Although by “myth” Grandin is speaking about the “frontier myth” in a lot of ways this book becomes a very good primer/introduction to understanding manifest destiny, the frontier myth, and American Exceptionalism, as a basic, applied concept.
Although all of these ideas come into play conceptually through a lot of founding documents and ideas in writing, this book looks at the ways they were specifically put into praxis along the western frontier of America, and then how that frontier first went overseas in places like the Philippines, Cuba, and Vietnam (and then into the Middle East of course), and how that myth became even more of a metaphor as it’s moved to space, the internet, and international capitalism. Like all good histories, this book is narrow in its definitions, even if expansive in its scope. It doesn’t try to explain everything (what could) but does take a broad approach to the questions related to American frontier myth and American exceptionalism, and shows how these particular parts of cultural history contribute to the complexity of a fuller understanding of American history.
If this is your first book on the topic, you are well-served by its fullness, but also by the ways that Grandin has deftly weaved in the 20 years since 9/11 into that history and explained how the current US government (and yes, even Trump) plays into this long history. Don’t be fooled by the suggestion on the front that this is a limited anti-Trump book (we have plenty of those) but a book that adds depth to our sense of things not being right. I am oddly comforted by the reminder that the rot is deep in America, and not solely the time and place of specific actors today. That defangs my fears a little, and this book is stellar at that.
Do yourself a favor and use this a launch pad to read more (Patricia Limerick, Sacvan Berocvitch, Richard Drinnen, Francis Jennings, Annette Kolodny, Richard Slotkin among many others).