On the bestseller lists of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and The Boston Globe

 Heyday is a brilliantly imagined, wildly entertaining tale of America’s boisterous coming of age–a sweeping panorama of madcap rebellion and overnight fortunes, palaces and brothels, murder and revenge–as well as the story of a handful of unforgettable characters discovering the nature of freedom, loyalty, friendship, and true love.


Best Novels of 2007, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, NY Public Library, and The Onion's A.V. Club


The Langum Prize winner for the best American historical novel of 2007

“In this utterly engaging novel, the author of Turn of the Century brings 19th-century America vividly to life . . . While this is a long book, it moves quickly, with historical detail that’s involving but never a drag on the action; the characters are beautifully drawn. A terrific book; highly recommended."

Library Journal

"Heyday is fueled by manic energy, fanatical research, and a wicked sense of humor…. It’s a joyful, wild gallop through a joyful, wild time to be an American."

Vanity Fair

“Like a long-lost literary treasure. If its ripping plot twists don’t hook you, then you’re bound to be snared by the scads of riveting historical details. It’ll be just as enjoyable in 150 years as it is today. ‘A'”

Entertainment Weekly

“Simply stellar. A tour de force. Captivating and thoroughly engaging story with compelling characters and an epic resonance.”

Baltimore Sun

“Teeming with extravagantly vivid characters. It’s a band-concert of a novel. There is something moving, a stirring spirit, in the energy of its amazement.”

New York Times Book Review

“A swift, rich, thrilling voyage, an adventure of the highest order.”

New York

"Marvelously detailed, vivid characterization, propulsive narrative, an addictive stew of a book. Depth, insight and sheer storytelling glee make Heydayan absorbing and illuminating read. A fantastic book.”

Portland Oregonian

“A lavish, wide-angled portrait. Sweeping and satisfying, an exuberant vision.”



In the middle of the nineteenth century, modern life is being born: the mind-boggling marvels of photography, the telegraph, and railroads; a flood of show business spectacles and newspapers; rampant sex and drugs and drink (and moral crusades against all three); Wall Street awash with money; and giddy utopian visions everywhere. Then, during a single amazing month at the beginning of 1848, history lurches: America wins its war of manifest destiny against Mexico, gold is discovered in northern California, and revolutions sweep across Europe–sending one eager English gentleman off on an epic transatlantic adventure. . . .

Amid the tumult, aristocratic Benjamin Knowles impulsively abandons the Old World to reinvent himself in New York, where he finds himself embraced by three restless young Americans: Timothy Skaggs, muckraking journalist, daguerreotypist, pleasure-seeker, stargazer; the fireman Duff Lucking, a sweet but dangerously damaged veteran of the Mexican War; and Duff’s dazzling sister Polly Lucking, a strong-minded, free thinking actress (and discreet part-time prostitute) with whom Ben falls hopelessly in love.

Beckoned by the frontier, new beginnings, and the prospects of the California Gold Rush, all four set out on a transcontinental race west–relentlessly tracked, unbeknownst to them, by a cold-blooded killer bent on revenge.

A fresh, impeccable portrait of an era startlingly reminiscent of our own times, Heyday is by turns tragic and funny and sublime, filled with bona fide heroes and lost souls, visionaries (Walt Whitman, Charles Darwin, Alexis de Tocqueville) and monsters, expanding horizons and narrow escapes. It is also an affecting story of four people passionately chasing their American dreams at a time when America herself was still being dreamed up–an enthralling, old-fashioned yarn interwoven with a bracingly modern novel of ideas. 

Watch Kurt discuss Heyday on Charlie Rose:

Read excerpts from the novel in TIME Magazine and the Design Observer.

Read Kurt's essay “When America Came of Age” in TIME Magazine.

Check out a curated 2004-2005 show, "Faster, Cheaper, Newer, More: The Revolutions of 1848" at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in
New York City. The show, inspired by the era of Heyday, featured 96 objects from the 1840s and 50s.

Chicago Tribune

AirTalk, (audio)
American Heritage
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Charlie Rose

Chicago Tribune
The Fader

Free Library of Philadelphia

Google Zeitgeist Conference

Leonard Lopate Show
New York Times Book Review, podcast
Wall Street Journal

A Word on Word with John Seigenthaler (audio)

The Writers' Block, KQED


© 2019 Kurt Andersen. All rights reserved. Site design by Lucy Andersen.