Egan, Timothy. The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 368 pages. $28.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-544-27288-0.
Timothy Egan’s reputation as a writer has pushed out in ever-widening large circles. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a writer for The New York Times, and author of several much-touted western histories. Egan won a National Book Award for his stirring story of the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Times (2006), and national attention for his The Big Burn (2009), a moving account of a disastrous forest fire in north Idaho and northwestern Montana.
The Immortal Irishman, the life of Irish and American Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867), adds measurably to Egan’s notoriety as a first-class writer about the American West. Egan devotes most of the first half of his biography to Meagher’s years in Ireland, England, and a penal colony in Tasmania before bringing him to the United States in 1852. The remainder of the lively life story treats the final 15 years of Meagher’s cut-short life in New York City, the Civil War, and frontier Montana.
Egan’s account of Meagher overflows with human interest, cultural contexts, and historical contingencies. The first chapters rip along with Meagher’s radicalization as an Irish nationalist in the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s during the Great Hunger years. After escaping from semi-imprisonment in Tasmania, Meagher quickly built on his notoriety as an Irish patriot among his kinsmen in New York and as a valiant military leader of the Irish Brigade in the Civil War. Meagher’s final two years in faraway Montana Territory (1865-1867) were a continual tussle with political opponents and violent vigilantes. Whether his mysterious disappearance–falling from a boat into the Missouri River at Fort Benton–was an accident or assassination remains unclear; but Egan suggests the bloody hands of assassins were at work.
Egan tells his engrossing story with the artistic flourishes of a premier wordsmith. He depicts Meagher as a full-bodied, complex man with the warm, ambitious heart of a thoughtful Irishman. The author also illuminatingly and adeptly places Meagher in the complex social and cultural contexts of three continents. Egan even uncovers some of his own roots in Montana and resurrects several other Egans of Irish history. This is a superb biography in all ways.
— Richard Etulain
Other Biographies We Recommend:
- Drukman, Mason. Wayne Morse: A Political Biography. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1997. 545 pp. $10. ISBN 978-0-8759-5280-1. The author provides an exciting, accurate, informative and a wholly fitting tribute to one of the most iconoclastic, influential senators of the mid-twentieth century.
- Hurtado, Albert L. John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. 412 pp. $50 . ISBN 978-0-8061-3772-8. Based on a tirelessly researched and richly detailed account, the author fully reveals an ambiguous life in all its tarnished glory.
- Jager, Rebecca K. Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sacagawea: Indian Women as Cultural Intermediaries and National Symbols. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. 368 pp. $29.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8061-4851-9.An illuminating study of three women who were cultural transition figures between Indian and Euro-American cultures.
- Lange, Charles H. and Riley, Carroll L. Bandelier: The Life and Adventures of Adolf Bandelier. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996. 263 pp. $90.00. ISBN 978-0-8748-0499-7.The authors present an account of the subject’s life that provides an easy way to understand the rise of the great Pueblo cultures.
- Milner, Clyde A. and O’Conner, Carol A. As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 430 pp. $15.00. ISBN 978-0-8061-5178-6. A terrific saga researched for a decade, masterfully, eloquently told.
- Robbins, William G. A Man for All Seasons: Monroe Sweetland and the Liberal Paradox. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015. 312 pp. $24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-19-512709-6.This is a probing account of an Oregon political leader for much of the 20th century and an important figure in liberal Democratic politics.
- Stiles, T. J. Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. New York: Knopf, 2015. 608 pp. $30.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-3075-9264-4. This is the Pulitzer Prize-winner for biography in 2016.
- Utley, Robert M. Wanted: The Outlaw Lives of Billy the Kid and Ned Kelly. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2015. 256 pp. $30.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-3002-0455-1.
Memoirs We Recommend:
- Armitage, Shelley. Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 216 pp. $24.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8061-5162-5.
- Grundstein, Margaret. Naked in the Woods: My Unexpected Years in a Hippie Commune. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015. 224 pp. $18.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-87071-807-6. Author details her life in an Oregon commune—from hippie to committed utopian.
- Knight, Phil. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. New York: Scribner, 2016. 400 pp. $29.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-5011-3591-0. The revealing memoir of the Nike founder, traces the company from its founding to world prominence.
- Street, William D. Twenty-Five Years among the Indians and Buffalo: A Frontier Memoir. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015. 560 pp. $29.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-7006-2171-2. A valuable account of a young frontiersman among Indian opponents and buffalo hunters (1860s-70s); has revealing social and physical descriptions, and valuable cultural information.
- Wariner, Ruth. The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir. New York: Flatiron Books Macmillan, 2016. 352 pp. $27.99, cloth. ISBN 978-1-2500-7769-1. The account of a girl growing up in a polygamist Mormon family in Mexico, this memoir provides revealing personal details about the author’s traumatic upbringings. Book overflows with haunting incidents and intriguing people; ultimately a story of triumph.