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The paperback edition of this beautifully illustrated and accessibly written history, both critically and commercially acclaimed

In May 2003 the body of nineteen-year-old Jessica Kate Williams was found by a railway track in Portland Oregon: beaten, broken and horribly burnt. But the terrible chain of events that led to her death had been put in place almost a decade before.

James Daniel Nelson first hit the streets as a teenager in 1992, joining a clutch of runaways and misfits who camped out together in a squat under a Portland bridge. Within a few months the group – they called themselves a ‘family’ – was arrested for a string of violent murders. While Nelson sat in prison, the society he had helped form grew into a phenomenon. Street families spread to every city in America from New York to San Francisco, and to many small towns in between, bringing violence with them. In 2003, almost eleven years after his original murder, Nelson, now called ‘Thantos’, got out of prison, returned to Portland, created a new street family, and was ready to kill again.

In this dark and compelling portrait of one of America’s most frightening sub-cultures, Rene Denfeld draws on material gathered over a decade spent with the ‘families’, revealing the extremes to which desperate teenagers (the majority of whom hail from loving middle-class homes) will go in their search for a sense of a belonging.


The best and most comprehensive work so far on our goldrushes. That it is written in a forthright and racy style to attract a popular readership … is an added bonus that takes nothing away from its academic authority. It is Stevan Eldred-Grigg’s best historical work to date and is unlikely to be superseded for a long time.

The Press

A compendious, detailed, readable, informative, enjoyable and widely researched book, generously nuanced … in the way he looks at the Chinese contribution, and for solid human experience, there’s hardly a page that doesn’t yield a nugget.

Sunday Star Times

A rumbustious book and a gold rush in itself which captures the speed and social turmoil of an era, and pans vivid, even lurid, detail from historical paydirt. In dispelling common misconceptions about the gold rush, Eldred-Grigg has not only produced a thoroughly enjoyable and informative read, but also gathered together a useful source of historic facts with the index, endnoting and comprehensive bibliography.

NZ Heritage

This brilliant and meticulous history serves to remind us of how important gold rushes were in the formation of our history — as important in their way as the Land Wars that were dominating the North Island at much the same time.


The heart of the book is a richly textured look at the lives of the diggers and those who shared their environment which makes telling use of contemporary newspapers and existing secondary sources in a colourful yet disciplined text.

NZ Doctor

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    August 5, 2011

    Random House NZ

    544 pages

    RRP $39.99

    Online retailers

    • Fishpond
    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at www.booksellers.co.nz/directory

  • EBook


    February 28, 2014

    RHNZ Adult ebooks

    504 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks NZ
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Google Play
    • Kobo
    • Booktopia NZ

    Find your local bookstore at www.booksellers.co.nz/directory

Awards and Recognition

  • PANZ Book Design Awards
    Hachette New Zealand Award for Best Non-Illustrated Book

Also by Stevan Eldred-Grigg

The Great Wrong War
Shanghai Boy
Oracles & Miracles


The Wife Drought
Australian Desperadoes
The Fair and the Foul
Guns, Germs And Steel
The Story of the Jews
Histories of Controversy
Beersheba Centenary Edition
The Last Shilling
Into the Heart of Tasmania
From the Edge
The Water Kingdom
Shooting the Picture
Hitler's First Victims
Back in Blighty
At Home (Illustrated Edition)
Healing Our History 3rd Edition
Crack Hardy