The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, by David McCullough

Eight stars

David McCullough is back with another of his interesting tomes on American history, this time turning to some of the early settlers. In this piece, McCullough explores those who ventured outside the original thirteen states to explore the newly opened and vast territories of the Midwest. Armed with the passion to explore, these men sought to develop a way of life not seen on these lands before, encountering much in the wilderness, from well-established Indian settlements to countless animals who had made the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin their home. Led by the decorated Revolutionary War General Rufus Putnam, these men did all in their power to expand the land and population control by those in the American Government. McCullough explores the ideas of a handful of men, through their letters, diaries, and other documents that would shed light on the plight of the settlers and their encounters with things unknown. As the tome continues, McCullough mixes history with political drama, showing that the exploration included some controversy, particularly among those who did not want to create too democratic a region that was still on shaky legs. Slavery and limited suffrage became themes, both in the tome and history, that wove their way into the story, all a part of the larger story that created modern crises. McCullough effectively examines the thoughts and sentiments of these curious men, fuelled by a desire to open the uncharted lands and expound the virtues of American ideals as America sought to leave infancy and enter a more mature and stable way of life. Wonderful for those who enjoy learning about some of the lesser-documented pieces of American history and recommended for readers who have long found David McCullough to be easy to comprehend.

I always enjoy finding myself in the middle of a David McCullough piece, particularly because I am sure to learn something and never be resting on my haunches. McCullough has a way of telling a story that pulls the reader into the middle of the action, surrounding them with key documents and arguments from the time. While I am sure history books speak generally of the settling of the Northwest Territory, McCullough seeks to fill some of the many gaps with his own research and first-hand documents that enrich the reading experience. From diary entries about the daily/weekly findings to the letters home that describe things of a more passionate nature, McCullough personalises the lives of these men. In addition, McCullough puts much of the exploration into historical perspective, while life in the big cities became a political and social battle. Politics was surely all about how to acquire land and settle it, but also to create territorial governments and legislatures to better run things on a local level. With large chapters full of information, McCullough gives the reader a chance to be part of the action without getting too bogged down in minutiae. One can only hope that others will take this rubric and run with it in their own depiction of history, while McCullough finds more areas worthy of exploration, sure to entertain those who love his writing.

Kudos, Mr. McCullough, for a fabulous addition to your collection. I am eager to see what you have next and will tell others who much I enjoyed this piece.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: