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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Mount Rushmore: An Icon Reconsidered is sensational. Ambitious, provocative, and beautifully written, I stayed up late into the night reading this book, unable to put it down. Larner not only explores the meaning of Mt. Rushmore, but uses its history as a lens to reflect upon American values and experience. He elegantly weaves together past and present, taking us from the mid 1800s (when battles, negotiations, and a gold rush culminated in the US' conquest of the Black Hills territory in South Dakota), through the early 1900s (when the youthful nation was ripe for a monument celebrating the American spirit) to the present. Meticulously researched, Larner spent several years combing through archives and conducting interviews. He combines the serious scholar's rigor with the novelist's eye for detail. He has a good ear for dialog, a keen sense of irony, and quite a cast of characters - including gunfighters, fortune seekers, frontiersfolk, self-made men, Presidents, yellow journalists, captains of industry, the KKK, military legends like Custer and Sherman, Indian leaders such as Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, modern day civil libertarians, contemporary Indian rights advocates, as well as the colorful and complicated sculptor who dreamed up Mt. Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum. If there's one thing that historians and social scientists have agreed upon over the last 20 years, it's that you have to understand multiple perspectives to be accurate and fair. As a graduate student, it is his success on this front that I find most impressive. He respects his subjects, developed a rapport with many of them, yet was able to remain distant enough to draw critical assessments. As a result, the book is unusually objective and subtle. He reveals unsavory facts from our history which are neither honorable nor befitting of a democracy - Americans broke a signed treaty when they took the Black Hills without the Indian's consent; the belief in white supremacy justified a series of brutal policies well into the 1900s (e.g., children were ripped away from their parents and forcefully sent to boarding schools, women were sterilized, rations were withheld); Mt. Rushmore itself was intended by its creator, paradoxically, as a monument to both democracy and white superiority; the legacy of conquest still has tragic consequences for many Indians; Indians continue to have to fight against second class status. But at the same time, he reminds us of the things we can be proud of - Americans' ingenuity, energy, entrepreneurialism, our values such as liberty and equality. A story he tells at the end of the book about the awkward handling of a controversial painting in the South Dakota governor's office suggests that many people still cling to yesterday's unquestioning style of patriotism. This book demonstrates loud and clear that the old patriotism is open to challenge. Honesty and justice demand that the nation recognize and respect its diverse perspectives of the American experience . Keep your eyes on Jesse Larner. I'm predicting we'll be hearing lots more from him.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I am a semi-retired teacher, correspondant and American history buff who's finally worked and read his way across to the west coast. Hidebound readers may object, but Larner sees the settlement of the West as a history of battles, movements, wild emotional contests and paradoxical beliefs. For this still-hungry reader, it was a real sleeper of a book and I hope it opens up some eyes! Larner pulls up great stories from roaming the region and digging in dusty, buried archives. He is not politically driven or conventional, not one-sided like the usual plodders of the right or left, pathetic super-patriots or blame-the-US subversives or the correct of any congregation. I'm not surprised that true believers are up in arms! To myself, it's true to the ongoing American spirit to question our heroes and monuments, shake out the trappings of mythology, celebrate what stands the test of time and resurrect those who went the course without PR via Eastern newspapers and politicians! The West...as old Mark Twain for one knew...was made by rascals, fools and bullies as well as brave hearts who hung in there for freedom and equality. And Larner...like the Kansan writer Evan Connell...does not overlook the Native Americans who were custodians of the hills and plains...he takes pains with how they saw things as they stood up to the waves of conquest, and how they stand in its wake. But he glorifies no one... his aim is to show us forces and events for what they were and are...including but not overshadowed by trumpeted symbolism. If you read just to confirm your beliefs, you're too damn old for this book. Mt Rushmore, like America itself, is more than what its keepers cry, or what its promoters proclaim...more than 4 great old physiognomies presiding Westward. A tribe of tears and sweat and hard laughter went into the Black Hills, a ton of grit and gravel rolled down the mountain. It's time a young guy came along, talked to the ghosts, heard the living voices...and started to clear away the debris.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I am a semi-retired teacher, correspondant and American history buff who's finally worked and read his way across to the west coast. Hidebound readers may object, but Larner sees the settlement of the West as a history of battles, movements, wild emotional contests and paradoxical beliefs. For this still-hungry reader, it was a real sleeper of a book and I hope it opens up some eyes! Larner pulls up great stories from roaming the region and digging in dusty, buried archives. He is not politically driven or conventional, not one-sided like the usual plodders of the right or left, pathetic super-patriots or blame-the-US subversives or the correct of any congregation. I'm not surprised that true believers are up in arms! To myself, it's true to the ongoing American spirit to question our heroes and monuments, shake out the trappings of mythology, celebrate what stands the test of time and resurrect those who went the course without PR via Eastern newspapers and politicians! The West...as old Mark Twain for one knew...was made by rascals, fools and bullies as well as brave hearts who hung in there for freedom and equality. And Larner...like the Kansan writer Evan Connell...does not overlook the Native Americans who were custodians of the hills and plains...he takes pains with how they saw things as they stood up to the waves of conquest, and how they stand in its wake. But he glorifies no one... his aim is to show us forces and events for what they were and are...including but not overshadowed by trumpeted symbolism. If you read just to confirm your beliefs, you're too ... old for this book. Mt Rushmore, like America itself, is more than what its keepers cry, or what its promoters proclaim...more than 4 great old physiognomies presiding Westward. A tribe of tears and sweat and hard laughter went into the Black Hills, a ton of grit and gravel rolled down the mountain. It's time a young guy came along, talked to the ghosts, heard the living voices...and started to clear away the debris.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Jesse Larner's Mount Rushmore is an original and arresting work -at once medidative and muckraking, immediate and historical. The juxtaposition of recent personal encounters and wild 19th century incidents, roaming widely around the country, is mesmerizing and effective, and the case he makes is unassailable. My only complaint is that (speaking as an architect) I would have appreciated a stronger sense of the physical event itself of Rushmore itself -- the four presidential figures on the hill, representing democracy and conquest.
Paul Willen
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a very American book, on an archetypically American topic, written from a classic American stance: smart, perceptive, original and funny. And very serious.
Long ago, when I was growing up in New York City, Mt. Rushmore was right up there with I Am An American Day celebrations: an all-American symbol with just the slightest edge of vulgarity to it. But no one - ever - told me that Mt. Rushmore was built on stolen Indian land, by a promoter whose muscular White America
rhetoric went a fair bit beyond the 19th century norm.
One of the book's most interesting aspects is the linkage it develops between Mt. Rushmore's history and present-day Indian/white relationships - both interpersonal and political. The mountain, in effect, becomes a canvas on which the entire history of `development' across America's West is displayed.
For most people, this book will present material they have thought of as `familiar' in a new and much more meaningful context. Moreover, Larner's mix of historical research and perceptive reports of personal encounters makes for a very readable text. The book is written in a unique and warm voice; and that voice asks questions that haven't been raised previously.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Larner's lively history lesson isn't about the rock. It is about the world and visions that shaped it. He takes us through the history of the Black Hills examining the migrations, treaties and personal agendas reflected in the eyes of the faces on Mount Rushmore. While he challenges the superficial messages of the work, he is no reactionary liberal out to bash the government. Larner no more romanticizes the conflicts between the Indians that preceded the westward expansion than he does the visions of those who came after it. And why would he? The complexities of these relationships are far more interesting from an in depth even handed view.
Larner's extensive research breathes with a genuine fascination of his subjects. His personal passion is further evinced by his apparent extended stay in the Rapid City area. By weaving between research oriented historical chapters and his personal adventures, he develops a style that brings history to life for the rest of us. More books like this in history class and I might have changed my major.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
At last someone has told the truth about a national monument which reveals far more about our national character than we would care to think. A riveting, first class work of historical investigative journalism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I recently drove across country and bemoaned the fact that I did not get a chance to see Mount Rushmore. So when I ran across Jesse Larner's book in the new book section of the library I picked it up. The author's thesis is fascinating. I've read a lot about the Klan in the 1920's but never ran across Gutzon Borglum's name or his connection with the klan and Mount Rushmore.
The book and an analysis of the thesis that the monument is an icon to white supremacy is a great asset to current historigraphy. It's too bad that the author could not have gotten a better publisher. The book has no index and appears to be a reprint of a paper prepared by Larner. There are no maps, no diagrams, no photographs. Larner makes the point that Borglum looked like Teddy Roosevelt. In this case a picture would have been worth a thousand words.
I found that parts of the books were a bit stretched in terms of materials added just to add to the length. Essentially, Larner's point could have been made in a much shorter work. But for students of American History, the book is well worth reading. And my plans for a trip to Mount Rushmore have now been abandoned.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2002
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
At first, I was reluctant to read this book, as I'm not sure the West needs another carpetbagging intellectual making a whirlwind tour of our history and then interpreting its significance and smashing it's myths. Fortunately, the author isn't particularly intellectual. However, he does attempt to weave the sprawling tales of Rushmore, broken treaties, Little Big Horn, the Homestake Mine, the Klan, and AIM (among others,) with some success. The book starts out strong and well-researched, although none of the protagonists are fleshed out much. Even sculptor Borglum, arguably the anchor of the book, comes off as little more than a two-dimensional racist pig madly waving a banner of Manifest Destiny. Whether his racism is intrinsic to his personality or just political opportunism of the age is never really determined.
There is very little discussion of the physical construct of the monument, although the author dismisses the curiousity for such details as the geography of rank tourists. Still, a little bit of detail where the chisel and the explosives are concerned might have helped. Mostly, the book is about the myth. Having had a gun put to my head in the Rushmore parking lot one late night by an overzealous Secret Service agent, I understand the pervasive nature of the myth.
Don't buy this book for the strength of the prose, unless you like weak turns of phrase like, "The grass waved gently in the breeze." And the militant Indian stuff seems a mite superfluous and has been written better, notably by Peter Mathiessen and Ian Frazier. There is nothing revelatory here, and the book ultimately descends into an aimless list of quotes and anecdotes that resemble a grad student bicker-off in the corner of the local vegan coffee klatch of your nearest college town. In the final analysis, although Larner wanders into debates about Devil's Tower climbing and Dutch Reagan's face being added to the Fab Four, the author does a decent job of explaining the roots of a monument that Calvin Coolidge said is "altogether worthy of our Country." And you can interpret that any way you like.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I am a semi-retired teacher, correspondant and American history buff who's finally worked and read his way across to the west coast. Hidebound readers may object, but Larner sees the settlement of the West as a history of battles, movements, wild emotional contests and paradoxical beliefs. For this still-hungry reader, it was a real sleeper of a book and I hope it opens up some eyes! Larner pulls up great stories from roaming the region and digging in dusty, buried archives. He is not politically driven or conventional, not one-sided like the usual plodders of the right or left, pathetic super-patriots or blame-the-US subversives or the correct of any congregation. I'm not surprised that true believers are up in arms! To myself, it's true to the ongoing American spirit to question our heroes and monuments, shake out the trappings of mythology, celebrate what stands the test of time and resurrect those who went the course without PR via Eastern newspapers and politicians! The West...as old Mark Twain for one knew...was made by rascals, fools and bullies as well as brave hearts who hung in there for freedom and equality. And Larner...like the Kansan writer Evan Connell...does not overlook the Native Americans who were custodians of the hills and plains...he takes pains with how they saw things as they stood up to the waves of conquest, and how they stand in its wake. But he glorifies no one... his aim is to show us forces and events for what they were and are...including but not overshadowed by trumpeted symbolism. If you read just to confirm your beliefs, you're too damn old for this book. Mt Rushmore, like America itself, is more than what its keepers cry, or what its promoters proclaim...more than 4 great old physiognomies presiding Westward. A tribe of tears and sweat and hard laughter went into the Black Hills, a ton of grit and gravel rolled down the mountain. It's time a young guy came along, talked to the ghosts, heard the living voices...and started to clear away the debris.
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