The best land under heaven book review

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the best land under heaven book review

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Liveright Publishing. Certain stories in American history carry archetypal power, and the dark majesty of the Donner catastrophe is one of them. In the winter of , when the first skeletonized survivors stumbled out of the Sierra Nevada, the Donner story seized the American imagination and has never let go, generating a vast but unreliable historical record burdened with exaggeration, lies, melodrama and prurient disgust. Cannibalism was the prime reason the story lodged itself in our national psyche; but more than that, the fate of the Donner party was a denial, a violent repudiation, of the myth of Manifest Destiny: Here were a group of westward pioneers, the very picture of courage, resourcefulness and pluck, who ended up reduced to a level of squalor and barbarism almost beyond words. Wallis has delved into an extraordinary mass of original material, documents, diaries, accounts and letters, as well as new sources apparently not available to previous authors, and produced not only a definitive account of the Donner tragedy, but also a book so gripping it can scarcely be put down.
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The Best Land Under Heaven:.


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Thank you! Within the grand story of Manifest Destiny, the quest for land and settlement from coast to coast, lies the ill-fated saga of two diverse families that set out by wagon train from Springfield, Illinois, and then to the traditional jumping-off point of Independence, Missouri, en route to California. When they began their trek in early , the extended Donner and Reed families had already been part of the great wave of immigration from Europe as well as Southern, border, and Midwestern states. Initially part of a larger convoy, they and their employees—eventually nearly 90 people in all—chose to break off and pursue a separate, nontraditional route. That proved to be a disastrous mistake, both because of their relative inexperience and the string of obstacles that confronted them. Internal dissension, wagon breakdowns, the loss of livestock, difficult terrain, and extreme weather dogged the travelers.


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It would not seem that we need another book about the Donner Party. There are lots, going back almost to the time of the tragedy, addressing the story from different angles with different emphases. Just take a look at the book review page on our website donnersummithistoricalsociety. That subtitle made me pick it up. Best Land Under Heaven is a serious history book by a serious historian. Most other books about the Donner Party focus on the story of the journey and the tragedy.


2 thoughts on “The Best Land Under Heaven

  1. The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest “A book so gripping it can scarcely be put down. New York Times Book Review.

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