Fiction: A New World Ablaze

An exclusive excerpt from Kurt Andersen's Heyday, a rollicking tale of love, murder, revolution, the Gold Rush and young America

It was the spring of 1848, a Saturday afternoon. During the previous two months, gold had been discovered in California and America's war with Mexico had finished. An impromptu revolution in Paris had caused the French king to abdicate, the first of 50 revolutionary dominoes to fall in Europe. In New York City, the writer and photographer Timothy Skaggs--35, single, fun loving, with no grand purpose in life--prepared to go among the multitude.

Skaggs had finished his day's work, a double portrait of the magician Signor Antonio Blitz and his favorite wooden dummy. He decided to use the rest...