Western History & Genealogy Blog

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New Books in Western History (8.4.09)

This week, a review of reviews of new works in Western history, including a study of a British adventurer’s travels in Colorado; Douglas Brinkley’s examination of Theodore Roosevelt’s passion for preserving nature -- and killing it; and a consideration of the regional and religious foundation of Walmart’s management strategies ...

NewWest offers Traci J. Macnamara’s review of Robert Root’s Following Isabella: Travels in Colorado Then and Now, an account of Isabella Bird’s three-month Colorado journey in 1873. Root pairs his account of Bird’s journey with his own discovery of Colorado. Macnamara notes these twin narratives come together slowly, but the result is worthwhile. A copy of Following Isabella is available in the Western History & Genealogy Department.

Book review pages of several major newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Times, and Baltimore Sun, offer reviews of Douglas Brinkley’s The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. Glenn C. Altschuler of Cornell University calls Wilderness Warrior a “magnificent and magisterial biography” but notes the author’s struggle with his subject’s contradictions. Claude R. Marx is similarly generous with praise, but also more critical of what he describes as Brinkley’s neglect of Roosevelt’s shortcomings. And Janet Maslin observes that “for the patient reader Mr. Brinkley’s fervent enthusiasm for his material eventually prevails over the book’s sprawling data and slow pace.” [August 7, 2009 -- Jonathan Rosen of the New York Times discusses Brinkley's book as part of a recent Book Review podcast.] Copies of The Wilderness Warrior are on order for DPL’s circulating collection, and a copy has been ordered for the Western History & Genealogy Department.

Also in the New York Times, Robert Frank reviews two books on Walmart, the Arkansas-based retailer: Bethany Moreton’s To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise, and Nelson Lichtenstein’s The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business. Frank is especially taken with Moreton’s insights, including her argument that several elements of Walmart’s approach to management and employees traded on elements of Christian fundamentalism in Ozark culture. A copy of Moreton’s To Serve God and Wal-Mart has been ordered for the Western History & Genealogy Department, and a copy of Lichtenstein’s The Retail Revolution has been ordered for DPL’s circulating collection.

The New York Times has also published a review of William T. Vollmann’s Imperial, a study of the eponymous inland California county that borders Mexico, and a feature article on the author, along with a slideshow and an excerpt from the work. Lawrence Downes finds Imperial uneven, which is hardly surprising in a work of more than 1,300 pages, but more importantly, lacking in discipline. Copies of Imperial have been ordered for DPL’s circulating collection and the Western History & Genealogy Department.

Finally, the Austin American-Statesman includes a lengthy interview, replete with photographs, with Daniel M. Olsen and Henk van Assen, the creators of Ranch Gates of the Southwest, their study of rural ranch gates. The result is a beautiful exploration of a regional art. A copy of Ranch Gates is available for use in the Western History & Genealogy Department.


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