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February 15, 1987|David Lindsay

THE READER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN WEST, edited by Howard R. Lamar (Harper & Row: $29.95; 1,206 pp., illustrated). For Americans, the American West has long been a fascination, a natural wonder, a magnet, a challenge, a place to escape to, a place to start life all over again, the source of free land that some said made the American experience unique and spawned democracy. Travelers, writers and artists have long celebrated the West in talk, print and paint.

Editor Howard Lamar takes a broad view: "Historically," he writes, "the American West has meant either any part of the continental United States in its formative period or the entire trans-Mississippi West from its first exploration to the present. This volume looks at both of these Wests. But it also treats thematically Native Americans, American expansion and its diplomacy, overladen trails, the new players like the fur traders, cowboys, boatmen, mountain men, miners, lumbermen, homesteaders, farmers. And in imagination, the West encompasses the work of romantic and realistic writers and artists, musicians, film makers and humorists."

Yale scholar Lamar has coordinated the work of more than 200 scholars in this volume, in more than 1,000 entries, some running a sentence or two, others several pages, depending upon importance. They have been especially thorough, including geographic features, towns, as well as individuals and social groups. Here is a first-rate work that deserves space in the library of any serious student of the West. The illustrations, photos and maps add interest and clarity to the text.

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