"The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny"
On this edition of ST, we chat with Michael Wallis, the best-selling Tulsa-based author of "Route 66" and "David Crockett" and many other books. Wallis joins us to discuss his newest work of engaging history, which is just out; the book is called "The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny." As was noted of this work in a starred review in Publishers Weekly: "Adopting an empathetic approach bolstered by studious research and geographical contextualization, biographer Wallis...reclaims the horrific story of the infamously ill-fated wagon train from the annals of sensationalism. Though nearly synonymous with cannibalism in pop culture lore, the Donner Party's 1846-47 journey receives from Wallis a balanced treatment, showing that the surviving members who chose cannibalism did so as a last resort -- and largely because saving their starving children was their priority. Wallis effectively mixes survivors' accounts, trip diaries, and other contemporary sources, delving deep into the backgrounds and dynamics of the multiple families involved in the four-months-long winter wilderness encampment.... Wallis explains that the caravan suffered multiple setbacks, including livestock thefts by Native Americans and an unusually long and harsh winter. The leaders also routinely made bad decisions, such as trusting an untested 'shortcut' promoted by an armchair guidebook author. The Donner Party's struggles and determination continue to fascinate, and Wallis's comprehensive account of bravery, luck, and failure illuminates the realities of westward expansion." Please note that Wallis will be reading from -- and signing copies of -- this new book tomorrow night, Thursday the 25th, beginning at 7pm at the Tulsa Historical Society.