A collection of essays about the “West” in the broadest of terms by Larry McMurtry, published mostly for New Atlantic in the late 1990s. It’s funny because in a lot of ways this is such a pre-9/11 book, a designation I don’t think about much these days, but was of consequence at the time. A lot of American Studies texts in the 1990s, and this book, while not an academic American Studies book, has the flavor and sentiment of one, and references many of the same authors you’d find in an American Studies course, especially about the west, is similar, were dealing with how the US took concepts developed first in colonial settlement, pushed West with Manifest Destiny and Westward expansion, and eventually carried over seas to the Philippines, Cuba, Panama, and eventually Vietnam (at least to hit the highlights). The 1990s began with George HW Bush declaring that we had “kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all [vv: which was a lie of course]” when we got involved in the Iraq-Kuwait War. The 1990s were often a time of exploring that relationship and reckoning with some of America’s past. 9/11 of course reset a lot of that debate publicly and getting involved in Iraq again spent the cachet built up by the “unity” we professed.
All of this is the say that this Larry McMurtry feels like an artifact in a lot of ways. Learning about John Wesley Powell, or having Larry McMurtry talk about his appreciation of Wallace Stegner or Patricia Limerick is great, but just feels like a different time. Like plenty of his other works, there’s a great reading list in her for those who want, some niche history as well, but also a discourse that still feels necessary, but also feels like it left us behind.