04 November 2011

Imprint Friday: Lions of the West by Robert Morgan

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

I've been a fan of Robert Morgan's for more than a decade, starting with his novel Gap Creek. Since then, I've read several of his other books, including This Rock (fiction) and Boone (nonfiction). His latest work, Lions of the West, is an interlinked collection of short biographies that focus on the growth of America. Morgan's engaging voice makes Lions of the West a pleasure to read.

This week I'm going to do something a bit different for Imprint Friday by reprinting my review of Lions of the West. Versions of this review appeared in Shelf Awareness, both the book trade and the readers editions.

Even if you don't know much about history, you've probably heard about the significant people and milestones of the American westward expansion, such as the Alamo, Santa Anna, the Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark, and mountain men. In Lions of the West, award-winning author Robert Morgan (Gap Creek, Boone) tells the story of the American march to the Pacific Ocean through the lives of nine men, including the political (Thomas Jefferson) and the legendary (Johnny Appleseed). From the founding of the nation to the start of the Gold Rush, almost every aspect of U.S. history had an effect on the annexation of the west.

Although Morgan devotes each chapter to a specific player, he emphasizes the interwoven connections among individuals and events by reintroducing them in different contexts, helping us see the many layers of truth. Some of the short biographies start with background information and some are interrupted by tangents, but Morgan ties it all together in an easy-to-read, attention-grabbing style. We're caught up in the excitement, adventure, and danger of life in the early west.

Relying on primary sources and established research, Morgan puts aside the whitewash to tell a story that is "by turns tragedy and romance, horror and thrilling struggle." He succeeds in his goal "to create a living sense of the westward expansion" by keeping the focus of Lions of the West wide enough to discuss a variety of issues, such as Andrew Jackson's despicable treatment of the Creeks and Kit Carson's and John Frémont's odd codependency as well as how David Crockett developed his marksmanship skills and why mules were the animals of choice for Indian scouts.

The best and the worst of the American image can be traced to the winning of the west. The seemingly unclaimed lands promised opportunity, but the westward journey also created a sense of entitlement. As U.S. citizens moved onto the planes and beyond, they settled wherever there was good land or good game, without regard to national boundaries. Indeed, as Morgan notes, the federal government "only followed and made official what the vast movements of the rapidly growing population to the west had already made fact." Nineteenth-century Mexicans and Native Americans had decidedly different viewpoints.

It's fitting that Morgan closes with John Quincy Adams, one of the few people to have witnessed—firsthand or through his parents—the entire growth of the continental United States, from the thirteen colonies to the Mexican Cession. Just fourteen months after Adams's death, gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill, leading to California statehood and rumblings of civil war.

Give it to me quickly: History as it should be told: Through colorful biographical sketches, Morgan presents the unvarnished story of the annexation and settling of the American west.

Lions of the West was an Indie Next pick for November 2011. For more about Robert Morgan and his work, be sure to visit his website, which includes his current tour schedule. The images of Kit Carson (right) and Andrew Jackson (left) are in the public domain and were downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; click the images to see full size.

Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

Lions of the West at Powell's
Lions of the West at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Workman / Algonquin Books, October 2011
ISBN-13: 9781565126268


Daryl 11/4/11, 8:09 AM  

Fascinating .. I love history either straight or with a twist of fiction

bermudaonion 11/4/11, 8:14 AM  

I like to read about history, but too often it's too dry for me. It sounds like that's not the case with this book. I'll have to look for it.

Jennie 11/4/11, 8:48 AM  

This is one of those books I have been considering for awhile now. I think your review just pushed it onto my holiday wish list!

Zibilee 11/4/11, 9:47 AM  

Like Kathy, I tend to be a fan of history when it's not dry as toast, so I will be looking for this one. I don't know much about the details surrounding this book, so it will be a real learning experience for me! Thanks for the great review!

April Books&Wine 11/4/11, 10:53 AM  

I am such a big huge history nerd. Granted, I tend to focus more on European history, but Lions Of The West sounds excellent!

Seriously, I've read so many boring primary sources that interesting ones just BLOW MY MIND.

I'm definitely going to try and get this via audio.

Great review, Beth!

Julie P. 11/4/11, 12:49 PM  

I so thinking my dad would enjoy this one!

Margot 11/4/11, 1:16 PM  

This would be perfect for my husband. He is a lifelong student of the western movement. I think you've just given me a Christmas gift idea.

Barbara 11/4/11, 1:54 PM  

I already have this one on my list thanks to your Shelf Awareness review. History is my field, especially 19th century American history, so I'm looking forward to this book.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 11/4/11, 4:08 PM  

"History as it should be told" is a fantastic endorsement. As Kathy wrote, it's too often presented as dry facts - this sounds wonderful.

Dorte H 11/6/11, 3:18 PM  

Wild West and the Gold Rush ... ah, I am tempted - again.

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