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

Into the Wild

Read The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny Online Free - "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 emigrants was met with a chilling nightmare; in the following months, their jingoistic excitement would be replaced by desperate cries for help that would fall silent in the deadly snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada.

We know these early pioneers as the Donner Party, a name that has elicited horror since the late 1840s. Now, celebrated historian Michael Wallis—beloved for his myth-busting portraits of legendary American figures—continues his life’s work of parsing fact from fiction to tell the true story of one of the most embroidered sagas in Western history.

Wallis begins the story in 1846, a momentous "year of decision" for the nation, when incredible territorial strides were being made in Texas, New Mexico, and California. Against this dramatic backdrop, an unlikely band of travelers appeared, stratified in age, wealth, education and ethnicity. At the forefront were the Donners: brothers George and Jacob, true sons of the soil determined to tame the wild land of California; and the Reeds, headed by adventurous, business-savvy patriarch James. In total, the Donner-Reed group would reach eighty-seven men, women, and children, and though personal motives varied—bachelors thirsting for adventure, parents wanting greater futures for their children—everyone was linked by the same unwavering belief that California was theirs for the taking.

Skeptical of previous accounts of how the group ended up in peril, Wallis has spent years retracing its ill-fated journey, uncovering hundreds of new documents that illuminate how a combination of greed, backbiting, and recklessness led the group to become hopelessly snowbound at the infamous Donner Pass in present-day California. Climaxing with the grim stories of how the party’s paltry rations soon gave way to unimaginable hunger, Wallis not only details the cannibalism that has in perpetuity haunted their legacy but also the heroic rescue parties that managed to reach the stranded, only to discover that just forty-eight had survived the ordeal.

An unflinching and historically invaluable account of the darkest side of Manifest Destiny, The Best Land Under Heaven offers a brilliant, revisionist examination of one of America's most calamitous and sensationalized catastrophes.

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


Diane S ☔ rated it ★★★★☆

March 12, 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...

Matt rated it ★★★★★

July 13, 2017

“It’s supposed to be a challenge, that’s why they call it a shortcut. If it was easy, it’d just be the way.” - Paulo Costanzo, as Rubin, in Road Trip “Unless you pass over the mountains early in the fall, you are very liable to be detained, by impassable mountains of snow, until the next spring, or...

Rae rated it ★★★★★

February 10, 2018

This book is not for everyone. It is gruesome. But it is fascinating. What I knew of the Donner party was from school, and it was minimal. This is a super-researched book that follows the doomed wagon train as its leaders make bad decision after bad decision that lead them to the Sierras too late...

David rated it ★★★★☆

October 22, 2017

I suppose I should say that it was a pleasure to finally read something about our history of westward expansion that wasn't all about depredations being committed by or upon native Americans. While Indians do make very minor appearances in this tragic tale their involvement is not worth noting an...

Melinda rated it ★★★★★

July 09, 2017

Absolutely riveting and impeccably researched. I have read a lot about the Donner party. You might say I have a Donner Party Thing. This is by far the most illuminating and multi-faceted look at their story, as well as the book that best placed the Donner Party's trek in its historical context. A...

Katie rated it ★★★★☆

August 18, 2017

Well-researched and detailed account of the Donner party. But a more detailed map of the journey would have been nice.

Susan (the other Susan) rated it ★★★★★

July 06, 2017

Review later. Snack first. 👀

Whitney rated it ★★★★★

January 21, 2018

I have discovered a new favorite hobby: eating lots of snacks while reading about cannibalism! But really...this book was fantastic - a new, clear perspective on the Donner party. Carefully researched - even the early parts of the journey - and richly populated - even the less “important” members...

Katie rated it ★★★★☆

December 15, 2017

Most know of the Donner Party’s infamous “cannibalism,” but few know of the absolute desperation these people experienced. What began as a hopeful journey to cultivate new, prosperous lives out west became a living nightmare. The book was dry at times, and there were places where I felt the autho...

Kristin rated it ★★★★★

March 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 Be...

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