William Martin - Tor/Forge Blog

December ’41 Playlist!

December '41William Martin is a master of the historical thriller. Nothing proves that more than his gripping new novel December ‘41, the story of a desperate manhunt in the first weeks of the Second World War. Martin has put together the playlist below to take you back to the 40s. Included are artists mentioned in the book like the Andrews Sisters as well as music that evokes locations and events discussed by the characters. All in all, it’s an unforgettable trip to the past. 

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  1. FDR’s Infamy Speech from Dec. 8, 1941. Click here to see the full video recording. 
  2. Max Steiner, Warner Bros. Fanfare. Click here to see the video recording.
  3. Glenn Miller, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”
  4. Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra, “Blue Skies” 
  5. Glenn Miller, “String of Pearls.”
  6. Dooley Wilson, “As Time Goes By”
  7. Benny Goodman, “Sing, Sing, Sing”
  8. Paul Dukas, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” 
  9. Beethoven, “Symphony #6, Pastoral” Allegra ma non troppo
  10. James Cagney, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”
  11. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, “Robin Hood Suite” 
  12. Gene Autry, “You Are My Sunshine”
  13. Marlene Dietrich, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have” 
  14. Benny Goodman, “Moonglow” 
  15. Glen Miller, “Sunrise Serenade” 
  16. Max Steiner, “Gone With The Wind”
  17. Artie Shaw, “Stardust”
  18. Artie Shaw, “Begin the Beguine”
  19. Andrews Sisters, “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen”
  20. Andrews Sisters,  “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” 
  21. Sons of the Pioneers, “Cool, Cool Water”
  22. Marine Band, “Deck the Halls
  23. The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, “Oh, Come, All ye Faithful”
  24. The Band Of H.M. Royal Marines, Chichester Cathedral Choir, “Joy to the World”
  25. FDR and Churchill light the Tree. Click here to see the video recording.

Click below to pre-order your copy of December ’41, coming June 7th, 2022!

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Excerpt: December ’41 by William Martin

December '41From New York Times bestselling author William Martin comes a WWII thriller as intense as The Day of the Jackal and as gripping as The Eye of the Needle. In December ’41, Martin takes us on the ultimate manhunt, a desperate chase from Los Angeles to Washington, D. C., in the first weeks of the Second World War.

On the day after Pearl Harbor, shocked Americans gather around their radios to hear Franklin Roosevelt declare war. In Los Angeles, a German agent named Martin Browning is planning to kill FDR on the night he lights the National Christmas Tree. Who will stop him? Relentless FBI Agent Frank Carter? Kevin Cusack, a Hollywood script reader who also spies on the German Bund of Los Angeles, and becomes a suspect himself? Or Vivian Hopewell, the aspiring actress who signs on to play Martin Browning’s wife and cannot help but fall in love with him?

The clock is ticking. The tracks are laid. The train of narrow escapes, mistaken identities, and shocking deaths is right on schedule. It’s a thrilling ride that will sweep you from the back lots of Hollywood to the speeding Super Chief to that solemn Christmas Eve, when twenty thousand people gather on the South Lawn of the White House and the lives of Franklin Roosevelt and his surprise guest, Winston Churchill, hang in the balance.

December ’41 will be available on June 7th, 2022. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


It was the largest radio audience in history.

On the cold coast of Maine, they were listening. Down on Wall Street, trading stopped so they could listen. On assembly lines in Detroit, they were taking long lunches so the autoworkers could listen. In Chicago, the butchers stopped slaughtering in the stockyards to listen. In Kansas and Nebraska and Iowa, where they grew corn and wheat enough to feed the world, now that the rains had returned and the dust had stopped blowing, the farmers were listening there, too.

In all the places where the muscle and sinew of America bound one state or town or family to another, they were listening for the warm baritone and patrician inflections that somehow never sounded too upper-crusty coming out of the radio…

…because America had awakened that morning to the cold reality of war, war in every time zone, war encircling the earth, war once more as the original human fact.

In Hawaii, U.S. Navy battleships burned beneath great funerary clouds of black oil smoke. In the far Pacific, Japanese troops attacked along every line of latitude and longitude. In swirling blizzards of blood and snow, Russians and Germans slaughtered each other before Moscow. Across Europe, jackboots echoed and resistance guttered, while U-boats stalked freighters on the roiling gray Atlantic. But Americans were listening because Franklin Roosevelt was about to make sense of it all.

In Washington, the CBS radio announcer was describing the packed House chamber, the tense atmosphere . . . when suddenly his voice rose: “Now, ladies and gentlemen, the president is appearing and moving toward the podium.”

And from out of deep-bass consoles and tinny tabletop radios in every corner of the country, a roar exploded, something between a cheer and an angry shout, the harsh, hard, ferocious cry of Americans lifting themselves from shock and drawing strength from the president who’d lifted himself from a wheelchair and by remarkable force of will was appearing upright before them.

When the roar receded, the Speaker announced, “Senators and Representatives, I have the distinguished honor of presenting the president of the United States.”

More cheers and shouts, then Franklin Roosevelt’s voice rang out, firm, confident, indignant: “Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. . . .”

In the West, radio stations had gone off the air the night before so that Japanese bombers couldn’t home in on the broadcasts.

But now, Roosevelt’s voice rolled across deserts, up and over mountain ranges, and down into the warm green dream of Southern California, down along boulevards laid like gridwork atop lettuce fields and orange groves, down onto long, straight, relentless thoroughfares that ended where scrub-covered hillsides leaped up to define and divide the expanse of Los Angeles, down into offices and coffee shops and cars where people were listening, unaware that as Roosevelt spoke, a Nazi assassin was shooting at targets in a local canyon and planning the most daring act of the age, unaware also that before it was over, he would draw many of them into his dark orbit.


One of them, a young man named Kevin Cusack, was listening in the Warner Bros. story department. He and his friends should have been working. They were the gang who read the plays and novels sent out from New York, then synopsized them and offered opinions. A pile of books and manuscripts lay on the table. But Jack L. Warner himself was probably listening, so why shouldn’t they?

Kevin’s next assignment: a play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s. He didn’t hold much hope for it. All he needed to read was the story editor’s one-liner: “A love triangle set in wartime Casablanca.” He hated love triangles. But when you worked on the bottom rung in the story department for a buck twelve an hour, you took what they gave you.

And the job was good cover, along with his Irish surname and dark Irish brow. His friends in the German American Bund loved that he worked by day in a “nest of Hollywood Jews,” then went down to Deutsches Haus, the Bund hall, to drink German beer and deliver the gossip every night. If they’d known that he was really a spy who passed information to the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee, who then passed it to the FBI, those jolly Germans might have killed him.

But he felt safe at the studio. When Roosevelt said, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,” Kevin cheered right along with those congressmen and senators back in Washington.

So did all the others around the conference table. Jerry Sloane, an emotional kind of guy, wiped away a tear. Sally Drake, the only female in the room, the girl with the Vassar accent and Katharine Hepburn slacks, put her fingers in her mouth and gave out with a big ballpark whistle. Pretty good for a college girl.

Kevin liked Sally. He liked her a lot. So did Jerry. And Jerry seemed to be winning. Maybe that was why Kevin hated love triangles.


Over on West Olive, Big Time Breakfast of Burbank was pumping out the all-American aromas of bacon and coffee. In some small ways, life went on as usual on the day after Pearl Harbor. People got hungry. People got thirsty. People dreamed of better days. But in the booths and at the counter, conversation and plate-scraping stopped as soon as the president’s voice came out of the radio. Now all the day players and studio hands were listening, except for one young woman in a yellow dress who sat at the end of the counter, sipped her coffee, and stared into space.

Vivian Hopewell didn’t have money for breakfast, not in a restaurant anyway. She barely had money for a bowl of cornflakes at home, if that’s what you could call a single in a crummy Glendale rooming house.

Rattling around in her purse were three nickels, two dimes, and an envelope containing one glossy headshot. She always carried a headshot. A girl had to be ready. Now that there was a war on, maybe she’d catch a break. Folks back home always said she looked like a young Marlene Dietrich. Maybe that Germanic bone structure might appeal to some casting director who needed a Nazi villainess.

But in the brown paper bag at her feet she carried a pair of white, rubber-soled flats and a gray uniform dress, to show that she knew how to wait tables, too, from back when she was just plain Kathy Schortmann of Annapolis, Maryland.

The owner had already given her the bad news: he’d hired somebody else. “She ain’t quite so pretty as you, so she ain’t likely to go runnin’ across the street if she gets a walk-on in some cheapo serial.”

“Across the street” was Gate 4, a breach in the wall surrounding the Warner Bros. soundstages that were more beautiful to Vivian than the Taj Mahal . . . and just as remote. And it was true. If she ever got a role—good girl, bad girl, or background-broad bit part—she’d be gone from that breakfast counter before she untied her apron.

So she finished her coffee and stepped out into the sunshine. At least there was always sunshine. It made the disappointment easier to take. She glanced again at Gate 4, then checked the bus schedule back to Glendale. Maybe she’d hitch a ride and save a nickel. Or maybe she’d walk. It was only six miles, and she had her waitress shoes.

Click below to pre-order your copy of December ’41, coming 06.07.22!

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$2.99 eBook Sale: Irish Gold and The Rising of the Moon

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! To help celebrate, two of our favorite Irish mysteries are on sale for $2.99 the whole month of March! Learn more about Irish Gold by Andrew M. Greeley and The Rising of the Moon by William Martin below.

Image Place holder  of - 3About Irish Gold:

Bestselling novelist Andrew M. Greeley outdoes his previous triumphs with Irish Gold, a contemporary, fresh and exciting novel of suspense and love. 

Nuala Anne McGrail, a student at Dublin’s Trinity College, is beautiful the way a Celtic goddess is beautiful – not that Dermot Michael Coyne of Chicago has ever seen one of those in his twenty-five years – unless you count his grandmother Nell, who left Ireland during the Troubles with her husband Liam O’Riada, and who would never tell why they left. Somebody else remembers, though – or why is Dermot set upon by thugs?

Order Your Copy


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Place holder  of - 44About The Rising of the Moon:

Boston, 1916.

Irish immigrant Tom Tracy has nearly everything he’s ever wanted—a promising political career as an aide to the city’s mayor and the love of a beautiful woman, Rachel Levka. When his lusty cousin, Padraic Starr, arrives from Galway on a mission for the Irish rebellion, Tom’s world unravels.

Padraic convinces Tom to return to his homeland to join the cause and avenge his father’s death. Padraic’s convictions also inspire Rachel, a fervent Zionist, who finds herself powerfully drawn to him. All three set sail for Ireland loaded with guns and ammunition. On Easter Sunday 1916, love, loyalty, and history collide in violence that will change their lives forever.

Order Your Copy




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These sales end 3/31/2020 at 11:59 pm.


On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events in August

Tor/Forge authors are on the road in August! See who is coming to a city near you this month.

Lara Elena Donnelly, Armistice

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Sunday, August 12
Brookline Booksmith
Brookline, MA
2:00 PM

Mary Robinette Kowal, The Calculating Stars & The Fated Sky

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Wednesday, August 1
Firefly Fibers Art Studio
Chicago, IL
4:00 PM
Yarn Crawl Meet and Greet

Tuesday, August 21
Poisoned Pen
Scottsdale, AZ
7:00 PM
Discussion and Signing with John Scalzi

Monday, August 27
Left Bank Books
St. Louis, MO
7:00 PM

David D. Levine, Arabella the Traitor of Mars

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Wednesday, August 1st
Powell’s Books
Beaverton, OR
7:00 PM

Friday, August 3rd
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA
6:00 PM

William Martin, Bound for Gold

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Thursday, August 16th
An Unlikely Story
Plainville, MA
7:00 PM

Sunday, August 19th
Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library
Kennebunkport, ME
2:00 PM

Thursday, August 23rd
Wilmington Memorial Library
Wilmington, MA
7:00 PM

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Trust Me

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Tuesday, August 28th
Brookline Booksmith
Brookline, MA
7:00 PM

Wednesday, August 29th
Poisoned Pen
Scottsdale, AZ
7:00 PM
In conversation with Steve Hamilton.


5 Mysteries to Take You Back in Time This Summer

Whether you’re enjoying the summer heat or hiding indoors with the air conditioning on, it’s the perfect season to catch up on your reading. We love both historical fiction and pulse-pounding thrillers – so here are some books that perfectly combine the two, from the end of the 18th century to the tumultuous days of World War II.

Bound for Gold by William Martin

Poster Placeholder of - 73 Rare-book dealer Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington, are headed to California in search of a lost journal. The journal follows young James Spencer, of the Sagamore Mining Company, on a spectacular journey from staid Boston, up the Sacramento River to the Mother Lode, searching for a “lost river of gold.”

Peter and Evangeline quickly discover that there’s something much bigger and more dangerous going on, and Peter’s son is in the middle of it. Turns out, that lost river of gold may be more than a myth.

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

Image Placeholder of - 49 In 1865 Boston, the literary geniuses of the Dante Club—poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, along with publisher J. T. Fields—are finishing America’s first translation of The Divine Comedy and preparing to unveil Dante’s remarkable visions to the New World.

The members of the Dante Club fight to keep a sacred literary cause alive, but their plans fall apart when a series of murders erupts through Boston and Cambridge. Only this small group of scholars realizes that the gruesome killings are modeled on the descriptions of Hell’s punishments from Dante’s Inferno. With the lives of the Boston elite and Dante’s literary future in America at stake, the Dante Club members must find the killer before the authorities discover their secret.

The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

Place holder  of - 42 Seven years after a financial crisis nearly toppled America, traders chafe at government regulations, racial tensions are rising, gangs roam the streets and corrupt financiers make back-door deals with politicians… 1799 was a hell of a year.

Thanks to Alexander Hamilton, America has recovered from the panic on the Devil’s Half Mile (aka Wall Street), but the young country is still finding its way. When young lawyer Justy Flanagan returns to solve his father’s murder, he exposes a massive fraud that has already claimed lives, and one the perpetrators are determined to keep secret at any cost. The body count is rising, and the looming crisis could topple the nation.

The One Man by Andrew Gross

Image Place holder  of - 82 Bursting with compelling characters and tense story lines, this historical thriller is a deeply affecting, unputdownable series of twists and turns through a landscape at times horrifyingly familiar but still completely new and compelling.

Poland. 1944. Alfred Mendl and his family are brought on a crowded train to a Nazi concentration camp after being caught trying to flee Paris with forged papers. His family is torn away from him on arrival, his life’s work burned before his eyes. To the guards, he is just another prisoner, but in fact Mendl—a renowned physicist—holds knowledge that only two people in the world possess.

Speakeasy by Alisa Smith

Placeholder of  -24 Thirty-year-old Lena Stillman is living a perfectly respectable life when a shocking newspaper headline calls up her past: it concerns her former lover, charismatic bank robber Bill Bagley. A romantic and charming figure, Lena had tried to forget him by resuming her linguistic studies, which led to her recruitment as a Navy code-breaker intercepting Japanese messages during World War II.

But can Lena keep her own secrets? Threatening notes and the appearance of an old diary that recalls her gangster days are poised to upset her new life.


New Releases: 7/3/18

Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

Bound for Gold by William Martin

Image Placeholder of - 45 Bound for Gold continues William Martin’s epic of American history with the adventures of Boston rare-book dealer Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington. They are headed to California, where their search for a lost journal takes them into the history of Gold Rush. The journal follows young James Spencer, of the Sagamore Mining Company, on a spectacular journey from staid Boston, up the Sacramento River to the Mother Lode. During his search for a “lost river of gold,” Spencer confronts vengeance, greed, and racism in himself and others, and builds one of California’s first mercantile empires.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Poster Placeholder of - 58 On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Image Place holder  of - 38 Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry.

Max’s Story by W. Bruce Cameron

Place holder  of - 92 Meet Max—a very special dog with a very important purpose.

As soon as he sets eyes on CJ, Max knows that she’s his girl and quickly figures out his purpose: to show her how to navigate the big city. Being a native New Yorker, Max knows how to take charge, even though he’s the smallest dog at the park. At the same time, with CJ’s help, Max learns that he doesn’t always have to be ferocious—sometimes, he can be “gentle Max” and make friends.


Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest (Manga) Vol. 2 Story by Ryo Shirakome; Art by RoGa

Cutie Honey: The Classic Collection Story and art by Go Nagai

Go For It, Nakamura! Story and art by Syundei

Harukana Receive Vol. 1 Story and art by Nyoijizai

Mushroom Girls in Love Story and art by Kei Murayama


On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events in July

Tor/Forge authors are on the road in July! See who is coming to a city near you this month.

Elizabeth Bear, Stone Mad

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Friday, July 13th
Brookline Booksmith
Brookline, MA
7:00 PM

Ruthanna Emrys, Deep Roots

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Tuesday, July 10th
East City Bookshop
Washington, DC
6:30 PM

W. Bruce Cameron, Max’s Story

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Thursday, July 5th
River Falls Library
River Falls, WI
10:30 AM
Books provided by Chapter 2 Books.

Thursday, July 5th
Angel’s Pet World
Hudson, WI
5:00 PM
Books provided by Chapter 2 Books.

Saturday, July 7th
St. Louis County Library
St. Louis, MO
1:00 PM
Books provided by The Novel Neighbor.

Sunday, July 8th
Anderson’s Bookshop
Naperville, IL
2:00 PM

Jacqueline Carey, Starless

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Monday, July 16th
Herrick District Library
Holland, MI
7:00 PM

Sherrilyn Kenyon, Death Doesn’t Bargain

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Tuesday, July 17th
Barnes & Noble
San Diego, CA
7:00 PM

Orly Konig, Carousel Beach

Thursday, July 5th
Browseabout Books
Rehoboth Beach, DE
1:00 PM
Also with Shelley Noble.

Thursday, July 5th
Bethany Beach Books
Bethany Beach, DE
6:30 PM

Nancy Kress, If Tomorrow Comes

Wednesday, July 11th
Elliott Bay Book Company
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM
Also with Daryl Gregory and Django Wexler.

William Martin, Bound for Gold

Tuesday, July 10th
Book Passage
San Francisco, CA
6:00 PM

Tuesday, July 17th
Harvard Book Store
Cambridge, MA
7:00 PM

Wednesday, July 18th
Sandwich Library
Sandwich, MA
7:00 PM
Books provided by Titcomb’s Bookshop.

Friday, July 20th
Brewster Bookstore
Brewster, MA
10:00 AM

Saturday, July 21st
Yellow Umbrella
Chatham, MA
12:00 PM

Tuesday, July 31st
Avon Free Public Library
Avon, CT
6:30 PM

Jessica Pennington, Love Songs and Other Lies

Saturday, July 14th
Chicago Public Library
Chicago, IL
2:00 PM
Also with Megan Bannen, Nisha Sharma, and Sarah Henning.

Sunday, July 15th
Anderson’s Bookshop
La Grange, IL
2:00 PM
Also with Christina June, Laurie Devore, Stacey Kade, and Gloria Chao.

Veronica Rossi, Seeker

Tuesday, July 10th
Books Inc
Alameda, CA
7:00 PM
In conversation with Jeff Giles and S.J. Kincaid.


Start Reading Bound for Gold by William Martin

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Place holder  of - 67 Bound for Gold continues New York Timesbestselling author William Martin’s epic of American history with the further adventures of Boston rare-book dealer Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington. They are headed to California, where their search for a lost journal takes them into the history of Gold Rush. The journal follows young James Spencer, of the Sagamore Mining Company, on a spectacular journey from staid Boston, up the Sacramento River to the Mother Lode. During his search for a “lost river of gold,” Spencer confronts vengeance, greed, and racism in himself and others, and builds one of California’s first mercantile empires.

In the present, Peter Fallon’s son asks his father for help appraising the rare books in the Spencer estate and reconstructing Spencer’s seven-part journal, which has been stolen from the California Historical Society. Peter and Evangeline head for modern San Francisco and quickly discover that there’s something much bigger and more dangerous going on, and Peter’s son is in the middle of it. Turns out, that lost river of gold may be more than a myth.

Past and present intertwine as two stories of the eternal struggle for power and wealth become one.

Bound for Gold will be available on July 3rd. Please enjoy this excerpt.


James Spencer did not sleep well in the hours before dawn. Old men seldom did. So he was half awake when the first shock struck.

It came from somewhere out in the deep Pacific. It rolled in under the Sutro Cliffs, then ran along California Street, rumbled through the foundation of his big house, climbed the grand staircase, and vibrated right into the springs of his four-poster bed.

Everything shook, as if the ice wagon had missed the porch and backed into a corner post.

Nothing more than a good, hard jolt, he thought. Just part of living in California.

But that was not his only thought. In the fitful darkness, James Spencer’s mind worked like one of those cheap Chinatown kaleidoscopes. Every twist of his body on the bed and every turn of his head on the pillow brought a new image to his brain.

Was it the jolt that woke him? Or the dog barking down in the street? Or was it the dream? The recurring Boston dream? The nocturnal journey to the Arbella Club, where James Spencer’s father hung forever in a full-length portrait? He could see the eyes scowling down from that portrait even then, even there, three thousand miles and almost six decades away.

And why were so many dogs barking now, up the hill and down and inside the house across the street?

Then he realized what had awakened him. Not the dogs. Not the dream. Not the jolt. He had to piss . . . again. The never-ending need of an old man to piss was a merciless thing.

And what time was it, anyway? Still too dark to see the clock by the bed. But a little after five, he figured, because the sky was brightening. It was springtime in San Francisco, which meant it was springtime in the Sierra, too. The rivers would be running fast, pushing gold flakes over the gravel as they had for thousands of years, long before a sluice-tender plucked a pea-sized nugget from the tailrace at Sutter’s Mill and brought the world to California.

Maybe if he thought about those rushing streams, if he imagined the sound of that flowing water, it might help him to piss.

Then he could get dressed and go down to the office and spend a few quiet hours with his Gold Rush journal. He had been transcribing it, and the transcribing had become rewriting, and in the rewriting, an eighty-three-year-old man had found what might be his final purpose. He would tell his descendants about himself and his wife and their role in the building of California. He would tell them about the Chinese. He would tell them about the Irishman who lived now like a spirit in his memory. He would even tell them about the Irishman’s lost river of gold.

But first he swung his feet onto the floor and slid his toes about in search of his slippers. He could not find them. No matter. Cold feet might help him to let go if visions of fast-flowing snowmelt failed. So he picked up the chamber pot and, following the principle that men always pissed standing up, he stood.

That was when it hit him, hit him so hard that it took the legs out from under him, hit him as surely as if someone had smashed him in the backs of the knees with a shovel.

The chamber pot flew into the air. James Spencer flew onto the bed. And a night’s worth of cold urine flew everywhere. The bed seemed to rise, then drop. Spencer rose with it, then he dropped.

That jolt had been just a foreshock, followed by maybe half a minute of quiet before the infernal engine humming deep in the earth had loosed a flywheel that spun off its mounts and whirled upward with the force of a hundred million steam locomotives.

Now the light from the streetlamp was dancing on the wall because the streetlamp was swinging in the street. And the window itself was moving because the walls were moving. And the bed was moving because the floor was moving, too.

James Spencer sank his fingers into the mattress and held on.

The bedroom door flew open and the shadow of Spencer’s servant, Mickey Chang, appeared. “Mr. James! Mr. James!”

“Stay there!” shouted Spencer. “Stay in the doorframe. Hold on!”

Chang braced himself against the rocking, his eyes wide white in the half light.

The roar grew louder, the shaking more violent.

The bed danced to the terrible symphony of sounds playing now like a prelude to the moment when the whole house would collapse in a thunderous cataract of wood and plaster and chimney bricks. The room echoed with the woodwind shattering of glass and china, the mid-range groan of nails and studs and floorboards straining to hold onto one another, the percussive clanks and bangs and rattles and booms of doors and drawers slamming open and windows shaking loose and furniture toppling, and beneath it all, a deep, relentless, terrifying basso profundo rumble rising from the core of the earth itself.

And over the close-by sounds came the noise of something collapsing up the street, something big.

And bells were ringing everywhere, ringing above the roar and below the shattering, ringing in a range of tones and rhythms so wide that it sounded as if every bell in every church in San Francisco was trembling with the fear that God had deserted them, as if every steeple was swinging like the lampposts on California Street.

The bed jerked to the middle of the floor then jerked back again and banged into the wall. In another room, something fell over. On the street, someone was screaming and the dogs were still barking. And just outside the window, something was snapping. A tree was snapping. Many trees were snapping. But there were no trees on California Street. What was snapping? What the hell was snapping?

And before he could answer, it was over.

The roaring receded, like a train rumbling off into the darkness.

The shaking settled to stillness.

Spencer lay silent and listened as, one by one, the church bells stopped ringing. Now he heard only the barking of the dogs and the whimpering of Chang’s wife in the attic bedroom above. He glanced at his bedside clock. He could just make out the hands: five thirteen. The earthquake had lasted an eternity in not much more than a minute.

Mickey Chang still stood in the doorframe, arms braced, eyes wide.

James Spencer spoke as calmly as he could, “Put on the light, Mickey.”

The servant’s eyes shifted from side to side and rolled upward to watch a trickle of plaster dust drift down. Then he slid his hand along the wall to the faceplate and flipped the switch. Nothing.

“Damned electricity.” James Spencer sat up and began fishing under the bed.

Chang scurried over and found the slippers, which had done their own dance across the floor. “Wet. You piss on them again?”

“There’s piss everywhere, Mickey. We’ll clean it up later. Go and see to your wife.”

“Wear your slippers . . . or put shoes on.” Mickey Chang had served James Spencer for decades and stood on no ceremony. “I bet we got broken glass downstairs, too.”

James Spencer slid his feet into the slippers and went to the window. In fifteen or twenty minutes, the rising sun would illuminate the devastation, but from his bedroom on the corner of California and Gough, with Van Ness below and Pacific Heights above, he could already see it.

To his right, up the hill, the brick façade of a new house had simply dropped off, and three stories of masonry now lay in the street, shrouded in a fog of dust.

But to his left, just down the hill, the Colemans’ fine mansion stood foursquare and stalwart. That gave James Spencer some hope, because the same craftsmen had built his house.

Then he squinted down at the tracks and the steel plate in the middle of the street. He cocked an ear to listen for the hum of the cable that started spinning at precisely 5:00 A.M. at precisely 9.5 miles per hour, but he heard nothing.

As for the utility poles climbing up from Van Ness, every last one of them had snapped off, snapped like saplings. Now a great Aeolian harp of wires, the copper-alloyed symbols of modernity that carried electricity, telegraphic messages, and the telephonic sound of the human voice, lay in long, slack, useless strands. One of the wires was sparking on the pavement, sending up a little cloud of blue smoke.

A door opened across the street. Spencer’s neighbor, Matt Dooling, in bare feet and nightshirt, staggered onto his veranda and looked about, as if to convince himself that it was not a dream. Then he scratched his bald head and went back into his house.

And James Spencer turned to his daily routine.

He made an effort to refill the chamber pot, which met with some trickling success. Then he dressed in the brown suit that Chang had set out for him the night before. He chose a red cravat because red would project confidence when he sat for breakfast at the Bohemian Club. But he did not call for hot water, because on Wednesdays he took a shave in the barber shop in the Spencer Building, and he expected that by eight o’clock, the city would be getting back to normal. So he would do his part.

James Spencer’s morning ablutions took twenty minutes and included two aftershocks. Then, fully and finely dressed, he went to the top of the stairs, looked down, and decided that he and his wife had built well. The staircase rose straight and undamaged. The oak pillars that supported it and the oak balusters that separated it from the foyer all appeared plumb upright.

But at the bottom, he saw how the earth had throttled the mansion known as Arbella House. The chandelier had fallen from the fifteen-foot ceiling and smashed into a thousand pieces. The wires holding up the huge, gilt-framed mirror had snapped. The mirror remained miraculously upright, leaning against the wall, but the glass had shattered.

James Spencer straightened his shoulders, tugged at the points of his vest, and smoothed the broken reflection of his cravat. Then he turned to the library at the front of the house.

His collection of books, his California histories, including the complete works of H.H. Bancroft in red morocco, the rare books he had bought from the old Spanish missions along El Camino Real, and all the works of San Francisco’s “local color” school—his Bret Hartes, Jack Londons, and Mark Twains—had all been jolted from their cases. Books now covered the floor.

He picked up the volume at his feet—Roughing It. He glanced at the inscription: To the Spencers, who knew where to find the real gold. Best Wishes, Mark Twain.

He did not inventory the damage. There would be time enough for that later.

He turned instead from the dark woodwork and heavy draperies of the library to the other side of the foyer, to the bright sunlight and golden walls of the parlor. He glanced at the portrait above the fireplace. It had not budged because it was screwed to the wall. It was like its subject. It endured.

Janiva Toler Spencer wore a proud expression and a green dress in the portrait, the expression formed by raised chin and arched brow, the color carefully matched to the tile surround on the fireplace. She had planned it that way, he thought. She had been an excellent planner.

“Well, my dear,” he said, “it seems we’ve had a little shake.”

She answered, but only inside his head, and only for him.

Then he heard the pantry door scrape open. Something new, he thought. That door had never scraped before.

Mickey Chang pushed through with a tray: coffeepot, cup, newspaper. “In here or in conservatory?”

“The conservatory, as usual.”

Mickey just stood there in his black mandarin jacket and silk hat.

James Spencer knew his servant well. Mickey Chang’s hesitations and movements and grunts and silences all formed part of the unspoken language of master and man.

James Spencer said, “Is the conservatory—?”

“Maybe in here. Not so much broken glass in here.”

Spencer felt the weight of the day pressing on his chest. He gave the portrait another glance and went into the dining room.

As Mickey poured the coffee and opened the Chronicle, the house rattled with another aftershock.

James Spencer pretended to ignore it, like the seasoned San Franciscan he was. He sipped his coffee, read the news, then turned to the review of Carmen, which had premiered at the Opera House the night before, featuring the legendary Enrico Caruso. Spencer had considered going. He still liked to be seen out and about in the city he had helped to build. But a heartburn had kept him at home, and it was starting up again.

He was studying an advertisement for Bromo-Seltzer, wondering if it might put out the fire in his chest, when the back door banged open and Mrs. Cooney’s brogue filled the kitchen. She was his cook. Every morning, she rode the California Street cable car all the way from the Slot, the tough neighborhood on the other side of Market Street. Most mornings, she got straight to work. But on this morning, she pushed through the creaking door and right into the dining room.

James Spencer barely looked up. “Good morning, Mrs. Cooney.”

“It ain’t a good mornin’ at all, sir, I hate to say.”

“Did you see much damage, then?”

“I did indeed. Damage everywhere. But it ain’t the damage that’s been done, sir. It’s what’s comin’.”

“Coming? What’s coming?”

“Fires, sir.” Grace Cooney stepped back, as if she had delivered a blow. “There’s . . . there’s fires breakin’ out everywhere.”

“Fires?” James Spencer felt a new thump of pain in his chest.

Mrs. Cooney wiped the sweat from her forehead. “Must be half a dozen last time I looked. And there’s gas hissin’ somethin’ terrible, sir, all over town, right out of holes in the ground it’s comin’.”

James Spencer had feared that. Fire, not earthquake, had always been San Francisco’s greatest enemy. He went back into the parlor and looked east along California Street. And yes, gray smoke was fogging the sky beyond Nob Hill.

Mrs. Cooney said, “The fires is all south of Market Street, sir. But the thing of it is . . . they’re spreadin’. That’s why we rode up here in the horse cart, me girl and me. We loaded up what we could and come over the hill. It’s for certain the fires’ll burn through everything south of Market, sir. Then . . . well, before long, it’ll be just one big fire.”

“Calm yourself, Grace,” said James Spencer. “The best fire department in America is right here in San Francisco.”

“That may be, sir, but the thing of it is . . . there’s no water.”

“No water?”

“I seen the lads openin’ hydrants all over, and nary a drop did they get. Busted mains, I’m thinkin’. And you can’t put out a fire if the hydrant’s as dry as a fence post.”

James Spencer looked again at the distant smoke, then turned to Mickey Chang, who had been listening to every word. “Start the Ariel.”

“The Ariel? Where we goin’? Not to the fire!”

“To the office. To get our papers. And my journal. I must get my journal.”

James Spencer always rode in the front passenger seat and let Mickey Chang do the driving. He liked to watch the world speed by, and he liked the looks they got when people saw his chauffeur, looks that said, “Who knew a Chinaman could drive an autocar?”

And the Ariel was fast. It had a big four-cylinder engine that could push the car along at forty miles an hour. But that was not why James Spencer had bought it. Nor did he buy it because it was built in Boston, as his friends suggested. And he did not buy it for the rich forest-green color, the seats of tufted brown leather, or the distinctive horse-collar grille. He bought it because of the advertising: As fast on the hills as most cars are on the level. That, he said, made it a car that was made for San Francisco.

While he waited for Mickey, he stood on the porch and studied the sky. The sun was up full now. The morning air was warming. The breeze came out of the northwest, so he did not smell smoke. But he knew that he had to hurry. He kept the business records of Arbella Shipping and Mercantile in fireproof safes, but he had locked the original journal and transcription into his desk on the fifth floor. And oak desks burned.

He took off his homburg and waved impatiently at his servant. The Ariel coughed and came puttering out of the barn. Spencer gripped the handrail, pulled himself into the seat, and said, “Don’t drive over any live wires. And don’t dawdle.”

“I never dawdle.” Mickey had replaced his indoor silk cap with a felt fedora. Had he added a suit and cravat, instead of his mandarin jacket, thought Spencer, he might have passed for a white man. He said, “Just don’t be givin’ so many damn orders when I drive.”

There were no other cars on the street, but people were everywhere now. Some had come out, half dressed or still in nightclothes, to move as aimlessly about as sleepwalkers. If they glanced at Mickey Chang, they did not register shock that a Chinaman was driving. They had no more shock to give. Others were standing on sidewalks, gazing toward the columns of smoke rising beyond Nob Hill. Still others, the industrious ones, the ones made for crisis, the ones who had built the city and would rebuild it, too, they had shaken off the shock and were already attacking the rubble.

As the Ariel rolled through the intersection of California and Van Ness, James Spencer looked left and right. The fine big houses that lined the avenue had survived with little damage, despite the heaved sidewalks and uprooted cobblestones.

But another block brought them to Polk, a business street that served the wealthy of Van Ness and Pacific Heights. And here James Spencer saw devastation. Bricks littered the street. Plate glass windows had exploded from storefronts and sprayed shards everywhere. Other storefronts had simply collapsed onto the sidewalks.

They passed a man sitting on a broken curbstone. He was weeping. In front of him lay a cart, and still attached to it, a horse killed by a falling chimney. The man looked up and said something in a foreign language. It sounded like Italian.

James Spencer told Mickey to keep driving.

But they could not go quickly because there, in the swale between Nob Hill and Pacific Heights, it seemed as if the earth had actually split open. Great chunks of pavement had broken and heaved like tide-driven ice flows in some frozen East Coast harbor. And the steel lines of the cable car had twisted right up out of the ground.

At the intersection of Hyde Street, the views north and south were the same: buildings knocked off their foundations, power lines snapped and sparking, choppy rivulets of cobblestone and pavement, puffs of smoke, and people struggling to make sense of it all beneath a brilliant blue sky.

Mickey Chang wheeled around a chest of drawers jolted from the second floor of a building that had lost its entire façade. James Spencer could look into all four rooms—neat parlor, dining room, two upstairs bedrooms. An old woman was sitting in a rocking chair in the parlor, staring out at the street and rocking . . . and staring . . . and rocking. . . .

Just below Leavenworth, they came upon a group of men digging with bare hands into a small mountain of bricks that muffled a woman’s cries for help.

Mickey gave a look. Should they stop? James Spencer pointed ahead.

So the Ariel climbed to the top of Nob Hill, where the mighty mansions, side by side, proclaimed that this was a place beyond wealth. The richest San Franciscans sought the heights. The richest men built their homes where the views were majestic and the breezes fair and others of their breed had built, too.

Names like Crocker, Stanford, Huntington, and Hopkins—the Big Four—echoed from the earliest days of the Gold Rush. Their fortunes, born of the picks and shovels they sold to the miners, had matured into unassailable, unimaginable wealth when the Transcontinental Railroad made them titans.

James Spencer had done business with all of them. He had been welcomed into their homes. And he had welcomed them to Arbella House, the envy of any who visited, unless they visited Nob Hill first. Here was a fanciful world of turrets and towers, of marble and brownstone, of Italianate palazzos and high Victorian castles, houses so huge that they competed for grandeur with the new Fairmont Hotel, perched on the edge of the summit. But beyond the hotel, columns of smoke were rising, gray and foreboding.

Mickey said, “Maybe the fire will follow the smoke and burn toward the bay.”

“Let’s hope so.” James Spencer pointed ahead. “Keep driving.”

Mickey steered across the top of the hill, avoiding piles of rubble, a cornice that had dropped from one of the houses, holes that had opened around sewer covers and water lines. At the intersection of Mason and California, with the glittering Fairmont on their left and the Mark Hopkins house on their right, he pulled the brake and stopped.

Below them, hundreds of people were surging up the steep California Street incline, fleeing the fire with their belongings on their backs. Hundreds more were watching. A few had even set out chairs, as if the scene were part of some grand opera that would all be over in a few hours.

James Spencer brought his hand to his chest. Mickey asked if he was all right.

“Just keep going,” said Spencer.

So down the hill they went to Dupont Street, then Mickey turned right and wove through the jam of horse carts, autocars, and fire engines, avoiding the chunks of broken pavement and debris, and made it all the way to the corner of Post Street, where the fallen façade of a six-story building finally stopped them.

Directly ahead, on Market, the gray granite Spencer Building still stood. The cornice had fallen seven stories and lay in chunks on the pavement. The plate glass windows that welcomed customers into a street-level barbershop, haberdasher’s, and bookstore, had all shattered. A huge crack ran up the side of the building. And in the sky beyond, a new column of smoke was coming to life, as silent and threatening as a snake.

Mickey looked up at the buildings and said, “You think all this burn?”

“I don’t know. But the fires are closing in.” James Spencer felt the impulse to run, to go as he had when he was a young man, in the days when he first saw this city, when it was nothing but shacks and tents and mud. So he jumped down and went.

Mickey turned off the engine and ran after his boss.

James Spencer was still steady on his feet. He credited his rock-ribbed New England ancestry, the hard work he had done in the gold fields, and the daily walk he took on the hills of his adopted city. He scrambled over the brick wreckage, ignoring the sound of someone screaming deep down in the rubble. Whoever they were, they were doomed. So he kept going, straight for the arched entrance of the Spencer Building.

To its left, the Palace Hotel gleamed in the sunlight, seven stories of glorious fancy—pillared, bay windowed, crenellated. On the roof, men were looking over the wrought-iron railing, looking down at the street, looking up at the smoke, preparing to fight for the grandest hotel in the West, using water drawn from a seven-hundred-thousand-gallon tank right there on the roof.

So, thought James Spencer, his building would not ignite from that side. And to the right rose the eighteen-story Call Building, tallest structure in the city. Its steel frame construction had withstood the earthquake, and its modern fireproofing, Spencer hoped, would withstand the coming conflagration.

He took a deep breath, ignored the pain in his chest, and stumbled out into the middle of Market Street. It appeared as if an underground river had rolled in from the bay, run under city’s grandest avenue, flowed all the way to the other side of the peninsula, then receded, leaving instead of ripples in the sand, great rolls of earth; instead of gravel pockets, piles of broken cobblestone; instead of random boulders, huge deposits of fallen brick and finished stone; instead of dead trees, a tangle of twisted trolley tracks and utility wires.

“Hey, boss! Careful!” cried Mickey.

James Spencer looked down at the trolley track in front of him, took a step, and the cobblestones collapsed. His body tumbled toward the sinkhole that opened, and he would have dropped into the depths, but for the track rail. He straddled it, hit hard, and cried out. Mickey grabbed him by the collar before he tipped head first, then dragged him back and leaned him against a pile of rubble.

James Spencer felt as if he might vomit from the pain shooting up through his groin and into his kidneys.

Mickey squatted next to him. “Boss, you all right?”

“Yes, come on.” James Spencer tried to stand.

“No. You stay. You as gray as the cobblestones.”

“But Mickey—”

“I’ll go. I know your desk. And I can run.”

“But Mickey—”

“No more buts.” Mickey grabbed the gold chain on Spencer’s vest.

The old man watched his servant’s fingers work through the keys until they found the one for his desk and slipped it off the ring. He gripped Mickey Chang’s hand. “The transcription is in the long ledger . . . and the notebooks. You know the seven notebooks. They’re all in a single box.”

“I know, boss. I know. Don’t worry.”

“If I don’t . . . If I’m—”

“Come on, boss! If you what?” Mickey looked up as flames exploded from a store at Stockton Street. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and said again, “If you what?”

“If I don’t make it through this—”

“Just stay here. I be right back.”

A fire engine came careening around a corner. The bell was clanging. The hooves of the horses were pounding, thundering, sparking on the cobblestones and sending up great clods of dirt where the cobblestones had come loose.

James Spencer thought the engine might roar right over them, or hit a hole and fly into the air and land on top of them. But it sped past, though for all its energy it would be impotent against the unfolding disaster.

Spencer grabbed the baggy sleeve of Mickey Chang’s jacket. “Give the transcribed journal to the Historical Society. The original chapters go to my children. Their names are on the folders . . . and—” He clutched his chest, as if he could hold in a sudden burst of pain.

“And what? What else, Boss? I gotta go.”

“Mickey, do this, and I will reward you.”

“Ah, you’re always sayin’ that.” Mickey jumped up and scrambled across the street, leaped over the broken cornice stones on the sidewalk, and disappeared through the arched entrance of the Spencer Building.

“Reward you with a chapter of your own,” said James Spencer, almost to himself.

A moment later, the ground shook again. Another aftershock. Two women on Market Street screamed and ran, as if aimless movement would protect them. Other people looked up, covered their heads, scattered. From somewhere back on Dupont came a roar and an explosion of brick dust. Spencer hoped that nothing had fallen on the Ariel.

As the shaking continued, the pain in his chest seemed to widen and deepen.

Then the huge sign above the fourth-floor windows of the Spencer Building broke off and came crashing down, turning once in the air before hitting the sidewalk and flying into a thousand pieces. The huge gilt letters had read ARBELLA SHIPPING AND MERCANTILE.


Copyright © 2018 by William Martin

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$2.99 eBook Sale: The Lincoln Letter by William Martin

Place holder  of - 81The ebook edition of The Lincoln Letter by William Martin is on sale now for only $2.99! This offer will only last for a limited time, so order your copy today.

About The Lincoln Letter: Treasure hunters Peter Fallon and Evangeline Carrington are heading for adventure in Washington D.C., the sleek, modern, power-hungry capital of America…and the crowded, muddy, intrigue-filled nexus of the Civil War. Their prize? A document of incredible historical importance and incalculable value: Abraham Lincoln’s diary.

What if Lincoln recorded his innermost thoughts as he moved toward the realization that he must free the slaves? And what if that diary slipped from his fingers in 1862? A recently discovered letter written by Lincoln suggests that the diary exists and is waiting to be found. Some want the diary for its enormous symbolic value to a nation that reveres Lincoln. Others believe it carries a dark truth about Lincoln’s famous proclamation–a truth that could profoundly impact the fast-approaching elections and change the course of a nation. Peter and Evangeline must race against these determined adversaries to uncover a document that could shake the foundation of Lincoln’s legacy.

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7 Epic Books Based on American History

A good historical fiction novel will take you back in time and immerse you in a bygone era. And the truly epic ones–sweeping in scope and monumental in scale–will keep you there for a while. If you’re looking for a book that’ll really delve into America’s past in all its sin and glory, here are seven historical epics that bring America’s history to life.

This Scorched Earth by William Gear

Placeholder of  -71 The American Civil War tore at the very roots of our nation and destroyed most of a generation. To truly understand the madness and despair of such a horrendous conflict one needs to pick a moment. Or see that war through one family’s eyes.

In rural Arkansas, such was the Hancocks. Devastated by a cruel war, they faced down their personal hells and, in spite of it all, survived.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Place holder  of - 29 This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the grandest story ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America.

Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Native Americans and settlers. Richly authentic, beautifully written, always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make you laugh, weep, dream, and remember.

The Battle Hymn Cycle by Ralph Peters

Image Place holder  of - 48 In this series beginning with Cain at Gettysburg, Ralph Peters chronicles the major battles of the American Civil War as Union and Confederate, North and South, Blue and Gray, engage in the nation’s most devastating conflict. This sweeping series tells the stories of the flesh and blood men who fought the war that changed American history forever.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Image Placeholder of - 64 Inspired by The Odyssey, Cold Mountain is the story of a wounded Confederate soldier who leaves the battlefield to journey home to his pre-war beloved. His journey through the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman & Ada confront the vastly transformed world that’s arrived..

New York by Edward Rutherfurd

Poster Placeholder of - 28 Edward Rutherfurd celebrates America’s greatest city in a rich, engrossing saga, weaving together tales of families rich and poor, native-born and immigrant—a cast of fictional and true characters whose fates rise and fall and rise again with the city’s fortunes.

From this intimate perspective we see New York’s humble beginnings as a tiny Indian fishing village, the arrival of Dutch and British merchants, the Revolutionary War, the emergence of the city as a great trading and financial center, the convulsions of the Civil War, the excesses of the Gilded Age, the explosion of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the trials of World War II, the near demise of New York in the 1970s and its roaring rebirth in the 1990s, and the attack on the World Trade Center. New York is a look at American history through the long and exciting life of the world’s second most populous city.

The Son by Philipp Meyer

This novel is an epic, multigenerational saga of power, blood, and land that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the border raids of the early 1900s to the oil booms of the 20th century.

Part epic of Texas, part classic coming-of-age story, part unflinching portrait of the bloody price of power, The Son is an utterly transporting novel that maps the legacy of violence in the American West through the lives of the McCulloughs, an ambitious family as resilient and dangerous as the land they claim.

Bound for Gold by William Martin

Boston rare-book dealer Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington are headed to California, where their search for a lost journal takes them into the history of Gold Rush. The journal follows young James Spencer, of the Sagamore Mining Company, on a spectacular journey from staid Boston, up the Sacramento River to the Mother Lode. During his search for a “lost river of gold,” Spencer confronts vengeance, greed, and racism in himself and others, and builds one of California’s first mercantile empires.

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