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Stone defines this as "the story of the opening of a land and the building of a civilization" -- and this is the sweeping effect of his saga of the opening of the Far West, specifically California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. Indians and trappers and hunters and a handful of settlers on the Coast made little impress on the empire belonging to Mexico, in 1840. And the man who opened the sluicegates was a man who had failed at everything else, "Captain" John Augustus Sutter. Ambition and imagination and determination launched the beginnings of his small empire in the valley of the Sacramento. Gold rounded out the story, as it was to round out other approaches to the opening of the West. Irving Stone tells all of the history in terms of the men -- sometimes the women- who opened the land and built that civilization. It is almost overwhelming in the mass of material he has used, sometimes with a lack of selectivity that makes balance difficult for the reader, but always with the gift of the storyteller, the sense of drama, the appreciation of shifting values. Gold -- silver -- railroads- these proved the spurs; floods of immigrants followed various trails; communities mushroomed; violence and lawlessness gave way before self-constituted law of vigilantes; government took shape slowly; Washington granted statehood in desperation -- or withheld it (as in the case of Utah) in order to win a dispute. Polygamy was the moot question, and for a generation and more harried the Mormons and brought virtual civil war. The War between the States had its repercussions. Fortunes were made- and lost. Major figures rose to peaks -- and fell. The stories for each area overlapped- had their likenesses and their differences. It's a mammoth task, accomplished with zest and a keen sense of capturing history. Some of the versions he has accepted (the Donner Party tragedy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, for example) will rouse heated controversy. But for the most part, this serves a purpose a kin to Bernard De Voto's recording of the days of the Conquistadores. In this addition to Mainstream of America, the storyteller outweighs the historian.
Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1956
ISBN: 042510544X
Page count: 562pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1956