This work of nonfiction tells a complicated story about political, financial, and legal machinations, fleshing out larger-than-life major characters such as McKenzie and Gatling gun-toting William H. Metson as well as 'foreigners' from Norway, Sweden, and Lapland who were first to find gold and the men who panned for the mineral in the 'poor man’s paradise on beach sands and believed their labor was free from the bosses of industry ... The book reveals the rough-and-tumble pioneer life of hastily built Nome and the twists and turns of a young American legal system as it stakes out the rule of law. Well-researched and entertaining, A Most Wicked Conspiracy is an impressive accomplishment.
If these shenanigans sound familiar, it is one of the reasons this book is important. If we do not study and remember our history, we are doomed to repeat it. What McKenzie did goes beyond mere avarice. To sate his greed, he willingly subverted the American system. This book also serves as a hopeful reminder that ultimately there are people who will stand up for what is right. As a matter of personal preference, I try to avoid books that begin with a listing of characters—and there are more than 50 characters noted here. But I needn’t have worried. The writing is fluid, the structure is logical without unnecessary diversions. Also, the events in Nome provided the final impetus for the 17th Amendment, the direct election of U.S. senators, and at least a partial decrease in the powers of the bosses.
Mr. Starobin’s story is the typical Gilded Age plot of a political boss and a robber baron jointly pulling the strings of various politicians hungry for their financial support ... Into this narrative Mr. Starobin skillfully weaves the political evolution of Alaska, purchased from Russia in 1867, and the insidious rise of nativism at the turn of the century ... In his lively account of the Nome conspiracy, Mr. Starobin takes satisfaction in the outcome: Even during the Gilded Age’s rampant capitalism, the American justice system prevented McKenzie from looting Alaska.
In this anatomy of a swindle, Starobin clearly relishes the tale he brings to life and separates the colorful victimizers from their victims, patiently evoking the lives of both in atmospheric detail, from the curious Alaskan wildlife when miners first dig into the iron-tinged sand to his antihero’s early years as a frontier sheriff. It is an able narrative that blends business and political history and ends up with a message of qualified hope: it was the American people themselves who finally put an end to the excesses of the Gilded Age, through the revelations of muckraking journalism and innovations of the Progressive era, particularly the direct election of US senators, which lessened the power of senator-making political bosses. This cautionary story is a pleasure to read.
The author does an excellent job of moving readers around, teaching us about other figures who were there (including Wyatt Earp); providing some history of the region and of other gold rushes; giving deeper biographical information for some of the players; and describing the geography, weather, and modes of transportation and communication ... Tacit analogies to today’s political conditions abound, and while the occasional dense detail may be off-putting for some readers, the story is entertaining. Sturdy research and clear prose reveal some truly abominable snowmen wreaking havoc in Alaska.
... a jaunty tale of jaw-dropping greed at the dawn of the 20th century ... The cast of characters involved in the conspiracy is large, sometimes confusingly so. But Starobin is able to paint a vivid picture of the mining camps and of Nome, Alaska, then a muddy boomtown filled saloons, dance halls and men dreaming of a big score.
The author, Paul Starobin, is a journalist and not a historian. Consequently, the notes reflect a specific quote or expression on the relevant page, and there is no formal bibliography although there is a Bibliographical Note which explains the source of much of the material used to construct the text ... Helpfully, there are two maps ... Fortunately, as well, there is a 'cast of characters' list inasmuch as one will need a scorecard to keep track of the players in this rather convoluted story ... Greed and avarice aside, this is certainly a cautionary tale, reminding us all that one must still do one's due diligence and not necessarily depend on someone’s word and ostensible good will when it comes to investing and financial matters.