The most recommended books on Manifest Destiny

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10 authors created a book list connected to Manifest Destiny, and here are their favorite Manifest Destiny books.
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Book cover of Agents of Manifest Destiny: The Lives and Times of the Filibusters

Robert E. May Author Of Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America

From my list on U.S. filibustering.

Who am I?

I discovered the “filibusters” during my very first weeks in graduate school and have been learning and writing books and articles about them ever since. I think that what initially intrigued me was that they had outsized importance in U.S. politics and diplomacy, and were often front-page news before the Civil War, and yet I had never heard about them growing up. I was also intrigued because these men were so unlike myself. I can’t in my wildest moments even imagine joining a tiny bunch of armed men in an illegal expedition to a foreign land, risking death in the field or jail if I ever made it back home!

Robert's book list on U.S. filibustering

Robert E. May Why did Robert love this book?

I found Brown’s book extremely helpful in writing my own book on filibustering, because it spins out its story chronologically, starting with plots against Venezuela and Spanish territory on the U.S.’s southwestern frontier in 1806 (the latter headed by the infamous Aaron Burr) and winding up with the execution of William Walker by a Honduran firing squad in 1860, shortly before the American Civil War. There would be later filibuster expeditions to Mexico, Canada, Cuba, and other places, but Brown’s narrative provides a perfect starting point for anyone wanting an overall panorama of filibustering during its “golden age,” when it most influenced the American public and was most closely linked to the American expansion philosophy of Manifest Destiny. Brown enriches his book with ample photographs, maps, and a thirteen-page bibliography. 

By Charles H. Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Agents of Manifest Destiny as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the 1850s the doctrine of Manifest Destiny sanctioned a popular movement in which adventurers sought to enlarge the nation's boundaries by military incursions into Latin American countries. Brown portrays the leaders of the expeditions and describes the filibuster movement as a part of larger affairs--the slavery issue, the Monroe Doctrine, the rivalry for commercial supremacy in the Caribbean, and the assertion by the United States of its claim to national greatness.

Originally published in 1980.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished…


Book cover of Met His Every Goal? James K. Polk and the Legends of Manifest Destiny

Bob Brill Author Of The Tattoo Murder

From my list on solving historical mysteries.

Who am I?

My entire life I’ve been a historian, a treasure hunter, and a crime solver, which is likely why I became a broadcast journalist and investigative reporter. Having worked cases, worked with police, and asked the questions I believe the public wanted answered, there isn’t much which gets by me. I see every story as a movie and every scene in life as a story that needs telling. One of my passions has always been genealogy which fits right into all of the above. I live by a simple saying, “Be a student of history, not a victim of it.”

Bob's book list on solving historical mysteries

Bob Brill Why did Bob love this book?

Polk was one of the most important presidents, considered Top 10, and he only served one term. He didn’t set out to be president. He got nominated because the bigwigs at the time couldn’t win their party's votes. Polk kept getting more votes as the ballots were turned in and became his party’s nominee. He won the election and set out three goals; get rid of the bank of the US, which was ripping the country off, expand the country to the west coast, and get rid of tariffs, all three of which he accomplished. He did it all in four years, chose not to run again, went home, and died. Talk about logical? Get it done, get it over with, and leave the future to someone else. 

By Tom Chaffin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Met His Every Goal? James K. Polk and the Legends of Manifest Destiny as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon after winning the presidency in 1845, according to the oft-repeated anecdote, James K. Polk slapped his thigh and predicted what would be the ""four great measures"" of his administration: the acquisition of some or all of the Oregon Country, the acquisition of California, a reduction in tariffs, and the establishment of a permanent independent treasury. Over the next four years, the Tennessee Democrat achieved all four goals. And those milestones--along with his purported enunciation of them--have come to define his presidency. Indeed, repeated ad infinitum in U.S. history textbooks, Polk's bold listing of goals has become U.S. political history's…


Book cover of The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

June Carolyn Erlick Author Of A Gringa in Bogotá: Living Colombia's Invisible War

From my list on classics for understanding Latin America.

Who am I?

I accidentally fell in love with Latin America, a love that has lasted my lifetime. When I was young, I lived in a Dominican neighborhood in New York, learning Spanish from my neighbors. After I graduated from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism I got a job covering the Cuban community in New Jersey because I spoke Spanish. Eventually I ended up living in Colombia and then Managua as a foreign correspondent. Now I edit a magazine at Harvard about Latin America. It's not just the news that interests me; I love the cadence of the language, the smell and taste of its varied cuisine, the warmth of the people, the culture, and, yes, soccer.

June's book list on classics for understanding Latin America

June Carolyn Erlick Why did June love this book?

Greg Grandin is a historian's historian, a brilliant researcher, a captivating writer. It's honestly hard to pick which of his books to feature here. But since The End of the Myth won the Pultizer Prize, I'll choose it as my favorite. What I loved about this book is that it gives me a new perspective about the history of my own country—about which, frankly, I do not know that much—and the region I have reported on for most of my life, Latin America. He makes connections and does so in a compelling fashion.

The book focuses on the United States and the border, but it sheds much light on how the myth of manifest destiny has shaped the way we think of ourselves and our relationship with our southern neighbors.

By Greg Grandin,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The End of the Myth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

A new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump’s border wall.

Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States’ belief in itself as an exceptional nation – democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America hasa new symbol: the border wall.

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history…


Book cover of In the Rogue Blood

Alden Bell Author Of The Reapers Are the Angels

From my list on in the tradition of William Faulkner.

Who am I?

As a writer, I’ve been deeply influenced by Southern literature—especially the work of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. Even though I’m not from the South myself, I am drawn to Southern writers’ immodesty. I believe much of contemporary literature is too timid. It is about the mundane, the everyday.  It does not elevate; instead, it diminishes.  Much of the literature of the South is biblical in its sensibilities.  It is unafraid to deal with the big universal issues with language that is equally big and universal.  It does not pander to modesty or postmodern selfconsciousness. It is audacious. It’s the kind of writing that made me want to write.

Alden's book list on in the tradition of William Faulkner

Alden Bell Why did Alden love this book?

Mixing Faulkner’s gothic language with McCarthy’s sense of history, Blake writes a story of two brothers torn apart by circumstance and their experiences in the Mexican-American War.  Blake captures that sense of aimless wandering that echoes Faulkner’s stories—the rootless characters meandering across the country, not only unsure of their destinations but maybe even indifferent to them. To me, one of the most profound twists in the book is that the brothers don’t seem to care which side of the war they participate in. They are itinerants whose purpose in the world is simply circumstantial; they are instruments of universal forces that they neither question nor understand. 

By James Carlos Blake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Rogue Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The offspring of a whore mother and a homicidal father, Edward and John Little are driven from their home in the Florida swamplands by a sching parent's treacheries, and by a shameful, horrific act that will haunt their dreams for the rest of their days. Joining the swelling ranks of the rootless--wandering across an almost surreal bloodland populated by the sorrowfully lost and defiantly damned--two brothers are separated by death and circumstance in the lawless "Dixie City" of New Orelans, and dispatched by destiny to opposing sides in a fierce and desperate territorial struggled between Mexico and the United States.…


Book cover of A Newer World: Kit Carson, John C. Fremont and the Claiming of the American West

Ron McFarland Author Of Edward J. Steptoe and the Indian Wars: Life on the Frontier, 1815-1865

From my list on biographies of army officers who wrested the West.

Who am I?

I’m a retired English prof with a lifelong interest in history. My father fostered my fascination with Civil War battlefields, and growing up in Florida, I studied the Seminole wars in school and later at FSU. While teaching at the University of Idaho (nearly 50 years), I pursued my interest in the Indian wars of the mid-19th century and developed a curiosity about tribes in the inland Northwest, notably the Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, and Nez Perce. My critical biography of Blackfeet novelist James Welch occasioned reading and research on the Plains tribes. I recommend his nonfiction book, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate the Plains Indians.

Ron's book list on biographies of army officers who wrested the West

Ron McFarland Why did Ron love this book?

As a boy, I encountered Kit Carson via the Landmark Books, and I could not resist rediscovering him in juxtaposition with his friend but non-kindred spirit, John C. Frémont, who nearly became president in 1856. Although Roberts mercifully spares us from exposing Frémont’s Civil War blunders, his account of the disastrous 1848-49 expedition renders the “Pathfinder” in his grandiosity a less sympathetic figure than the laconic scout. As Roberts notes in his epilogue concerning the feats of his two flawed subjects, “pure heroes or villains do not exist outside the pages of bad literature.” He likens the evolution of Carson as “thoughtless killer of Apaches and Blackfeet” to “defender and champion of the Utes” to a similar reversal in the case of General George Crook.

By David Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Newer World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In A Newer World, David Roberts serves as a guide through John C. Frémont's and Kit Carson's adventures through unknown American territory to achieve manifest destiny.

Between 1842 and 1854 John C. Frémont, renowned as the nineteenth century's greatest explorer, and Kit Carson, the legendary scout and Indian fighter, boldly ventured into untamed territory to fulfill America's "manifest destiny." Drawing on little-known primary sources, as well as his own travels through the lands Frémont and Carson explored, David Roberts recreates their expeditions, second in significance only to those of Lewis and Clark. A Newer World is a harrowing narrative of…


Book cover of Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America

Robert E. May Author Of Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America

From my list on U.S. filibustering.

Who am I?

I discovered the “filibusters” during my very first weeks in graduate school and have been learning and writing books and articles about them ever since. I think that what initially intrigued me was that they had outsized importance in U.S. politics and diplomacy, and were often front-page news before the Civil War, and yet I had never heard about them growing up. I was also intrigued because these men were so unlike myself. I can’t in my wildest moments even imagine joining a tiny bunch of armed men in an illegal expedition to a foreign land, risking death in the field or jail if I ever made it back home!

Robert's book list on U.S. filibustering

Robert E. May Why did Robert love this book?

Though he’s hardly a household name, William Walker, the most significant of the American filibusters, has been the subject of a surprising number of biographies. What is special about Michel Gobat’s book is his in-depth look at the actual government Walker set up to rule Nicaragua in the mid-1850s, the people he enlisted to run it, and his government’s ambitions and programs. Gobat suggests, importantly, that prior historians have underestimated Walker’s popular support in Nicaragua and overstated his ties to White southerners’ plans to expand U.S. slavery. 

By Michel Gobat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Empire by Invitation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Michel Gobat traces the untold story of the rise and fall of the first U.S. overseas empire to William Walker, a believer in the nation's manifest destiny to spread its blessings not only westward but abroad as well.

In the 1850s Walker and a small group of U.S. expansionists migrated to Nicaragua determined to forge a tropical "empire of liberty." His quest to free Central American masses from allegedly despotic elites initially enjoyed strong local support from liberal Nicaraguans who hoped U.S.-style democracy and progress would spread across the land. As Walker's group of "filibusters" proceeded to help Nicaraguans battle…


Book cover of Appleseed

Sandra K. Barnidge Author Of Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction

From my list on climate change that pull no punches.

Who am I?

I’m a science communicator turned fiction writer with a special interest in the impact of environmental crises on small towns and overlooked places. My short fiction has appeared in various journals, including The Fiddlehead, Nimrod, Barren, and Reckon Review. I’m currently writing a novel about hurricane chasers along the Gulf Coast.

Sandra's book list on climate change that pull no punches

Sandra K. Barnidge Why did Sandra love this book?

This remixing of the American legend of Johnny Appleseed with climate science, ecoterrorism, and elements of Roman mythology results in a very big book — literally. At almost 500 pages, there’s a lot of, well, everything. But at its organic core, this is a story about the preservation of our most basic and necessary elements. As the story moves further into the distant future, the fight to protect the scraps and slivers of non-robotic life becomes more focused as it does urgent. By the end, what emerges is the gnawing sense that perhaps the mythology we’ve constructed around technology as our salvation is inhibiting the mysterious yet ultimately more powerful magic of a natural world quite capable of re-propagating itself if only we humans could bring ourselves to stand aside.

By Matt Bell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Appleseed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK · A PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER BEST OF THE YEAR

“Woven together out of the strands of myth, science fiction, and ecological warning, Matt Bell’s Appleseed is as urgent as it is audacious.” —Kelly Link, Pulitzer Prize finalist and national bestselling author of Get in Trouble

A “breathtaking novel of ideas unlike anything you’ve ever read” (Esquire) from Young Lions Fiction Award–finalist Matt Bell, a breakout book that explores climate change, manifest destiny, humanity’s unchecked exploitation of natural resources, and the small but powerful magic contained within every single apple. 

In eighteenth-century Ohio, two brothers travel…


Book cover of Ordeal of the Union, Vol. 1: Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847-1852

James Traub Author Of What Was Liberalism?: The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea

From my list on the run-up to the American Civil War.

Who am I?

I am a journalist and NYU professor whose primary field is American foreign policy. As a biographer, however, I am drawn to American history and, increasingly, to the history of liberalism. I am now writing a biography of that arch-liberal, Hubert Humphrey. My actual subject thus appears to be wars of ideas. I began reading in-depth about the 1850s, when the question of slavery divided the nation in half, while writing a short biography of Judah Benjamin, Secretary of State of the Confederacy. (Judah Benjamin: Counselor To The Confederacy will be published in October.) It was the decade in which the tectonic fault upon which the nation was built erupted to the surface. There's a book for me in there somewhere, but I haven't yet found it.

James' book list on the run-up to the American Civil War

James Traub Why did James love this book?

The epic, multi-volume work of one of America's great mid-century historians. An old-fashioned work of immense erudition, vivid narrative, decisive judgment. Never before or since have so many great and consequential speeches been delivered in Congress; Nevins furnishes every one of them with suitable embellishment. Vols. 2-4 (in the 8-volume version) offer wonderful set pieces on the great events of the time--the Kansas-Nebraska debate, the Dred Scott case, the rise and election of Abraham Lincoln.

By Allan Nevins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ordeal of the Union, Vol. 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Classic study of how and why the Civil War came about.


Book cover of The Shining Mountains

C. P. Lesley Author Of Song of the Siren

From C. P.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Historical novelist Podcaster Wannabe ballerina Cat lover

C. P.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

C. P. Lesley Why did C. P. love this book?

Like most people raised in the US, I thought I learned the history of westward expansion in school. I even knew that Manifest Destiny destroyed Native American populations and cultures. But this novel by Alix Christie brings the tragedy home in ways the flat text of history books cannot.

Through the story of two generations of one family, The Shining Mountains explores how a relatively respectful discourse between fur traders and indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest deteriorated into hostility, suspicion, racial discrimination, warfare, trickery, and murder after the Gold Rush of 1849, with long-term consequences to both those displaced and the natural environment.

Beautifully written and timely, The Shining Mountains will get you thinking and warm your heart.

By Alix Christie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shining Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The year is 1838. A young Scotsman forced from his homeland arrives at Hudson's Bay. Angus McDonald is contracted to British masters to trade for fur. But the world he discovers is beyond even a Highlander's wildest imaginings: raging rivers, buffalo hunts, and the powerful daughter of an ancient and magnificent people. In Catherine Baptiste, kin to Nez Perce chiefs, Angus recognizes a kindred spirit. The Rocky Mountain West in which they meet will soon be torn apart by competing claims: between British fur traders, American settlers, and the Native peoples who have lived for millennia in the valleys and…