CENTENNIAL by James A. Michener


A Novel
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Highly respected scholar-historian Dr. Lewis Vernor is hired by US to re-research a story on Centennial, Colorado. The big thoughtpiece has already been written by the staff, but the magazine wants to add Dr. Vernor's special feel for the past. Vernor's a likable, no nonsense writer, but his research suddenly carries him off as if he'd fallen into a time machine. This small spot of American earth (pop. 2618), on the useless, disgusting, "nothing" South Platte river, is studied from its beginnings as liquid rock, through the hardening of the earth's crust, the 130,000,000 years of the great Saurians, early man, first animal migrations over the vast land bridge to Asia, the coming of ground hogs and beavers and rattlesnakes--this takes over a hundred pages and for the most part is made surprisingly interesting. Much, much later Indians arrive; much, much, much later the first trappers, traders, mountain men. Then the settlers, cavalry, massacres, cowboys, hunters, range wars of the cattlemen versus the sheep herders. Nearing modern times, Centennial becomes a beet-processing town where cattle are fattened on beet pulp and sent straight to market. Through all this the South Platte is sheer mud or raging flood, the weather hits a smelting 109° or -30° below, and at last both the cattle and beet industries fade away so that Centennial's only a November elegy on a Chicano's sad guitar. An amazing amount of history, effortlessly digestible, the source of The Source's great attraction for many of those home historians, since Michener, with his seven league clodhoppers, does cover a lot of ground.
Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1974
ISBN: 0812978420
Page count: 932pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1974


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