Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: Jefferson's America by Julie M. Fenster

ISBN: 0307956482
Published: May 10th, 2016
Publisher: Crown
Received: Goodreads First Reads
Read from March 20th to 28th, 2017
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The surprising story of how Thomas Jefferson commanded an unrivaled age of American exploration—and in presiding over that era of discovery, forged a great nation.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, as Britain, France, Spain, and the United States all jockeyed for control of the vast expanses west of the Mississippi River, the stakes for American expansion were incalculably high. Even after the American purchase of the Louisiana Territory, Spain still coveted that land and was prepared to employ any means to retain it. With war expected at any moment, Jefferson played a game of strategy, putting on the ground the only Americans he could: a cadre of explorers who finally annexed it through courageous investigation.
Responsible for orchestrating the American push into the continent was President Thomas Jefferson. He most famously recruited Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led the Corps of Discovery to the Pacific, but at the same time there were other teams who did the same work, in places where it was even more crucial. William Dunbar, George Hunter, Thomas Freeman, Peter Custis, and the dauntless Zebulon Pike—all were dispatched on urgent missions to map the frontier and keep up a steady correspondence with Washington about their findings.
But they weren’t always well-matched—with each other and certainly not with a Spanish army of a thousand soldiers or more. These tensions threatened to undermine Jefferson’s goals for the nascent country, leaving the United States in danger of losing its foothold in the West. Deeply researched and inspiringly told, Jefferson’s America rediscovers the robust and often harrowing action from these seminal expeditions and illuminates the president’s vision for a continental America.

Honestly, my feelings towards this book are rather neutral. Essentially, it recounts the stories of several expeditions during Thomas Jefferson's presidency in what would become the American West, including that of Lewis and Clark. Jefferson organized these expeditions largely as a way to stake a claim to the land.

In the book, you get some politics, which I admit to not being that informed about before reading the book. I'd known that both Spain and France had claimed New Orleans at various points of course, since that's crucial to New Orlean's culture, but I hadn't known the details of how it was transferred between countries before and even after the Louisiana Purchase. The book is largely stories of the expeditions themselves, though, along with quite a bit about the preparations for them. That means stories of what they needed to survive, new wildlife, rivers, etc. that they encountered, and, of course, a lot of interaction with Native Americans.

The Native Americans play a significant role in his book (and the history the book discusses), especially in Lewis and Clark's expedition. I can't speak to how well their cultures are portrayed in this book, though I know that's always something to be cautious about as a lot of false information is still taken as fact or is misinterpreted. I do remember a comment that annoyed me about the men on the Lewis and Clarke expedition becoming less "civilized" because they'd begun to eat dog (which they'd apparently picked up from the Native Americans). I think this was potentially meant to be framed as the way (white) Americans would view them once they returned, but it didn't always come across that way. (People acting like eating dog meat is inherently different than eating any other type of meat is also a pet peeve of mine, and I don't even like meat.)

This book thoroughly covered its topic. In fact, it covered so much that it potentially covered too much. It jumped between expeditions and sometimes years, which led to me being very confused at times as I tried to put it all into context. The positive of that, though, is that you can read about more than just the Lewis and Clark expedition, which is obviously the most well-known. There were times where it held my attention far more effectively than at others.

I received this book from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

No comments:

Post a Comment