Jefferson and the Gun-Men: How the West Was Almost Lost

M. R. Montgomery, Author Crown Publishers $25.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-517-70212-3
In 1804, Lewis and Clark, at the behest of President Jefferson, made their famous western journey. But they weren't the only Americans with their eye on the West--Aaron Burr, former vice-president and senator from New York (and a failed candidate for the New York governorship), was plotting to take over the Louisiana Territory. While the exact details of Burr's vision have long been a matter of historical debate, the gist is that he envisioned a separate country, with New Orleans as capital and himself as impresario--with a few important backers, from Andrew Jackson to the Catholic bishop of New Orleans and chief of America's armed forces General James Wilkinson. It is a fascinating tale but one to which Boston journalist Montgomery fails to do justice. Montgomery's portrait of Jefferson is maddeningly inconsistent: he appears at turns indecisive, calculatingly cruel and dim-witted. The puffed-up prose and Montgomery's penchant for the present tense are distracting, and his unconcealed disdain for professional historians will strike the reader as more than a touch defensive. Finally, Montgomery's admission in the last pages of the book that the story he tells here of Burr's wild schemes--a story of something that almost happened, but did not--is ""ultimately irrelevant"" will leave readers who plow through the entire volume wondering why they bothered. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/03/2000
Release date: 07/01/2000
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-609-80710-1
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