Nonfiction: Gold Rush Artist Bruff, Mountain Man Colter, Vegetable Gardening, the War of 1812 | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 21, 2017

Lizzio, Ken. Forty-Niner: The Extraordinary Gold Rush Odyssey of Joseph Goldsborough Bruff. Countryman. (American Grit). May 2017. 336p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781682680506. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781682680513. HIST
Lizzio (Embattled Saints: My Year with the Sufis of Afghanistan) steps far afield in his new work about California Gold Rush artist and adventurer Joseph Goldsborough Bruff (1804–99). Bruff’s claim to fame is the meticulous notes, sketches, and watercolor paintings he kept of his westward journey; his fruitless search for gold; and his penniless return home to Washington, DC. The author writes engaging prose, and the book contains colorful characters. However, there are no sources cited directly in the text; only a brief selected bibliography at the end, with few of the works listed primary sources. The author’s lack of training and expertise in the area makes it difficult to know where the storytelling ends and the history begins.
Verdict This book may intrigue the armchair historian with an interest in the Gold Rush, California history, and U.S. western expansion.—Crystal Goldman, Univ. of California–San Diego Lib.

Marshall, David W. Mountain Man: John Colter, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and the Call of the American West. Countryman. (American Grit). May 2017. 256p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781682680483. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781682680490. HIST
Historian Marshall offers an overview of the life of John Colter (1774–1813), who is described as the first mountain man. As a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804–06, Colter crossed the Louisiana Territory. After two years, when the Corps of Discovery reached the Mississippi River, Colter decided to travel back into the lands of the Upper Missouri to trap furs. Many adventurers would follow him. Colter left no written records so reconstructing his life is a challenge; Marshall relies upon written records from other such well-known frontiersmen as Jedediah Smith. The book’s five chapters depict elements of a mountain man’s life, for example clothing, pack essentials, and interactions with Native tribes. The author also includes a chapter about Colter’s 1807–08 routes along with the information he provided to adventurer William Clark, who prepared an up-to-date map of the West. Marshall’s text includes quotes from a variety of primary sources, which is a highlight. Notes and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources will interest those readers who wish to do additional research.
Verdict A volume in the “American Grit” series that will be of interest to general readers.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Coll., Mt. Carmel

The Mother Earth News Guide to Vegetable Gardening. Voyageur: Quarto. Apr. 2017. 272p. illus. index. ISBN 9780760351871. $27.99. GARDENING
guidetovegetable042117Longtime readers of the Mother Earth News magazine will recognize the practical advice packed into concise yet informative articles accompanied by helpful color illustrations and photographs. Newcomers will appreciate the breadth of knowledge possessed by the authors, which include frequent contributors to the journal such as Barbara Pleasant, who wrote the majority of the essays in this volume. Topics include familiar organic gardening subjects, for instance, maintaining soil health and composting. However, readers looking for a large section on individual plant profiles won’t find them, although there are several in-depth how-to guides available on growing some of the most popular edible crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. Instead, the last four chapters, which comprise the bulk of the book, are divided into growing seasons, with a variety of essays that will take gardeners of all skill levels through the many tasks they should be performing during the year. From advice on making the most of small spaces highlighting vertical and square foot gardening to extending the growing season by using cold frames or greenhouses, this useful resource has something for every gardener.
Verdict An essential tool for any garden library.—Venessa Hughes, Buffalo

Randall, Willard Sterne. Unshackling America: How the War of 1812 Truly Ended the American Revolution. St. Martin’s. Jun. 2017. 464p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250111838. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250111845. HIST
American colonists’ troubles with Great Britain began with the French and Indian War, which spanned 1754–63. Britain won but at a heavy cost. In response, Parliament tried to tie colonial commerce tighter to the mother country and instituted taxes to recoup costs incurred in governing the rambunctious colonies. Historian and biographer Randall (Alexander Hamilton: A Life; Thomas Jefferson: A Life) explains how tensions remained tense with the start of the French Revolution as Britain impounded American ships. With American victories at Plattsburgh, Baltimore, and New Orleans in 1814–15, the War of 1812 ended our maritime dependence on Britain, securing the new nation’s Western borders in the process. Randall is an engaging and adept storyteller, but he makes little attempt to analyze how the War of 1812 “truly ended” the Revolution. His narrative stops abruptly after the conclusion of the conflict in 1815.
Verdict For general readers interested in an overview of the War of 1812. Historians and specialists should seek more comprehensive works.—David Keymer, Cleveland

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