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Across the Wide Missouri Paperback – Bargain Price, September 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395924979
  • ASIN: B005K6DVPK
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,335,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Like many U.S. historians, cultural critic Bernard DeVoto believed that the American character was rooted in the experience of westward expansion. Unlike those who championed the civilizing graces of the agrarian frontier, however, DeVoto drew inspiration from the mercenary, imperial designs of the fur trade. Originally published in 1947, Across the Wide Missouriis arguably the best known of his studies in American history, examining the rise and fall of the U.S. fur dynasties in the 1830s. The book chronicles the competition between John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, an "opposition" group of trappers (including Jim Bridger and Kit Carson) descended from the earlier entrepreneurial activities of General William H. Ashley. Devoto specifically narrates the major expeditions and the daily experiences of the Western divisions of these companies, which scoured the northernmost regions of the Rocky Mountains for beaver. He contends that, by exploring the recently charted Northern plateau, fighting off interlopers, and setting up trade networks, the loose confederation of trappers, traders, and Native Americans shaped the materialism that typifies modern American society. In his densely detailed description of the company "rendezvous," DeVoto shows how the activities of trading, partying, and resource pooling created a shared experience for competing cultural and economic parties on the frontier. While the centrality of the fur trade in the development of the American character may strike some readers as overemphasized, DeVoto's thesis still carries much relevance for modern American studies. --John M. Anderson

From Library Journal

DeVoto won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his series on the settling of the American West. The Course of the Empire traces the history of North America over a period of 278 years. Across the Wide Missouri, however, is more narrowly focused, covering specifically the importance of the fur trade of the early 1800s. Both are solid histories for public and academic libraries.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Mr. DeVoto is a magnificent writer.
William R. Strouse
If Stegner liked him, I thought, he must be worth reading.
Billy G. Fenton
This the greatest book written on this subject.
gayle bean

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 65 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
The best historical writing combines the quality of scholarship with that of literature, and that's what we have here. First published in 1947, this book is a deserved classic. It's the story of the Rocky Mountain fur trade in the latter half of the 1830s, a time of outrageous characters and extraordinary deeds, set against the finest landscape. DeVoto resolutely refuses to judge people of the 1830s by the standards of a later century. This is what infuriates the "politically correct". But DeVoto is surely right - any other approach might tell you something about the historian's own time but would shed little light on the period under study. Instead DeVoto's honesty brings his characters vividly to life. That doesn't only mean the fur trappers. He has a detailed and discerning knowledge of the Plains Indians, and appreciates the cultural, linguistic and indeed political diversity of the various nations. The Native Americans emerge as striking individuals in their own right. The book has been called romantic. Well, DeVoto is certainly keenly aware of the romantic quality of his epic tale, but he doesn't romanticize things. He's much too good a historian to make unprovable assertions. Always he has the evidence to hand, and if he repeats a tall tale, it's only for the pleasure of the telling and he's careful to point out when the source can't be trusted. His depth of research combined with a keen eye for the relevant detail make for a highly readable result. What all this adds up to is an elegy for two lost ways of life - that of the fur trappers and that of the Plains Indians, who managed to be friends and enemies at the same time.Read more ›
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By William R. Strouse on June 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
Across the Wide Missouri

Mr. DeVoto has a passion for this subject and a passion for the characters that live in it.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

"There were few delicate feeders in the mountains...The river tribes liked the green, putrid flesh of buffalo drowned while crossing the ice and hauled ashore weeks later, `so ripe, so tender, that very little boiling is required.' They ate the kidneys raw... the white man would eat the liver raw as soon as it was taken; he seasoned it with the gall or sometimes with gunpowder...he had no more tableware than his belt knife - gravy, juices and blood running down his face, forearms and shirt. He wolfed the meat and never reached repletion. Eight pounds a day was standard ration for Hudson Bay employees [but often eat twice that amount]...melted fat was gulped by the pint. Kidney fat could be drunk without limit...Hump and boss boil in a kettle, cracked marrow bones sizzle by the fire...Camp is pitched by a small creek or a rushing mountain river...Here is the winesap air of the high places, the clear, green sky of evening fading to a dark that brings the stars within arm's length, the cottonwoods along the creek rustling in the wind. The smell of meat has brought wolves and coyotes almost to the circle of firelight. They skulk just beyond it; sometimes a spurt of flame will turn will turn their eyes to gold...Horses and mules crop the bunch grass at the end of their lariats or browse on leaves along the creek. The firelight flares and fades in the wind's rhythm on the faces of men in whose minds are the vistas and the annuls of the entire West."

If you are yearning for a dry narrative of the fur trade, this is not your book.
Read more ›
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 16, 1998
Format: Paperback
Bernard Devoto wrote before the mavens of political correctness had the power to harm honest research and writing, so it is to be expected that some contemporary readers would be hurt and confused by his frank and realistic depiction of the west of the fur trappers. Devoto spent years researching this classic, then presented his findings in polished prose that evoked the period and the wild life of his subjects. This, like all of his historical works, is worth reading more than once.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By jerryc@shentel.net on March 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
A very romantic view of the subject by a master wordsmith. Reading, no, experiencing this book affected me very deeply, and I have since delved deeply into DeVoto's writing and his life. The reviewer who found this book to be poorly written has greatly different standards than do I, because this writer thinks it is a gorgeous book. I am fortunate to possess a first edition with many of the color paintings, captions for wich were the original purpose of the project. A must for anyone who wants to truly feel the early western experience.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Billy G. Fenton on September 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
I first heard of Bernard DeVoto while reading Wallace Stegner. If Stegner liked him, I thought, he must be worth reading. That turned out to be an understatement. DeVoto may be the greatest historian and man of letters this country has ever produced, and it's hard for me to believe that I came to such a ripe age before reading him. Of his great American trilogy, Across the Wide Missouri was the most enjoyable to me, simply because it tells the story of the Mountain Men, the trappers and fur traders, which I've always found interesting. He writes with the authority and panache of a great scholar, one who has researched his subject completely and relies only on first hand accounts, and transmits the knowledge he has gained as only the best of teachers can. Across the Wide Missouri is an enormous work that I will never forget, it reads like the best potboiler, and along with DeVoto's other works, has added immeasurably to my understanding of American history and my appreciation of great writers.
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