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Lions of the West
Cover of Lions of the West
Lions of the West

From Thomas Jefferson’s birth in 1743 to the California Gold rush in 1849, America’s Manifest destiny comes to life in Robert Morgan’s skilled hands. Jefferson, a naturalist and visionary, dreamed that the United States would stretch across the continent from ocean to ocean. The account of how that dream became reality unfolds in the stories of Jefferson and nine other Americans whose adventurous spirits and lust for land pushed the westward boundaries: Andrew Jackson, John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman, David Crockett, Sam Houston, James K. Polk, Winfield Scott, Kit Carson, Nicholas Trist, and John Quincy Adams. Their tenacity was matched only by that of their enemies—the Mexican army under Santa Anna at the Alamo, the Comanche and Apache Indians, and the forbidding geography itself.

Known also for his powerful fiction (Gap Creek, The Truest Pleasure, Brave Enemies), Morgan uses his skill at characterization to give life to the personalities of these ten Americans without whom the United States might well have ended at the Arkansas border. Their stories—and those of the nameless thousands who risked their lives to settle on the frontier, displacing thousands of Native Americans—form an extraordinary chapter in American history that led directly to the cataclysm of the Civil War.

With illustrations, portraits, maps, battle plans, appendixes, notes, and time lines, Lions of the West is a richly authoritative biography of America as compelling as a grand novel.

From Thomas Jefferson’s birth in 1743 to the California Gold rush in 1849, America’s Manifest destiny comes to life in Robert Morgan’s skilled hands. Jefferson, a naturalist and visionary, dreamed that the United States would stretch across the continent from ocean to ocean. The account of how that dream became reality unfolds in the stories of Jefferson and nine other Americans whose adventurous spirits and lust for land pushed the westward boundaries: Andrew Jackson, John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman, David Crockett, Sam Houston, James K. Polk, Winfield Scott, Kit Carson, Nicholas Trist, and John Quincy Adams. Their tenacity was matched only by that of their enemies—the Mexican army under Santa Anna at the Alamo, the Comanche and Apache Indians, and the forbidding geography itself.

Known also for his powerful fiction (Gap Creek, The Truest Pleasure, Brave Enemies), Morgan uses his skill at characterization to give life to the personalities of these ten Americans without whom the United States might well have ended at the Arkansas border. Their stories—and those of the nameless thousands who risked their lives to settle on the frontier, displacing thousands of Native Americans—form an extraordinary chapter in American history that led directly to the cataclysm of the Civil War.

With illustrations, portraits, maps, battle plans, appendixes, notes, and time lines, Lions of the West is a richly authoritative biography of America as compelling as a grand novel.

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About the Author-
  • ROBERT MORGAN is the author of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, most notably his novel Gap Creek and his biography of Daniel Boone, both of which were national bestsellers. A professor at Cornell University since 1971 and visiting writer-in-residence at half a dozen universities, his awards include Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships and an Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature. He was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2010. Find him online at robert-morgan.com.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 1, 2011
    Morgan has made the Old West his preserve with the novel Gap Creek and a biography of Daniel Boone. Here he covers considerable ground, both geographical and temporal, tracing the lives of 10 Americans who played significant roles in the country's westward expansion. Morgan's focus is on their personalities and exploits in securing the West, not in their roles as politicians, which leaves him with a somewhat one-sided portrait of Andrew Jackson. But in general he builds well-rounded portraits, beginning with Thomas Jefferson and the seminal exploration of Lewis and Clark, and ending with John Quincy Adams, a critic of the western expansion until his death in 1848. Three chapters on the Mexican-American War focus on three individuals involved in the controversial but successful endeavor—President James Polk, Gen. Winfred Scott, and the lesser-known Nicholas Trist, chief negotiator of the final treaty. Morgan is best when describing the many battles fought to secure the west. Sam Houston's confrontation with Mexican general Santa Ana is especially vivid. And the author's sympathetic and thoughtful essay on Kit Carson ruminates on the moral challenges raised by westward expansion. Readers interested in the Old West will be rewarded.

  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2011

    Novelist, poet and historian Morgan (Boone: A Biography, 2007, etc.) moves in the territory between hagiography and calumny in this look at the men who made Manifest Destiny manifest.

    Thomas Jefferson, writes the author, seems to have been born looking west; throughout his childhood and early adulthood, he ventured farther and farther beyond the Virginia piedmont, though it was up to others, such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore the region beyond the mountains by proxy for him. Morgan begins, properly, with Jefferson, and though his account is a touch diffuse—does it matter that Jefferson was a good condenser of law texts in this connection?—it affords an appropriately high-minded justification for a signal fact: namely, as the Mexican historian Josefina Zoraida Vázquez observed, that "the North Americans kept up this continuous expansion, and the United States government followed their footsteps." Morgan follows with profiles, most of them illuminating and of just the right length, of some key players. Many are well known, such as the violent Andrew Jackson and the fearless Kit Carson; others are less well known and more interesting in the fact than in the myth, such as John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) and John C. Frémont, the latter a scoundrel who figures in many histories but not much in the popular imagination these days. Morgan's actors are sometimes even more obscure, though not deservedly so, such as the fair-minded diplomat Nicholas Trist, "idealistic to the point of seeming naive to a politician such as Polk." The author is also good at pointing out some of the incidental ironies history affords, such as the fact that the men at the Alamo could have saved their skins had William Travis not "refused to recognize the authority of [Sam] Houston."

    A vivid, well-conceived look at western expansion in the old narrative-driven school of Bernard DeVoto and Wallace Stegner.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2011

    Biographer (Boone: A Biography) and novelist (Gap Creek) Morgan (Kappa Alpha Professor of English, Cornell Univ.) here presents a biographically based book in which he focuses on ten men deeply involved in America's western expansion, with one chapter devoted to each figure. Beginning with President Jefferson and his Louisiana Purchase and national vision, Morgan then provides an account of the War of 1812 through the perspectives of President Andrew Jackson and "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman. Southwestern expansion occupies the remainder of the book through the lives of U.S. President James K. Polk, Sam Houston, president of the republic of Texas, frontiersmen David Crockett and Kit Carson, as well as Gen. Winfield Scott, and U.S. statesman Nicholas Trist. The epilog on President John Quincy Adams has a concise discourse on the use of western expansion by Southern interests attempting to prolong the slave-based economy and the resulting opposition from Adams, the Yankee intellectual. The villains of the subtitle are the opponents of western expansion, including Britain, Spain, and Mexico, none of which is really villainized here. VERDICT Recommended for public and academic libraries and general readers as a themed set of biographies most useful for its southwestern frontier perspective, though not comprehensive or inclusionary.--Nathan E. Bender, Albany County P.L., Laramie, WY

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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