At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Friday, June 04, 2004


McLynn, Frank. Wagons west: the epic story of America's overland trails. Grove Press, 2003 (c2002). 509p index ISBN 0-8021-1731-7, $32.50.

Library Journal: “By putting both the California and Oregon trails together in one book and placing the story in a national context, McLynn provides a very useful starting point for undergraduates and general readers to begin their own investigations into this aspect of American history. He also provides an extensive bibliography to continue those investigations. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.” Magill Book Reviews: "McLynn's British perspective breathes fresh life into these tales...With well-chosen excerpts from diaries and primary sources, McLynn vividly portrays the sense of restlessness and striving for a better life which motivated the pioneers. Despite considerable historical detail the narrative is lively and fresh. Even those who think they know all there is to know about wagon trains will be delightfully surprised by the multitude of new insights in this engrossing history." Choice: "A detailed account of the migration to settle the US West, c. 1840-49. Maps, photographs, bibliography, and index are valuable adjuncts to this fascinating account of the trek to the West. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/collections." Booklist: “McLynn covers familiar ground, but he covers it well. His analysis of the roots and effects of the manifest destiny concept is especially incisive, and his descriptions of the hardships and adventures of life on the trails are inspiring and sometimes heartrending. Relying on original diaries and memoirs, McLynn eloquently illustrates how diverse groups of people..played their parts in transforming the West while being transformed by it. This work will be a valuable addition to western history collections.” New Statesman: “McLynn has combed the vast secondary literature on every aspect of the journeys…The word epic is overused, but the story McLynn has told, and told well, deserves it.” Publishers Weekly: “Rarely has a book so wonderfully brought to life the riveting tales of Americans’ trek to the Pacific…McLynn relates their travails with a brio and understanding too seldom encountered in books on this naturally compelling subject…What helps make this narrative distinctive is that McLynn doesn’t limit himself to known pioneers…The outsider’s perspective that allows McLynn to offer shrewd comparisons between European and American conditions does make one wish for more analysis.” Kirkus: “Detailed, intermittently interesting, but finally unrewarding study of America’s 19th-century overland expansion…much…in McLynn’s sweeping study is factually questionable and ultimately empty…he overlooks a basic reality of 19th-century life: most of the men who went west...did so not out of some grand sense of Manifest Destiny or adventure, but because they wanted land…McLynn persists in holding a romanticized and eminently European view of the era, as well as an eminently European lack of knowledge about the Native American cultures that Anglo pioneers encountered and battled. That said, he does a reasonable job of charting the rise and fall of such important overland routes as the Oregon and Santa Fe trails and of depicting some of the well-known pioneers and explorers who crossed them…McLynn’s anecdotes and odd bits of fact, which make up the best parts here, are well chosen…Only marginally useful for general readers, and likely to be dismissed by specialists and knowledgeable buffs.”


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