SEDUCED BY THE WEST: Jefferson's America and the Lure of the Land Beyond the Mississippi

Laurie Winn Carlson, Author, L. Carlson, Author . Ivan R. Dee $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-56663-490-8

Who can resist the story of Americans' covetous push westward, especially in this bicentennial year of the Louisiana Purchase and the start of the Lewis and Clark expedition? But in a break with current tub-thumping celebrations of men of undaunted courage and spotless intention, Carlson turns a subtly suspicious eye on the characters who sought to make the U.S. a continental power (although she credits some of them with vision, bravery and honesty). Most of her cast, however, are fueled by motives of disunion, power and riches. The most egregious scoundrel is James Wilkinson, whose intrigues with foreign powers and domestic figures are likely never to be surpassed, although Aaron Burr comes close behind. Carlson (A Fever in Salem) also doesn't miss the chance to scrutinize Thomas Jefferson's motives and actions, and she finds him involving himself in many questionable projects (although there's no hard evidence to prove him culpable of sordid acts). One comes away from her narrative with a greater appreciation of the normal, human dimensions of the nation's westward march, a process no less filled with imperial aspirations, cupidity, secrecy and conspiracy than the activities of European states of the time. These oft-told tales, nicely and uncynically retold, provide a solid counterweight to the unnuanced story of great, pure American figures propelling their nation toward its manifest destiny on the Pacific. (May 3)

Reviewed on: 03/17/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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