By Winston Groom
Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95, 310 pages

The settlement of the American West was an epic undertaking. Long before railroads, highways and airplanes, people moved across the country via wagons or horseback. They went across large stretches of barren land dealing with hostile Indians and a lack of food and water. Death could happen on a daily basis. It was a time of brave men and women willing to risk it all for a new life.

In this book Winston Groom looks at how the Mexican-American War helped to open up the American West. He attempts to look at a specific part of this narrative: General Kearny’s march. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the book does not even cover Kearny. Instead, it is a mess of competing narratives and storylines that barely interact with each other and compete for the reader’s attention. Fremont’s march west through the wild mountains, Kit Carson, Zachary Taylor, and the Donner party – each group gets quite a bit of attention, which distracts from Kearny marching across the Southwest and finding a passage across the desert. While an interesting premise, this book unfortunately suffers from a lack of focus.

Kevin Winter