Published by Liveright; 1 edition (June 6, 2017)
Through his celebrated Western biographies, Michael Wallis has become renowned for his portraits of the real, largely unforgotten legends of Americana. Now, with Best Land Under Heaven, Wallis continues his life’s work of separating fiction from fact, finally demythologizing the often-told saga of how an unlikely band of nearly ninety pioneers – stratified in age, wealth, education, and ethnicity – headed west in pursuit of the American Dream. That dream tragically morphed into a collective nightmare after a series of bad decisions and a once-in-a-generation winter storm left the now infamous Donner party snowbound in the Sierra Nevada. Unconvinced by previous accounts of how the group ended up in peril, Wallis has spent years retracing its ill-fated journey, uncovering hundreds of new documents that illuminate how a combination of greed, backbiting, and recklessness led to one of America’s most calamitous and sensationalized catastrophes. What results is a riveting account of the darkest side of Manifest Destiny.
“If you want the full, unvarnished, exceptionally researched and documented, day-by-day description of what happened, look no further . . . [Wallis] provides a study of the times and circumstances and pioneer mindset that it took for farmers and businessmen to decide to sell off their property, pack up their families and set off in search of something better beyond the next hill, over the horizon, past where the sun was last seen setting. . . . Fascinating, and horrifying, and inspiring.”
- Glen Seeber, The Oklahoman
“Mr. Wallis has succeeded for the first time in compiling all available pertinent historical facts into this book. It is a must-have for everyone wanting the true story of the most epic saga of survival during the westward movement.”
- William A. "Bill" Springer, Great grandson of Captain George Donner and the Curator of the Donner-Springer Family Collection
Michael Wallis appeared on the nationally syndicated radio show Fresh Air with Terry Gross to discuss Best Land Under Heaven
"With a keen eye for the particulars, Wallis has done a superb job sifting through lurid tabloid moralizing and unreliable accounts to explore the complex truths of human beings pushed to the absolute limits of existence. Wallis has delved into an extraordinary mass of original material, documents, diaries, accounts and letters, as well as new sources apparently not available to previous authors, and produced not only a definitive account of the Donner tragedy, but also a book so gripping it can scarcely be put down. . . . Wallis has done a superb job sifting through lurid tabloid moralizing and unreliable accounts to explore the complex truths of human beings pushed to the absolute limits of existence."
--Douglas Preston The New York Times Book Review
Michael Wallis, the best-selling author of Route 66 and Billy the Kid, has published eighteen books and won numerous honors and awards. He is a popular public speaker and a highly acclaimed voice actor. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.