping good adventure out of it, putting the reader smack into the middle of events.

This review was based on an uncorrected proof, provided as an advance copy. One particular item which I would hope would be corrected in the final – is that George Carmack was many times described as having deserted from service in the Marines, as in that element which serves on board ships of the naval service. In many cases, ‘marine’ was left un-capitalized, and so was ‘navy’ – where it should have been capitalized, especially as it was referring to a military service of the United States.
( )
  CeliaHayes | Dec 30, 2017 |
Skagway! The Dead Horse Trail! Chilicoot Pass! The Klondike! For a boy growing up in the Pacific Northwest during the 1950s, what words could ever be as evocative of adventure and primal struggle? Stories of the Klondike gold rush filled my ears when I was a youngster and stuck me with a life-long interest. When I heard Howard Blum had taken these tales and the fog-obscured facts surrounding their inception to task and written a factual history, I was equally amused and anxious. Tall tales reduced to history? Really?

My pre-read amusement was dashed as I poured through his fiction-like prose. Here was historic detail and recorded fact presented as a novelist would. Fresh. Immediate. Fully engaging. My anxiety over discovering that my childhood take on this visceral time would be destroyed, vanished. I read on and on, re-discovering the tales I had grown up with, now in three dimensions. Strong, vibrant and every bit as fantastic as they were when I first heard little snatches of them as a child.

Blum's cast of characters, were very carefully chosen and beautifully rendered as living, breathing Americans with all their warts intact. Though their exploits and legends made them giants in a young boy's mind, their actual exploits, now digested from an adult's perspective, were writ even larger in Blum's pages. A very human understanding of motivation and regret fuels the writing and it rarely disappoints.

From the author's use of period vernacular in the voice of the narrative, to his thorough research, to his very organic analysis of the times and the character of the people who took the risk and traveled north, Heaven's Floor is the best reflection of the times, its dreams and its rewards, I have ever read. For anyone with an interest in the transition years ending the nineteenth century, as we became a nation of industry while the frontier dwindled, this is a must read; as it should be for anyone who grew up on tales of striking it rich in the Klondike and Sgt. Preston of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Yukon. ( )
1 vote Richard.Sutton | Jun 20, 2014 |
The story presented here had great potential and a large scope about a very interesting time in US history. Unfortunately the presentation was fairly witless and generally dull. Blum manages to drain the color from what was potentially an extremely vivid and varied bouquet of characters. The book was quite a disappointment and has convinced me to avoid other works by this author. ( )
  scottapeshot | Mar 28, 2013 |
I loved this book. It starts slow, and at times throughout the book it drags, so -1 star, but many of the stories were riveting. I wouldn't take this book as gospel truth but it was a great read.

I listen to books often on long trips and this book "took me away" for hours; time flew by listening to the frontier detective stories of Charlie Siringo (spelling?) and the Klondike gold-seeking stories of George Carmack. Many of the stories were a bit ...um... stretched? slanted?... No matter, all history is slanted by those who lived to tell the stories. Who knows what the "real truth" is in a lot of oral stories handed down!?. Regardless of the nitty-gritty details, there were generations of people in history who were really tough rugged individuals and just hearing the stories of these frontier men who lived in the Yukon and survived the cold and snow as if it were "no big deal" boggles my mind.

Highly recommend this book if you like good "virtually true" stories of the "wild wild (U.S.) west" history. ( )
  marshapetry | Nov 8, 2012 |
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Using primary source materials from three individuals around whom the narrative revolves, best-selling author Blum tells a story of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.

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