The Mythic West in Twentieth-Century America / Edition 1

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"Just what and where is the West? Why have so many been so obsessed with finding and saving that mythic time and place? What has the West meant to those who have lived there and to the millions more who have journeyed there only in their imaginations? And how have the answers to these questions changed with the years? The issues involved here—the place of the West and the frontier experience in our search for a national identity—have inspired a small library of important books during the last thirty years or so. Most of these writers have given their attention to those confident and aggressive years of the nineteenth century when the frontier was sweeping across the continent.

"Athearn's contribution, in part, is to pursue the shifting perceptions of the West into the present century. There the story has taken new twists as Americans have confronted hard lessons about themselves and their land. Again and again the message of events has been much the same: We are running short of resources and of room to grow. The region that once seemed endlessly bountiful and forever wild has become a land of narrowing limits. With this realization, popular feelings about the West, 'the most American part of America,' have swung erratically between hope and disillusionment, affection and anger. Yet the myth has survived, however battered and bent into new shapes. . . .

"The Mythic West is by no means meant as a full treatment of its subject. Instead Athearn uses each chapter to consider from a different angle certain developments that have shaped the modern West and some of the ways these transformations have in turn molded what people have thought and dreamed about that land. . . . It is informed by his characteristic intelligence and graced by the humor and felicity of style his readers have come to expect. As do his other works, it leaves us with a deeper, richer understanding of that elusive and complex place, the West, which he knew as well as anyone ever will."—from the Foreword

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of American History
An intelligent, witty account of the western mystique by one of its great devotees.
Denver Post
Treat yourself to this book if you have any interest in what it means to be Western.
Washington Post Book World
Spirited and witty. Told with poise and affection.
Western Historical Quarterly
A fine portrait of the recent West.
Library Journal
This ``blend of scholarship, personal observation, and opinion'' identifies the social and economic forces that molded the West in the 20th century, contrasting the realities of Western development with the ever-changing public perceptions and fantasies responsible for the Western myth. Athearn draws from a wide range of scholarly and popular sources in the course of his discussion. But despite clever turns of phrase, witty analogies, and sporadic insights, the book suffers from the lack of a clearly stated premise and logically structured narrative. It reads like an interminable monologue that never gets to the point. The best features are the illustrations and the ``Essay Sources'' which include the author's references as well as recommendations for additional reading. Frank Schroth, Technology Training Assoc., Cambridge, Mass.
Howard R. Lamar
Magnificent….This book is a must for anyone interested in understanding the recent history of a major portion of the American west.
Colorado Heritage
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700603770
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 10/28/1986
  • Series: History Book Club
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 330
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword by Elliott West

Robert Athearn's West


1. The Ephemeral West

2. How the Old West Was Lost

3. The Nervous Years

4. Eden Is Jeopardized

5. "The Dreaming is Finished"

6. Colonialism: The Enduring Dilemma

7. The Dudes' West

8. The Fictional West

9. The Wilderness Evangelists

10. The Man, the Land, the Legend

Epilogue: The Genesis of the Mythic


Essays on Sources


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