The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny

"WESTWARD HO! FOR OREGON AND CALIFORNIA!"In the eerily warm spring of 1846, George Donner placed this advertisement in a local newspaper as he and a restless caravan prepared for what they hoped would be the most rewarding journey of a lifetime. But in eagerly pursuing what would a century later become known as the "American dream," this optimistic-yet-motley crew of emigr...

Title:The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0871407698
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:496 pages

The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny Reviews

  • Diane S ☔
    Mar 10, 2017

    Westward Ho! Manifest destiny, the American dream, new land, and many in the mid 1800's followed it's siren call. For the Donner Brothers who had already successfully farmed in a few different states, it was the chance for adventure, new land in a new place, a new start. Many were traveling over the Sierra Nevadas heading to Oregon or California and the Donner families wanted to be part of this large exodus.

    Remember studying this in school, know I read another book about this expedition that wen

    Westward Ho! Manifest destiny, the American dream, new land, and many in the mid 1800's followed it's siren call. For the Donner Brothers who had already successfully farmed in a few different states, it was the chance for adventure, new land in a new place, a new start. Many were traveling over the Sierra Nevadas heading to Oregon or California and the Donner families wanted to be part of this large exodus.

    Remember studying this in school, know I read another book about this expedition that went so horrifically wrong, though I don't remember the title. This book starts with the beginning of the journey, the background of the family, and the gathering of supplies, the others that eventually joined this ill fated party and the high hopes and optimism of which they started out. What made this book so poignant was the human element. The author, though he does touch on other events happening at the time, very much concentrates on the people. Those stuck in the mountains, the ones who tried walk out to get help and supplies, and the eventual rescuers. Made it personal as we get to know the people involved. The mistakes they made, the bad advice they followed and the good advice they ignored. Heartbreaking.

    Cannibalism of course it what is most mentioned when people talk about this event, but reading this gives a more detailed view and I just can't imagine, nor hopefully never have to, be in a situation like these people. Mothers, children starving, people dying, the horrific cold, and reading this I could feel the desperation, feel the cold, the intensive snow fall. The back of the book has pictures of some and brings the reader up to date on what happened to the survivors afterward. How they fared and what their lives were like. An intense reading experience.

    ARC from publisher.

    Publishes May 26th by Liveright.

  • Kristin
    Mar 15, 2017

    Determined to reap the benefits of Manifest Destiny, the Donner Party was destined for despair and death from the very start of their westward journey. A combination of indecision, infighting amongst families and a lack of leadership contribute to their tragic downfall at Truckee Lake. In “The Best Land Under Heaven,” author Michael Wallis recreates the Donner Party’s ill-fated attempt to cross the Sierra Nevada mountain range during the violent winter season of 1846, their imminent starvation,

    Determined to reap the benefits of Manifest Destiny, the Donner Party was destined for despair and death from the very start of their westward journey. A combination of indecision, infighting amongst families and a lack of leadership contribute to their tragic downfall at Truckee Lake. In “The Best Land Under Heaven,” author Michael Wallis recreates the Donner Party’s ill-fated attempt to cross the Sierra Nevada mountain range during the violent winter season of 1846, their imminent starvation, reduced to catastrophic cannibalism to survive. The result is a cautionary tale infamously staining the chase of the American Dream forevermore.

  • Kusaimamekirai
    Jun 18, 2017

    In 1846, The Reed and Donner families along with many others set off from Illinois to embark on a new life in California. What happened after that is one of the more infamous and famous stories of the American frontier.

    Reading this very well researched and engaging book, I was struck by the fact that things by no means had to happen like they did. The Donner party as they came to be known had to be the victims of the worst convergence of circumstances and bad luck anyone has ever had. Of the

    In 1846, The Reed and Donner families along with many others set off from Illinois to embark on a new life in California. What happened after that is one of the more infamous and famous stories of the American frontier.

    Reading this very well researched and engaging book, I was struck by the fact that things by no means had to happen like they did. The Donner party as they came to be known had to be the victims of the worst convergence of circumstances and bad luck anyone has ever had. Of the dozens of bad decisions and circumstances they encountered, just one or two of them going a different way might have resulted in a completely different story. However between winter coming a month early in the Sierra Nevadas, the worst series of snowstorms that region had ever seen (20 foot high snowbanks!), and trusting the horrible, horrible advice of a self promoting, snake oil salesman like huckster who sent them on the world's worst shortcut, they were doomed.

    This is not to say that they didn't bring a lot of this on themselves with their own hubris because they certainly did.

    They ignored multiple warnings about taking this "shortcut" instead dog sticking to the tried and true trail. They burdened themselves with ridiculous items like double decker wagons complete with furniture sets, and chimneys(!). Most importantly, they were incredibly cavalier and reckless with their time considering how often they stopped to sing, get drunk, or collect wildflowers and flora. Seriously. All leading to them being late to arrive and eventually stranded in the snow covered mountains of California.

    All that being said, once tragedy began to strike, there were some incredible instances of heroism and selflessness. I was quite moved for example by Tamezen Donner's refusal on three separate occasions to escape to safety with rescue parties because it would have meant abandoning her sick husband.

    Sadly, for every Tamezen Donner there were cases of unspeakable callousness and cowardice. Murder, betrayal, the abandoning of small children and stealing their merger possessions in the process, all seemed to be common occurrences that seemed unfathomable to me.

    Yet perhaps I should reserve judgement even for these heinous acts.

    Simply because there is no precedent for what these people went through. Visualize it as I might, I know I'll never be able to fully understand what went through their minds and what influenced their choices. Were I to be put in their shoes I'd like to think I would choose the road of a Tamezen Donner but as this book makes abundantly clear, when faced with extraordinary circumstances human beings react in unpredictable ways, for good and bad.

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