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Robert Morgan’s historical narrative of the massive land expansion that became the American West is well written and interesting. Since I like history, especially 17th and 18th Century American history, I thought this book was a winner before I opened the cover.

Morgan tells the story of the exploration, early settlement, and acquisition of the West—in that order by the way: note that acquisition generally came after Americans were already there—through the lives of major figures who played key roles. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman, James K. Polk, Winfield Scott, Nicholas Trist, Kit Carson and others stand tall (even the relatively short in stature Carson) in this incredible saga of how vast acres, environmental riches, and beauty became the American West.

Manifest Destiny, that ambition that captured the national consciousness in the 19th Century, made its mark. So did a desire for Pacific harbors, river routes to the sea, furs, gold, and other commercial inclinations.

Morgan doesn’t sidestep or gloss over less attractive parts of the story: slavery, Native American displacement and extermination, greed, and self-aggrandizement. All made an impact and all follow us to this day.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803, British cession of parts of northern North Dakota and Minnesota in 1818, Spanish cession of Florida and parts of Louisiana in 1819, Texas War for Independence in 1836 and annexation in 1845, British cession of Oregon Territory in 1846, Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ceding millions of acres of territory, including California, ending the Mexican-American War in 1848, Gadsden Purchase in 1853. The fledgling United States acquired every acre from the Mississippi River to the Pacific in 50 years. It’s an astounding record of toughness and tenacity, tragedy, some travesty, and triumph.

I can think of no better wrap than to say this book is “A good read.”


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

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