The Klondike Quest - A Photographic Essay

Reviewed: August 8, 2005
By: written and edited by Pierre Berton
Publisher: The Boston Mills Press
240 pages / paperback with flaps, $29.95

There's been a lot of water under the bridge since this book first appeared in 1983. Talking with Berton about it during his visits here in the late 1990s he remained annoyed that his original publisher had done so little to promote it. It became a legendary "instant remainder", though Berton himself said it didn't sell so badly considering its size, price and quality.

Stoddart brought out a new edition in 1997, in time for the Goldrush centennial years, and with a number of improvements. The present book is a trade paperback version of that edition, minus the little centennial introduction that Berton wrote for that release.

Since then the defunct Stoddart company's assets have been acquired by other houses. Boston Mills is now distributed by Firefly Books, and these people are usually pretty good when it comes to promotion. They ship quickly, too. My review copy arrived in last week's mail, and the book was in the stores the next day, even though its release date is listed as August 2005.

The Klondike Quest has been called the best photo/essay book on the Gold Rush, and I certainly would not disagree with that. This edition is modestly priced in today's market, where hardcover fiction sells for more than $30 a copy, and preserves all the essential quality of the hardcover book, though it is smaller.

There was a lot of white space in the original edition, to make big pages for the photographs. The pages are smaller here (23 X 26 cm as opposed to 28.5 X 32 cm) so the pictures are smaller too, as is the print size in the photo captions. The essays are still in a generous font size, giving perhaps a line's difference between the original and the paperback when you compare pages.

Given the timelines in the publishing business, I rather imagine that Pierre himself was aware of the plan to re-release the book in this format and probably saw proofs of this edition before he died last December. I imagine that he was pleased with what he saw. He always wanted this book to have a larger audience and this edition should do the trick.