Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review Mini-post: Boone – A Biography, Robert Morgan

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007 538 pp. Includes extensive notes, bibliography.

This book provides a detailed, balanced treatment of the life and character of Boone, but certainly not the semi-fictional Boone created by the media.

The media has been kind to him, contrary to for instance Jefferson; I think the latter has taken a beating in recent years. Morgan’s biography is not the easiest reading. He includes a great deal of information on Boone’s many business dealings in land with a very large number of clients. Many of these transactions were unsatisfactory.

Sources for Morgan were provided by many contributors, including relatives. The source authenticity must always be questioned.

The focus on Boone’s public life, rather than just his exploration and life on the frontier, succeeds in defining Boone as basically a moral, kindly man. I wouldn’t call him a saint, but he wasn’t a sinner, either.

Writing biography automatically sets up a need to include and explain everything possible about the subject’s life. Some types of biography are very popular, particularly if the subject is in any type of show business. These biographies embellish rumors, then add depth and mystery where actually none may exist. Even a provocative title can set up great expectations. They are not trashy, just not scholarly. I enjoy them very much.

Choosing a more obscure subject may generate a lot of interest. Some years ago, a biographer, instead of choosing a blockbuster subject such as Winston Churchill, chose his mother, Jennie. It was a great success.

How does Morgan relate Boone’s long life (1734 – 1820) to the American Revolutionary War?

He shows that America’s frontiers were fighting their own war, predominantly against hostile Indians hired by the British. The frontier did not end its war when the colonies did. Essentially, there were two wars. Boone’s was part of the frontier war. His family’s Tory sympathies existed, although the extent is unclear.

There is good information on Boone’s later years in Missouri. It is not definite if he ever returned to Kentucky. He was treated with great honor and respect. There was always interest in his years on the Kentucky frontier.

This biography fills a gap. Boone needed some serious study, not more entertainment wearing a coonskin cap. 2007 is not a moment too soon. –Renata Breisacher Mulry

Hardcover Edition

Paperback Edition

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