The Book! River of Lost Souls

RLS Front Cover FINAL_010418Part elegy, part ode, part investigative science journalism, RIVER OF LOST SOULS tells the gripping story behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster that turned the Animas River in southwestern Colorado orange with sludge and toxic metals for over 100 miles downstream, wreaking havoc on cities, farms, and the Navajo Nation along the way.

BUY THE BOOK: pick it up from Torrey House Press at  Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, find it at Indiebound, or get it from Amazon. Available in Silverton at Fetch’s and the San Juan County Historical Society.

NOW AVAILABLE as an eBook and Kindle edition!

Jonathan P. Thompson is available to give presentations, readings, and talks during specific times of the year. For availability contact him at

For updates on the Gold King Mine Disaster legal saga, as well as all kinds of environmental, energy, and economics news from the Four Corners region and beyond, subscribe to Jonathan’s Land Desk newsletter, bringing you Western lands and communities–in context.

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“(Thompson) combines science, law, metallurgy, water pollution, bar fights and the occasional murder into one of the best books written about the Southwest in years.”

Andrew Gulliford, historian and writer, in The Gulch magazine. 

“Jonathan Thompson weaves his skills of investigative journalism and factual verification with the empowering tools and devices of a novelist to bring the reader directly into his new book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind The Gold King Mine Disaster. ”

— Les Roka in The Utah Review.

“Sixth generation San Juan mountain man Jonathan Thompson has invented aauthor-21 new literary genre—the personal memoir/regional history/geolologic analysis/meditation on a mining disaster. By turns mournful, optimistic, angry and  hilarious, Thompson offers fresh takes on everything from a mountain town’s bare knuckle politics to a young man’s loss of innocence to what it truly  means to be a Westerner. Along the way he upends conventional wisdom and offers fresh insight into everything from Manifest Destiny to the salve of community. Deeply researched, thoroughly unsentimental, this is a moving and rip-roaringly told tale.”

Steve Friedman, author of Lost on Treasure Island and Driving Lessons

“River of Lost Souls” by Jonathan Thompson is equal parts “Quiet Crisis,” and “Silent Spring,” and 100 percent scary, timely, and so very important.  This well-researched book of investigative journalism sets the scene for the 2016 Gold King Mine Disaster which highlights the risk of the ticking time bombs throughout the inter-mountain west; bombs which politicians and corporate mining companies would prefer to have just disappear. Every citizen in every western mining community MUST read this book, as should every politician at every level of government. Mine tailings and toxic waste are realities which must be dealt with quickly before more ecological disasters occur.

— Andy Nettell, proprietor Back of Beyond Books, Moab, Utah

To know the West, Jonathan Thompson’s, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster is a must read.  On par with Lavender’s “One Man’s West,” Thompson describes the history of settlement in the beautiful Animas River valley nestled in the rugged San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. The mountain town of Silverton lies near the headwaters of the Animas and is surrounded by ore-filled mountains that triggered man’s unending desire to strike it rich and prosper from the land. As in most early and unregulated western mining districts, environmental pollution and cultural issues came to be a part of these areas. At the Gold King Mine outside Silverton, these ongoing issues finally culminate in 2015 with the massive spill of toxic mine wastewater, which became a news event reported worldwide. The spill, chronicled in Thompson’s fine book had repercussions through New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and the entire Colorado River drainage.  Thompson, a 6th generation Animas Valley local, and a master craftsman of the written word, makes this book a privilege to read by anyone interested in the West.

— Peter Schertz, co-owner Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, Colorado

“Jonathan Thompson’s River of Lost Souls is a rich historical and personal account of the San Juan Basin, a region blessed and cursed by its geology. From the hard rock mining era of the late 1800s to the recent natural gas drilling boom, some things never change: the extractive industries fight common sense rules to their own – and the public’s – detriment. This book is a must read for every person who loves the West and needs to understand how we got to where we are today. “

— Gwen Lachelt, La Plata County Commissioner and founder of the Western Leaders Network

“‘Our history is a history of pollution,’ Thompson writes, detailing the damages caused by even the most primitive forms of mining in a seemingly endless war between mining companies and the humans and wildlife that depend on the water systems near mining sites. Thompson, a southwestern Colorado native, knowledgeably and sensitively addresses ethical questions at the heart of his inquiry, including what it would mean to restore the water system to its precolonial state.” (Full Review)

Publisher’s Weekly

“This is a thorough work of local and personal history, but also a piece of investigative journalism that reveals uncomfortable truths about acid mine damage. Water quality downstream of Gold King Mine had been deteriorating for at least a decade before the blowout—a wake-up call that came perhaps too late.

‘We live right in the middle of a sacrifice zone,’ Thompson laments, ‘and our air, our water, our health, it’s all being affected.’ The epilogue, a touching memory of a childhood camping trip on the Animas River, is his reminder of all that’s lost when we don’t safeguard our natural treasures.” (Full Review)

Foreword Reviews

“… Thompson’s work is more than a historical survey of industry’s oftentimes deleterious environmental effects in Colorado. He also shows the tight interconnectedness that is created between these extractive industries and the various communities that become economically reliant on them, creating a for-better-for-worse type of symbiotic relationship. His writing meanders through Western history, family stories, and pollution-causing activities to create a vivid and, at times, horrifying time line that shows the aftereffects of human exploitation of nature. VERDICT Aficionados of Western history, environmentalists, and even general readers will enjoy this cautionary tale that takes an intimate look at the side effects of human industry.”