Monday, January 11, 2021

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

The Cold Millions
by Jess Walter
Read by Jess Walter, Cassandra Campbell, Charlie Thurston, MacLeod Andrews and Gary Farmer
Published October 2020 by HarperCollins
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
An intimate story of brotherhood, love, sacrifice, and betrayal set against the panoramic backdrop of an early twentieth-century America that eerily echoes our own time, The Cold Millions offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation grappling with the chasm between rich and poor, between harsh realities and simple dreams.

The Dolans live by their wits, jumping freight trains and lining up for day work at crooked job agencies. While sixteen-year-old Rye yearns for a steady job and a home, his older brother, Gig, dreams of a better world, fighting alongside other union men for fair pay and decent treatment. Enter Ursula the Great, a vaudeville singer who performs with a live cougar and introduces the brothers to a far more dangerous creature: a mining magnate determined to keep his wealth and his hold on Ursula.

Dubious of Gig’s idealism, Rye finds himself drawn to a fearless nineteen-year-old activist and feminist named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. But a storm is coming, threatening to overwhelm them all, and Rye will be forced to decide where he stands. Is it enough to win the occasional battle, even if you cannot win the war?

Featuring an unforgettable cast of cops and tramps, suffragists and socialists, madams and murderers, The Cold Millions is a tour de force from a “writer who has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors” (Boston Globe).

My Thoughts:
I discovered Jess Walter in 2009, when I read and reviewed The Financial Life of Poets. I like to think that I am literally the person that brought him to the attention to the world, because . But I'm pretty sure that was his 2012 bestseller, Beautiful Ruins, which was a big critical hit. Needless to say, his name alone is reason enough for me to pick up a book and this one was no exception. Which meant that I ended my reading year with a book that included union organizers battling in the Pacific Northwest, a subject that I also read about early in the year in Long Bright River. Coincidentally, both books have landed on my top ten list for 2020. Telling you that now probably makes any further review unnecessary. 

And we go. I'll make it quick and easy - here's why you should read this book:
  • This is another of those books that's undoubtedly terrific in print but I can't recommend the audiobook enough. Everyone of the readers does a marvelous job and I loved having a full cast so that as different characters took the narrative, you got a new voice. 
  • Gig and Rye are marvelous main characters surrounded by a interesting characters who are mostly multi-dimensional. Near the end Walter allows, for example, Acting Policy Chief Sullivan to take the narrative and he has a lot to say in defense of himself, making me reconsider him as a one-dimensional bad guy. And the good guys? They're not all saints.
  • Walter builds the tension throughout the book but allows for plenty of introspection and quiet personal interactions. And you've got a love a book in which Tolstoy plays a big role. 
  • I can see this book as a movie. Not only because I can clearly picture what these characters look like, but because I can picture every inch of what they're wearing, where they live, and the prison many of them spend time in. Please tell me someone has already optioned it. 
We love some authors because we know what to expect from them. Walter is different; I love his books because they are all so different. And yet his writing only gets better and better. 


  1. I loved Beautiful Ruins on audio...along with you and everyone else, so it's good to know that I should wait for the audio on this one, too. The library holds list for the download is LOOONG!

    1. I often decide if I'm going to read or listen based on how long it's going to take to get a book. It surprises me how sometimes the audio takes much longer to get and other times it's the other way around.

  2. Wait, what? Long Bright River wasn't about union organizers, was it? I'm getting terribly confused - someone else mentioned different books with the same title, but I can't find any other book. Anyway, not that big of a deal!

    I love Jess Walters and I'm glad this one is good AND is a good audiobook. Happy New Year

    1. Nope - it wasn't Long, Bright River! Not only that, I didn't even read that other book in 2020, now that I get to looking. It was Deep River by Karl Marlantes, which I read in July 2019! My how 2020 messed with my mind!

  3. I haven't read a Jess Walter book - my fault, not his. I actually have his Beautiful Ruins on my shelf and hope to read it one of these days. I love that this is an author you love reading and will pick any book of his. Definitely bumping up this book.