The Cold Millions: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

People don’t get swept up by history, they make it. Walter’s latest is a grand and sweeping Western saga of the Wobblies 1909 free speech fight in Spokane. Over the course of a year, two vagrant brothers, a bawdy vaudeville performer, and firebrand labor activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn take actions big and small that change the West and America forever. Walter gets deep under the skin of people living during a time of upheaval, in a world that’s ever-shifting, bending, and changing – though he reminds us: when isn’t it? With moral obligations and the arc of history on the line, what’s a young dreamer to do? Which side are you on? Hopefully, the right one.

— Chris Lee

Boswell presents a virtual ticketed event with Jess Walter, author of The Cold Millions, on Wednesday, October 28, 7 pm CDT. For this event, Walter, who is also the author of Beautiful Ruins, the National-Book-Award-nominated Zero, and the Edgar-winning Citizen Vince, will be conversation with Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia, Orange World, and the just-released-in-paperback Sleep Donation. Tickets are $23.19 (20% off the list price) plus sales tax and ticket fee, at

— Boswell Book Company

If I were to take Walter’s Beautiful Ruins and reflect it through the prism of The Sisters Brothers, I might come up with The Cold Millions, a period novel set during the rise of the IWW or The Wobblies. Gig and Rye are two brothers, the first a self-proclaimed hobo (mind you, not a bum or tramp) in early twentieth-century Spokane, and the second, his younger brother who seeks him out after their mom dies. The two become embroiled in a complicated scenario involving industrialists, organizers, prostitutes, sleuths, and bounty hunters, starting when Gig is arrested during a labor action and Rye unwittingly agrees to pass information. Keeping a plot as complicated and double-cross-filled as this one is no small feat, nor is creating what many would say is a modern take on Steinbeck. I love that this is the Spokane-iest book I’ve ever read.  But once again, as in Beautiful Ruins, the thing that takes it home is the emotional heft, and with Rye, who slowly is revealed to be the center of this terrific novel, you’ve got that too.

— Daniel Goldin

Jess Walter carries us back to the Pacific Northwest of the early 1900s, using vivid details to show us the raucous, vibrant, fast growing town of Spokane. The heart of the story is two Dolan brothers jumping trains to get work, fighting for workers’ rights with the hard-nosed bosses and cops who routinely use men and then dump them as bums. Workers want decency. They have fearless leaders, but the people with wealth and power aren’t giving anything away. They don’t play nice, and they have ways of controlling it all. The brothers believe in the cause, but they're also looking to settle down in this new whirlwind home. Their stories and the way they turn phrases had me smiling ear to ear, and then shaking my head in amazement at their resilience. I think I’ll remember their hard-earned wisdom forever. It’s a suspenseful novel, a window into early days of labor battles, delivered with a sharp, clever style. It’s entertaining, and also very timely considering the gap between rich and poor has never been greater than it is now. The plot twists and characters are fascinating, many based on real events and people. The ending is satisfying. I stayed tied to each page.

— Tim McCarthy


A Most Anticipated Book by: The New York Times Book Review * Wall Street Journal * Time * Esquire * The Millions * Vogue * People * New York Post * USA Today * Medium * The Philadelphia Inquirer * Newsday

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins comes another “literary miracle” (NPR)—a propulsive, richly entertaining novel about two brothers swept up in the turbulent class warfare of the early twentieth century.

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).

About the Author

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, the winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.

Praise For…

The Cold Millions is a literary unicorn: a book about socio-economic disparity that’s also a page-turner, a postmodern experiment that reads like a potboiler, and a beautiful, lyric hymn to the power of social unrest in American history. It’s funny and harrowing, sweet and violent, innocent and experienced; it walks a dozen tightropes. Jess Walter is a national treasure.”
Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See

“Walter puts forth his most ambitious work yet, solidifying his place in the contemporary canon as one of our most gifted builders of fictional worlds....  It's often said that a novel contains the world; Walter brings new meaning to this phrase, peopling The Cold Millions with vaudeville stars, hobos, suffragists, tycoons, union agitators, policemen, and dozens of other vibrant characters. Warm and deeply humane, this transporting novel is a staggering achievement from a landmark writer.”

“Jess Walter is a superb storyteller. His plot rolls on at a steady pace. His ear for dialogue, whatever the character, is acute. He knows when to amp up the prose with a telling metaphor…. As polished and hard as a diamond, The Cold Millions reminds us of America’s tempestuous past and suggests that all this is anything but past.”
— Dan Cryer, Boston Globe

“Riveting…. With an expansive cast that includes anti-capitalist firebrands, menacing tycoons, a coalition of multifaceted, multiethnic itinerant workers and sundry ‘killers, detectives and anarchists,’ this book captures the audacity, promise, ugliness and beauty of American life.”
— Kevin Canfield, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Stunning…. The Cold Millions feels timed perfectly to this moment of stark income inequality, where the crevasse between billionaires and workers widens and activism increases…. Walter marshals a motley, fascinating cast of characters so finely drawn that they lift from the page…. I haven’t encountered a more satisfying and moving novel about the struggle for workers’ rights in America.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“The Beautiful Ruins author has produced another layered, multi-character panorama.” 

“Another home run for the author of Beautiful Ruins.”
Kim Hubbard, People Magazine

“Another triumph for the versatile novelist behind Beautiful Ruins.” 
Washington Post

The Cold Millions will break your heart and make you hopeful at the same time.”
Seattle Times

"A story of brotherhood, deceit, love and sacrifice that will have you holding your breath with every turn of the page."

“The fact that the same author has written books as wildly different and all as transporting as The Zero, The Financial Lives of the PoetsBeautiful Ruins, and now this latest tour de force is testimony to Walter’s protean storytelling power and astounding ability to set a scene, any scene…. We have heard that Jess Walter writes nonstop: Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please, never stop.”
Kirkus, starred review

“Superb…. a splendid postmodern rendition of the social realist novels of the 1930s by Henry Roth, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos, updated with strong female characters and executed with pristine prose. This could well be Walter’s best work yet.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Strung up around true events and a handful of real people, Walter's latest is informed by intensive, ardent research and reverence for his home city; consider this book a train ticket to a past time and place. In addition to boldly voiced characters and dramatic suspense, in this century-ago tale of labor rights and wealth inequality readers will find plenty of modern relevance.”
Booklist, starred review

"Expansive, beguiling….  In Flynn, Walter has found a sublime heroine: outspoken, brave, and beautiful, too. She takes on Spokane’s brutal and corrupt establishment with the kind of bravura that makes us yearn for her to time-travel to our era. Walter does a masterful job of using historical events and characters to draw parallels with what we face today, but the greatest triumph of The Cold Millions is how it mines literary realism but remains optimistic even in the face of tragedy. It’s a thrilling yarn that simultaneously underscores the cost of progress and celebrates the American spirit.”
O, the Oprah Magazine

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062868084
ISBN-10: 006286808X
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: October 27th, 2020
Pages: 352
Language: English