Time to stretch the mind, I told myself when I decided to buy renowned historian David McCullough’s new release. I’ve not read McCullough before, but figured that if I wanted a work of non-fiction that has nothing to do with today’s politics, reading about American explorers in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s might do it.
It did. I was totally immersed in this incredible read.
THE PIONEERS highlights the men who, both in planning and execution, were key to settling the Northwest Territory – land we now know of as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. McCullough’s reputation is well-deserved; what a skilled story-teller he is! In the process of describing pioneering life, he focuses on five of the leaders in this movement, details their backgrounds, families, beliefs, struggles, hopes, frustrations, and dreams. All of this is meticulously researched and artfully written.
As is the job of a historian (vs. an opinion writer), the author presents the facts and lets readers draw their own conclusions. For instance, one critic of THE PIONEERS takes McCullough to task for shortchanging the story of Native Americans as they were pushed farther and farther west. But he neither justifies nor condemns. He simply presents.
Same with the issue of slavery. He states (as is fact) that the framers of the Northwest Ordinance that preceded exploration into the Northwest Territories as expressly forbidding slavery, and details the frustration of the original settlers with later ones who wanted this changed. Here, too, McCullough takes neither side, simple documents what occurred in what would prove to be the lead-up to the Civil War.
In a day and age when extreme opinion is rampant, McCullough’s measure presentation is a welcome breath of fresh air.
I highly recommend this one.