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Born on a Mountaintop: On the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier Hardcover – March 5, 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier, preferred to be called David. He was a frontiersman, but he was also a U.S. congressman. He was an Indian fighter, but he also fought for Indian rights. He probably didn’t spend a lot of time wearing buckskin, despite what Disney would have you believe. (He did die at the Alamo—that part is true.) Thompson’s mission here is to separate myth about Crockett from historical fact. Unfortunately, there’s precious little historical fact to be found. Even the experts—Thompson calls them Crockettologists—freely admit that much of what they know is based on historical detective work, not fact. Crockett became a pop-culture icon in the years just before his death and was the subject of a play, an anonymously written biography (which Crockett hated), and his own autobiography (whose accuracy is also questionable). As colorful as the Crockett legend is, it appears from this very entertaining book that the truth about the man could be equally colorful—if you can somehow get at the whole truth, that is. --David Pitt

Review

Born on a Mountaintop is an enjoyable journey along the trail of Crockett’s life and legend — part road trip and part history lesson....[Thompson's] storytelling displays considerable good humor and an admirable amount of research. You can almost see him smiling at some of the madcap stuff he is told along the way." --Washington Post

“Bob Thompson can flat-out write, and he paints a vivid picture here of David Crockett, who was a far more complex and interesting man—and myth—than his coonskinned, bear-hunting, Alamo-defending iconic image. He combines excellent research and a born storyteller’s skill to create a lively and entertaining look at one of America’s great characters. This is road-trip history at its best.” – Jim Donovan, author of The Blood of Heroes 

Born on a Mountaintop explores the blurry boundary between America’s legends and histories, and how the relationship between the two often tells us much about the construction of belief in the absence of hard facts.  And, it is also a great road trip--one that leaves you wanting to have ridden shotgun along the way.” – Charles Frazier, author of Nightwoods and Cold Mountain

"Bob Thompson's shrewd and heartfelt account of his year-long journey through the thickets of Davy Crockett lore is essential reading for anyone who's ever worn a coonskin cap, dreamt of the wild frontier, or remembered the Alamo.  A briskly entertaining book that nonetheless has serious things to say about how we memorialize--and inevitably mythologize--the iconic figures of our history." – Gary Krist, author of City of Scoundrels 

"I opened this book intending to skim a few pages but immediately became hooked. Thompson does a splendid job of evoking the life and legend of David Crockett--the immortal 'Davy' who captivated young Americans because of Fess Parker's portrayal in the 1950s, served as an icon for Anglo-Texans who venerated the memory of the Alamo, and served as a touchstone for anyone drawn to the image of backwoods characters who triumphed in America. By turns engrossing, hilarious, and moving, it undoubtedly will find a large and appreciative audience.” - Gary W. Gallagher, author of Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollyood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War
 
“Part travelogue, part biography, part history, Born on a Mountaintop is most of all a pure pleasure to read. The passion in Bob Thompson's search for the truth about Davy Crockett springs from every page, and by the end, his search has become our own.” -David Finkel, author of The Good Soldiers
 
“If Confederates In The Attic shifted its focus to frontier legend David Crockett, the result would be Born on a Mountaintop.  Bob Thompson's highly personal and witty new book looks with perception at the real Crockett as opposed to the mythical "Davy," how Americans embraced the latter in his own time, and how popular culture has handled his multiple persona since his death.  Crockett is a virtually irresistible character in his own right, but Thomson somehow succeeds in making him even more appealing.” - William C. Davis, author of Three Roads to the Alamo
 
"Bob Thompson blazes the dangerous trail between myth and history with the skill of a fine scholar and the wit of a born storyteller.  I never realized the search for Davy Crockett, real and imagined, could be so enlightening and so much fun."
- Michael Kazin, Professor of History, Georgetown University and author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation
 
 
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307720896
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307720894
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,112,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen Bridge on July 3, 2016
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Which is more important to American history? The real life and accomplishments of Davy Crockett or the *legends* about him? There’s no contest – it’s the legends. For almost everyone my age, the mention of the name “Davy” or “Crockett” – even with other names attached – immediately fires thousands of neurons in our brain, bringing up images of the Alamo, with Fess Parker or John Wayne as Davy, the coonskin cap (usually fake) we wore as kids, and that song. You know the one: “Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.”

David Crockett was a typical, if overly restless, pioneer of the early 1800’s in America. He was born in Tennessee, fought in some Indian wars, never made much money, served two terms in Congress, and eventually went to Texas, hoping to find land and profit in the new Republic of Texas, which was trying to break away from Mexico. Davy’s timing was poor, however, and he ended up dying at the Alamo in San Antonio in 1836 in a misguided defense against a huge force of Mexican troops. His lasting reputation for a century was both as a comic teller of tall tales and a dying hero.

In 1954 Walt Disney was obsessed with building a giant theme park – Disneyland. He made a deal with ABC television. “ABC would invest in Disneyland (and guarantee millions in loans) while Disney provided programming for an ABC TV show. Walt decided to build the show around the four ‘lands’ he was planning for the park: Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Frontierland.” To promote Frontierland Disney’s team chose to make a tv movie about Davy Crockett. At that time Crockett was less famous than Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, and other pioneer heroes. And apparently Walt Disney himself didn’t understand that his hero had to die at the Alamo in Texas.
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Format: Hardcover
Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,
Greenest state in the land of the free.
Raised in the woods so's he knew every tree,
Killed him a bear when he was only three.

Davy, Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier.

Just looking at the title of Bob Thompson's new Davy Crockett book, Born on a Mountaintop, gets me humming this old Disney song from the fifties - even to the point that I have a hard time getting it back out of my head. Men (and probably more than a few women) of a certain age are likely to have fond memories of the five-segment Walt Disney "Disneyland" series that spawned this little tune and all the Davy Crockett gear we managed to wear out between 1955 and 1956. I still remember the coonskin cap I wore everywhere and the little plastic frontier "rifle" I carried with me.

Suddenly, children across America were obsessed by a fabled hero that grabbed our imaginations like nothing had before. Davy's (as portrayed by actor Fess Parker) face was on so many lunch boxes, magazines, comics, bubble gum cards, coloring books, games, and pajamas that Walt Disney was probably able to pay for most of Disneyland with his company's share of the sales proceeds. Davy Crockett was that big - and we loved him. Little did most of us suspect, at least at the beginning, that he had been a real man. He really had been a congressman, an Indian-fighter (of a sort), and had died a hero's death at the Alamo. When we found this out, especially those of us growing up in Texas, we were more enchanted by the idea of Davy Crockett than ever before. The man will be a mythical hero to us for the rest of our lives.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In its over two centuries of existence, the United States has developed its fair share of legends to accompany its history. Somewhere in that hazy zone between the two is Davy Crockett, a real person who has worked his way into the mythology of the U.S. in general and more specifically the one-time western frontier of Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas.

Bob Thompson's Born on a Mountaintop is superficially a biography of Crockett. As becomes quickly apparent, however, there aren't much in the way of facts about Crockett. Born in a rural area without much literacy, there weren't much records of his early life, and even his later years would be rather sketchily documented. Essentially, most of what you think you know about Crockett is a likely fiction.

As stated in the Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." This is what happened with Crockett: even during his lifetime, he was a celebrity renowned for adventures that likely never happened. After his death, the stories would both get wilder and become more entwined in his biography.

This is where Thompson's book succeeds. Rather than just telling the story of Crockett's life, he tells the story of Crockett's biography and how it has evolved. Working in roughly chronological order, Thompson visits the various sites where Crockett had been and tries to glean the truth behind the legends. The various depictions of Crockett in film (most notably, the Fess Parker version by Disney) are also discussed.

Of course, it was the Alamo that made Crockett a martyr, and Thompson also discusses the many controversies regarding Crockett's exact role (and manner of death) in that siege. The truth may never be completely known, but we will still have the legend.
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