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How the West Was Unsettled : IT'S YOUR MISFORTUNE AND NONE OF MY OWN: A New History of the American West, By Richard White (University of Oklahoma Press: $34.95; 634 pp.)

January 05, 1992|Page Stegner | Stegner is the author of three collections of essays on the American West

The question (and it has been asked by others) is whether these doom-and-gloom disclosures are really all that revisionist--if they are, in fact, new at all. That the American West wasn't made up of Anglo-Saxon males, that women and minorities suffered there as elsewhere, that heroes are often little more than romanticized killers, that progress and development are frequently synonymous with environmental rape, that life isn't fair, is perhaps a little obvious to readers familiar with the discourse of many of the of historians (C. Vann Woodward, Howard Lamar, Gerald Nash, Paul Horgan, William Goetzmann, Earl Pomeroy) and with the work of non-horse-opera Western writers such as Mary Austin, John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Wallace Stegner, N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Leslie Silko, Rudolfo Anaya. And poor old Frederick Jackson Turner has been taking his licks now for several generations' worth of historians.

The message that the West was replete with villains and villainy, no doubt, bears repeating. The ways in which it has been mythologized and continuously reimagined is worth repeated documentation. And it would be unfair to suggest that Richard White makes any claims for his work in regard to unexplored historiography. On the contrary, without delivering a revisionist manifesto, he has produced an exhaustively researched and near encyclopedic excursion into our Western past, and he pulls together an enormous amount of information about the social and political forces that shaped--and continue to shape--the most compelling region of our nation.

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