Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 153.
In his Beyond the Missouri: The Story of the American West, Richard Etulain, a self-proclaimed "radical middler," proposes to provide a "center-of-the-road book" that tells of the complex and changeable American West without allowing heroes and villains to overwhelm the narrative. This he does remarkably well. Etulain places his text within a school of Western history, recently emerged, that emphasizes complexity over the old frontier thesis and over the more recent conquest-oriented New Western histories.
Writing a balanced history from the prehistoric landscape to the post-1980s, Etulain takes a broad view of his topic, skillfully weaving a story that includes environmental, social, political, and cultural elements. While acknowledging the influence of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, he approaches his subject from all sides and from within the region itself rather than from the traditional east-to-west perspective. The result is a book that focuses on the West as a place, one with a long history and an incredibly diverse population.