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.
Some readers may be appalled at our ancestors’ greed for gold, but Mr. Crouch takes a more sympathetic view ... Mr. Crouch clearly admires his protagonist, at times nearly to distraction. He portrays Mackay throughout this well-written and worthwhile book as a man of high principle—kind, charitable and fair, dependably doing the noble thing.
Crouch’s biography will certainly make him better known than he is today, albeit by a small circle of scholars ... In the book’s first half, there’s hardly a direct quotation from Mackay, and that’s too bad. He’s a silent as well as invisible man ... 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.
In following Mackay's journey, Crouch takes readers on a tour of the American West in the mid-1800s, where fortunes were made, particularly in mining, at the expense of Native American communities. Extensive footnotes are appended. Crouch excels in documenting the life of a 19th-century capitalist who wished to find success, treat his workers fairly, and make advancements in science and technology ... Fans of American history, the American West, or business will find Mackay's life story inspiring
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 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.
Though formulaic, Crouch’s life of Mackay adds materially to the economic history of California and Nevada. It’s a sturdy work of business history as well, full of useful pointers on how to treat people and build an enduring legacy and fortune. As Crouch notes, when Mackay died, the former tenement dweller was 'one of the world’s richest men' even though he probably didn’t have even a ballpark idea of his financial worth. Admirers of scrupulous entrepreneurship will find much of value in this book.