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The Bibliophiliac’s Corner: “The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny”


By Amanda Merriman

Connection writer Amanda Merriman admits she is hopelessly addicted to books. It has been this way nearly all her life. Every month she shares what she has been reading with the hope that others will share in the obsession too.

Taking a deep dive into the dark side of Manifest Destiny, I recently read a book about the ill-fated Donner Party by acclaimed historian Michael Wallis called “The Best Land Under Heaven.” I have always been fascinated about what it was like being a pioneer during the time of Westward Expansion. As a child, I was not able to grasp the negative aspects of this time in history and, admittedly, was fascinated with the horrific fate of the Donner Party.

Wallis aims to shift our focus from what the Donner Party resorted to in order to survive, to the larger experiences and lessons. His book accomplishes this goal. Wallis provides us with rich detail on the lives and motivations of the pioneers leading up to their journey. I found myself impatient to get through the background information and on to the part where the wagon trains began their slow progress across the land. It is worth reading though, as it really adds dimension to the story, learning more about their hopes, dreams and challenges.

Wagons, ho! Beware. Once the wagon train begins their arduous trek it is very hard to put this book down. When times were easy (or easier, I should say), it was so bittersweet, and I found myself wishing their story ended differently. When times were difficult and deadly, the account of the story was absolutely gripping. I enjoyed reading about this time in our country’s history as an adult and learned some new things along the way.

Wallis has given readers a gift with “The Best Land Under Heaven.” It serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of blind progress just for the sake of progress, a lesson still relevant to society today.

Fellow bibliophiles and book club members, feel free to join in the dialogue. Blog your thoughts and feedback at www.castlepinesconnection.com and enter the keyword “bibliophiliac” in the search bar. Have you read a great book recently? Email your find to me at amerriman@castlepinesconnection.com.

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