GREAT WHITE FATHERS: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore

John Taliaferro, Author, Taliaferro, Author . Public Affairs $26 (464p) ISBN 978-1-891620-98-0

On page one of this history of Mt. Rushmore, Taliaferro proposes to answer "the questions that any archaeologist would ask": Who are the men represented, how were they chosen, how were they carved, by whom, who visits this shrine? In the end, this overly modest mission statement is the only false note in an impressive work. Like the outsized sculptures blasted out of a granite mountainside, this history, by a former Newsweek editor, is massive, descriptive yet never blandly representational and filled with characters as fully realized as the Mt. Rushmore busts. The central figure is Rushmore's "father"—sculptor Gutzon Borglum (1867–1941), a fascinating study in contradictions: a great talent, but a hopeless businessman; a patriot who was also a bigot; a family man who lied about his parentage and ditched his first, much older wife to marry a younger woman who could bear children. Taliaferro (Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs) also uses the story of a monument as a springboard from which to explore the tensions within the American dream: an empire built on slave labor and on land stolen from the Indians; reverence for the common man combined with an infatuation with larger-than-life heroes; a love of the landscape that often takes a backseat to the quest for profit. Like Borglum, Taliaferro set himself a Sisyphean task and has produced a work that is both inspiring and thought provoking. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 11/18/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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