cover image The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

Greg Grandin. Holt, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-17982-1

As New York University historian Grandin observes, President Trump’s aim of building a wall along the American border with Mexico breaks the nation’s tradition of “fleeing forward” to a supposedly ever-expanding frontier, in the hope of “avoid[ing] a true reckoning with its social problems.” He recounts that, in the 1760s, the British Crown’s refusal to allow white settlers to move across the Appalachian Mountains became one of the many grievances that sparked the American Revolution. As the U.S. became ever more industrial and capitalist, the supposedly empty lands to the west promised prosperity and freedom for poor white men and expansionary opportunities for the sons of Southern planters, as well as new uses for surplus slaves. In the wake of the Civil War, white Americans could look westward to rejuvenate the nation, and some African-Americans created new lives in all-black farming communities isolated from the threat of racism. To Grandin, Trump’s rhetoric about physically closing the southern border symbolizes the end of centuries of belief that ongoing geographical or trade-based expansion will ensure resources are plentiful enough that “everyone can be free”; without that mind-set, he argues, there’s nowhere in the U.S. for Americans to go to escape the country’s internal problems. This is a deeply polemical work, and should be read as such, but it offers a provocative historical exploration of a contentious current issue. (Mar.)