Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DAVID CROCKETT IN CONGRESS: The Most Important Crockett Book in Fifty Years

When this book was published, I invited co-author Allen Wiener to say a few words about it here on the Almanack (that's HERE). He made it sound like a fine book, and I was anxious to read it. So I ordered a copy.

When it arrived, I was shocked at the size. I’m not sure how I pictured it, but I wasn’t expecting a deluxe hardcover the size of a big city phonebook!

Then I read it, and had still another revelation. You see, folks, this ain’t no ordinary history book. It’s a landmark in Crockett literature. Bottom line? This is the most important Crockett book to appear in over fifty years. I know, because aside from a handful of juvenile biographies and storybooks, I’ve read them all.

Why is it so important? First, it provides a wealth of new scholarship regarding an vital and long overlooked period of Crockett’s life. And second, it introduces us to the real David Crockett in a way never before possible - in his own words.

Wait! you say. Didn’t Crockett write an autobiography? Yes he did, sort of. And it’s a fine read. But he had help. It’s not pure Crockett, and it’s not always as factual as historians would like.

That autobiography was published in 1834, and for the next 122 years, biographers just rehashed the same information. James Atkins Shackford changed all that in 1956, with David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, opening up acres of new territory in Crockett’s life. Most important of these was Crockett’s political career. But while Shackford’s work on that period was groundbreaking, it left me wanting more. I kept expecting someone to dig into the original sources Shackford only alluded to and give us the whole story.

That’s what James Boylston and Allen Wiener have done, and the result is far more than I’d hoped for. The back half of the book delivers all the poop from those original sources - letters, circulars, newspaper articles, and the congressional record. Much of this stuff is in Crockett’s own unvarnished words (complete with lack of punctuation), taking us closer to the real man than we’ve ever been.

The first half of the book puts that information in context, taking us step-by-step through Crockett’s career in Congress. Boylston and Wiener introduce us to all the major players, both friend and foe, and give us a firm grounding in the issues of the day, allowing us to understand what Crockett was up against, and appreciate what his actions revealed about his character.

This is not the Davy we saw on the Disney show. This is the real guy, and we get to know him warts and all. The Crockett that emerges is a different kind of hero, the one hinted at in the book’s subtitle. Whatever troubles came his way (and they were many), Crockett never lost sight of his ideals, and truly was “the Poor Man’s Friend”.

Want more info before you buy? Visit the book’s official website HERE, or watch James and Allen’s 40-minute presentation at the Texas Book Festival, as broadcast by C-SPAN2, HERE.


Denny Elliott said...

Thanks for the tip, Evan! I was not aware of this book.

Richard Prosch said...

Man, this sounds heavy duty. I'm curious --have you been a Crockett fan all your life or should we blame those DC Tomahawk comics?

Evan Lewis said...

It was Disney's fault. I think I was hooked with the first episode. Actually I don't remember reading any Davy comics back then, the Dells, DCs, Avons or the Charltons. Wish I had.

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