Reviews for Born on a Mountaintop : On the Road With Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier


Booklist Reviews 2013 March #1
Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier, preferred to be called David. He was a frontiersman, but he was also a U.S. congressman. He was an Indian fighter, but he also fought for Indian rights. He probably didn't spend a lot of time wearing buckskin, despite what Disney would have you believe. (He did die at the Alamo--that part is true.) Thompson's mission here is to separate myth about Crockett from historical fact. Unfortunately, there's precious little historical fact to be found. Even the experts--Thompson calls them Crockettologists--freely admit that much of what they know is based on historical detective work, not fact. Crockett became a pop-culture icon in the years just before his death and was the subject of a play, an anonymously written biography (which Crockett hated), and his own autobiography (whose accuracy is also questionable). As colorful as the Crockett legend is, it appears from this very entertaining book that the truth about the man could be equally colorful--if you can somehow get at the whole truth, that is. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2013 March
The man behind the coonskin cap

When I say “Davy Crockett,” what do you see? A man in a coonskin cap? The vaguely Taco Bell-ish profile of the Alamo? Or—be honest—did you sing “Davy, DAY-vy Crockett, king of the wild frontier”? You’re forgiven; the song is very catchy, and the guy was a legend, about whom surprisingly little is actually known. In Born on a Mountaintop, author Bob Thompson tries to find the real man behind the myths, but soon discovers that almost every “fact” about Crockett is either the subject of contentious debate or flat-out wrong.

Thompson’s research was inspired by his daughter, who heard “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” in the car and began parsing the lyrics for details. Many biographies combined fact (he was a three-term congressman who advocated for the poor) with folklore (readers may be shocked to discover he could not, in fact, grin a bear into submission)—a tradition Crockett himself encouraged, seamlessly blending celebrity into his political career. So Thompson takes to the road to seek what truths may be found. In Tennessee he sees many places Crockett might have lived, only a few of which are provable as the real deal. At the Alamo, he finds that the debate is not resolved over whether Crockett was executed as a prisoner of war or went down, guns blazing, with bodies at his feet.

A darkly fascinating aspect of Crockett’s legacy is the “Crockett almanacs,” books similar to a farmer’s almanac that combined practical information with tall tales. They were written by East Coast pulp writers, who portrayed Crockett as a racist, chauvinist monster, which got big laughs circa 1839. Later these books were mistaken for real folklore from the oral tradition, which further clouds our view of a man who actually preferred to be called “David.”

This is not to say the book is grim—far from it. The roadside attractions on Thompson’s journey often make a tossed salad of Crockett, Daniel Boone and Paul Bunyan. And watching Thompson and his wife struggle to separate fact from fiction in the “Ballad,” then explain the difference between them to a four-year-old, is a hoot; they end up having to read aloud, “at her insistence,” an entire biography of Andrew Jackson to establish historical context. There’s a fun look at the Disney miniseries that launched a million coonskin caps onto the heads of kids worldwide and made Fess Parker a household name. But Born on a Mountaintop also gives us a look at fame and image in pre-Facebook America and finds that, while the cogs moved more slowly, the machine itself was much the same as the one we know today.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 January #1
For a year, former Washington Post feature writer Thompson chased the King of the Wild Frontier. In this evenhanded account, the author reports that it was his young daughter's excited response to a Burl Ives' recording of the Disney theme song that ignited his family's interest in the historical David Crockett. And off he went--to sites in Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and Washington, D.C.--pursuing the frontiersman whose story, told in the three-part Disneyland series in the 1950s, caused the coonskin-cap phenomenon that spread rapidly across the country. The author sees no need for esoteric theories about its death: "It was a fad," he writes. As Thompson tracked Crockett, he encountered local experts just about everywhere--people who were extraordinarily generous about driving him to remote locations and sharing their hard-won knowledge. He also interviewed some scholars, visited archives, browsed (and bought) in assorted gift shops, examined relics (the real, the risible) and attended festivities at the Alamo on the 175th anniversary of the battle. He found it wrenchingly difficult at times to chip away the thick carapace of fiction from Crockett's life. Far less is known than many people would believe. Many stories, especially about the Alamo, elicit fiery emotions, especially in Texas. Thompson also read myriads of Crockett and Alamo books, examined the career of Fess Parker (Disney's Crockett), and watched and analyzed the major (and some minor) movies, including those starring John Wayne and Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett. Neither Wayne nor Thornton, writes Thompson, showed us even a vaguely authentic Crockett. Offers no surprising conclusions, but Thompson provides a well-researched, delightfully obsessive story, suitable for Crockett aficionados and neophytes. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 February #2

Providing a splendid foray into the popular culture of American frontiersman Davy Crockett, Thompson (former Washington Post journalist and editor) follows in Crockett's footsteps from his Tennessee roots to his death in Texas. Crockett has long been considered a hero of the Battle of the Alamo and aggressively commercialized across America. Unlike Michael Wallis's David Crockett: The Lion of the West, a traditional, formal biography, Thompson's title provides a personal narrative of his own travels and encounters with modern "ghosts of the wild frontier," these being reenactors, curators, and businessmen, each seeking to understand, define and/or promote Crockett's legacy in his or her own way. Documenting his work with basic historical sources, Thompson seeks to understand Crockett's spirit by delving into the consciousness of modern society, which means recognizing and understanding the influence of Walt Disney, Fess Parker, and others. VERDICT An enjoyable and entertaining account of Thompson coming to terms with the Tennessee congressman and frontier hero, and ultimately demonstrating the continuing relevance of the Crockett legend to Texas and America. This will be a popular read in public libraries and among Western enthusiasts.--Nathan Bender, Laramie, WY

[Page 108]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 March #2

Following the trail of legendary frontiersman, Tennessee legislator, and Alamo hero Davy Crockett is no easy task. To do so, Washington Post features writer Bob Thompson takes off on an actual flight of fancy, pursuing historical and contemporary accounts of a man made famous in both fact and fiction. Combining research, anecdotes, and a lot of balderdash, Thompson lovingly hashes over endless Crockett minutiae. Although introduced as a lighthearted romp, the book often lapses into intrusive narration and painstaking detail. Much of the telling involves disclaimers, such as Crockett's jibe after losing an election: "‘Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me,' he is said to have told his constituents, ‘you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.'" That story is watered down, as are many of the more interesting tales. One of America's most treasured and fabled icons, Crockett has captured generations of fans and Thompson appears to have engaged most of them for lengthy conversations. Though long-winded, readers will learn a lot about Crockett over the course of this journey. 8 page b/w photo insert. (Mar.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

Following the trail of legendary frontiersman, Tennessee legislator, and Alamo hero Davy Crockett is no easy task. To do so, Washington Post features writer Bob Thompson takes off on an actual flight of fancy, pursuing historical and contemporary accounts of a man made famous in both fact and fiction. Combining research, anecdotes, and a lot of balderdash, Thompson lovingly hashes over endless Crockett minutiae. Although introduced as a lighthearted romp, the book often lapses into intrusive narration and painstaking detail. Much of the telling involves disclaimers, such as Crockett's jibe after losing an election: "‘Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me,' he is said to have told his constituents, ‘you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.'" That story is watered down, as are many of the more interesting tales. One of America's most treasured and fabled icons, Crockett has captured generations of fans and Thompson appears to have engaged most of them for lengthy conversations. Though long-winded, readers will learn a lot about Crockett over the course of this journey. 8 page b/w photo insert. (Mar.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

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