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Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 - Richard Slotkin
Another of my standard references. By turns daunting and compelling. Occasionally overwrought, sometimes poetic, and always brutal, but the grand approach and language suit the subject and make for a read almost as exhilarating as Slotkin's scholarship is exhaustive. Through American literature, Slotkin gets at the heart and soul and blood and bone of American history as few straight histories do.

An excerpt:

"Our heroes and their narratives are an index to our character and conception of our role in the universe . . . Under the aspect of mythology and historical distance, the woodchopper, the whale and bear hunter, the Indian fighter, and the deerslayer have an air of simplicity and purity that makes them seem finely heroic expressions of an admirable quality of the human spirit. They seem to stand on a commanding ridge, while we are still tangled in the complexities of the world and the wilderness. But their apparent independence of time and consequence is an illusion; a closely woven chain of time and consequence binds their world to ours.

"Set the statuesque figures and their piled trophies in motion through space and time, and a more familiar landscape emerges – the whale, the buffalo, and bear hunted to the verge of extinction for pleasure in killing and “scalped” for fame and the profit in hides by men like Buffalo Bill; the buffalo meat left to rot, till acres of prairie were covered with heaps of whitening bones, and the bones ground for fertilizer; the Indian debased, impoverished, and killed in return for his gifts; the land and its people, it’s “dark” people especially, economically exploited and wasted; the warfare between man and nature, between race and race, exalted as a kind of heroic ideal; the piles of wrecked and rusted cars, heaped like Tartar pyramids of death-cracked, weather-browned, rain-rotted skulls, to signify our passage through the land."