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


One of the most anticipated books of the season: The Millions, Vogue, People, New York Post, Medium, The Philadelpiha Inquirer, Newsday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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

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?

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. Featuring an unforgettable cast of cops and tramps, suffragists and socialists, madams and murderers, it 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

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

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

“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

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