Gold - for centuries people have been entranced by the riches it promises, thousands have gone wild in their search for it, and since the Financial Crisis the price of gold has reached peaks never seen in history. All over the world, particularly in the US, people with no experience of prospecting began shopping for shovels, pickaxes, gold pans, tents, generators, and all manner of equipment they had no idea how to use. And off they went mining.
Steve Boggan decided to follow in their footsteps. In 2013 he packed his bags and flew to San Francisco to join the 21st century's gold rush (the 'New 49ers') in a quest to understand the allure of the metal - and maybe find a bit for himself too.
He meets a selection of colourful characters - those who left desk jobs and family life behind to work by the river in scorching heat and fresh mountain air, in the hope of striking it rich. Most of them only make enough money to scrape a living, but Steve is surprised how happy they seem to be. From them, he gets a crash course in small-scale prospecting.
He also takes us back in time to the original gold rush, two centuries ago, tracing the path of the first intrepid 49ers (in particular, a woman called Sarah Royce and her family) who abandoned their roots and trekked thousands of miles across perilous terrain, risking death for the chance of riches.
Readers: Paul Ritter and Sara Markland
Abridged by Libby Spurrier
Producer: Joanna Green
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.