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The Course of Empire (Trilogy of the West #3)

4.2  ·  Rating Details ·  131 Ratings  ·  15 Reviews
Tracing North American Exploration from Balboa to Lewis and Clark, Devoto tells in a classic fashion how the drama of discovery defined the American nation. The Course of Empire is the third volume in historian Bernard Devoto’s monumental trilogy of the West. Entertaining and incisive, this is the dramatic story of three hundred years of exploration of North America ...more
Paperback, 688 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by Mariner Books (first published 1952)
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Community Reviews

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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it liked it
Reading Bernard De Voto's The Course of Empire put me in mind of the computer game Empire Earth. Empire Earth is a real time strategy game that begins in the Stone Age and spans 500,000 years. You are given a certain number of settlers, with which to gather resources, build armies, and crush your enemies (your enemies being everyone who isn't your country, which makes it a tougher sell in schools than, say, Oregon Trail). The game allows you to be an overbearing, genocidal dictator within the co ...more
Greg Strandberg
Jun 05, 2016 Greg Strandberg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Probably one of the best histories of Western exploration and expansion, an all-encompassing narrative that takes us from the mid-1400s up to 1806 and the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The level of detail about explorers in America and the American West in the 1500s and 1600s was amazing. I had no idea about some of the places these people went to, and how much we knew.

That detail continues right up into the 1700s and 1800s, and even having read and researched dozens of books on fur tra
Sep 07, 2010 Erica rated it really liked it
This is a history of seriously epic proportions. DeVoto covers 278 years of exploration over a massive continent in 550 pages--and makes it interesting.

I read this as part of a project this semester to explore some narrative histories, which were done very well in the 1950s when this was published (as opposed to thesis-driven history, which has dominated academia since the 1960s and which I feel has had more than its fair share of time in the limelight and ought to be done away with [Heresy!]).
Jul 13, 2014 Lorena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
This is one of the most fascinating books about American History that I have ever read, and filled a huge gap in my knowledge and understanding of the years preceding 1830. I will read it again at least once, as there is so much to absorb and reflect upon. This book is enriching other books I am reading too. Highly recommend!
John Nelson
Nov 17, 2013 John Nelson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The "Great Game" contested by Great Britain, Russia, and to a lesser extent other powers for control of Central Asia is a familiar part of history. This book presents the thesis that North America between 1492 and roughly 1815 was the site of a similar "great game" involving Spain, France, Great Britain, and, at the end, the United States. The major elements were the same: foreign powers occupying the periphery of the continent and seeking to control trade with the interior; indigenous tribes in ...more
Jul 14, 2013 Andrew rated it liked it
This history of the development of the United States covers the period from early exploration to the Louisiana Purchase, with heavy emphasis on relations with Native American tribes. In a sense, it is "Guns, Germs and Steel" told from an American perspective. DeVoto, a noted historian, does a good job of describing relationships among the tribes of North America and the impact of trade for guns and iron tools that would change the balance of power among American Indians. It describes the arrival ...more
Sep 24, 2007 Cat rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all americans.
Shelves: americanhistory
This is a magisterial history of the exploration of the west by an icon of western histiography. DeVoto takes in the whole sweep of New World history, from the conquistadors up to Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark are the clear apogee of the narrative, and the hundred or so pages on their expedition function as a hundred page mini book within a book.

I learned alot about the exploration of the west in this book, especially in the sections devoted to spanish (inept) and french (daring but lacking a
Oct 17, 2013 Liam rated it really liked it
"'We ever held it certain that going toward the sunset we would find what we desired.' In four centuries, no one ever said it more fully." (quoting Cabeza de Vaca, 19)

"Are there geographical units here to which political units must correspond? It was asked so quietly that down to today many have never realized that it was asked at all." (228)

"The American teleology is geographical." (404)

"[O]n the far shore were not only the Canto merchants who brought the sea otter but Prester John and the Gran
Carl Strange
Mar 16, 2012 Carl Strange rated it liked it
DeVoto is good, but here he loses his narrative power like Napoleon in Russia. Two and a half centuries is just too wide a path to travel for any one story, and the individual stories seem disjointed, as though they belonged in a narrower book. Had he concentrated on the navigation and settlement of the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, the details of hugely erroneous course planning and of human endurance would have come to flower. Instead he moves here from bud to bud.
Dec 17, 2011 Mike rated it it was ok
Finally finished this behemoth of a book. While some parts were engaging, for the most part it was a drag to get through. There are so many names and places that I felt lost. Would have been nice to have a big map sitting next to me for most of the text.
Caleb Schultz
Dec 10, 2008 Caleb Schultz is currently reading it
A glorious and intellectual account of the History and westward expansion of North America. A lofty read. I consider it a short course on American History. It highlights most of the important items in our history as we expanded west.
Erik Graff
Jul 21, 2013 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: DeVoto fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Ignorantly, I read this, the third volume of DeVoto's historical trilogy about the westward expansion of the USA, without having read the previous volumes, The Year of Decision 1846 (1942) and Across the Wide Missouri (1947).
Sep 06, 2008 Josh rated it really liked it
Like Across The Wide Missouri, this can be a grind of a read. But these two, along with The Year of Decision 1846, will likely remain the definitive history of American exploration for a very long time.
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Jonathan Parfrey
Jan 04, 2014 Jonathan Parfrey rated it it was amazing
best book i've read on the founding of the american empire
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Bernard Augustine DeVoto was an American historian and author who specialized in the history of the American West.
More about Bernard DeVoto...

Other Books in the Series

Trilogy of the West (3 books)
  • Across the Wide Missouri
  • The Year of Decision 1846

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