Synopses & Reviews
This portrait of Johnny Appleseed restores the flesh-and-blood man beneath the many myths. It captures the boldness of an iconic American life and the sadness of his last years, as the frontier marched past him, ever westward. And it shows how death liberated the legend and made of Johnny a barometer of the nations feelings about its own heroic past and the supposed Eden it once had been. It is a book that does for Americas inner frontier what Stephen Ambroses Undaunted Courage
did for its western one.
No American folk hero—not Davy Crockett, not even Daniel Boone—is better known than Johnny Appleseed, and none has become more trapped in his own legends. The fact is, John Chapman—the historical Johnny Appleseed—might well be the best-known figure from our national past about whom most people know almost nothing real at all.
One early historian called Chapman “the oddest character in all our history,” and not without cause. Chapman was an animal whisperer, a vegetarian in a raw country where it was far easier to kill game than grow a crop, a pacifist in a place ruled by gun, knife, and fist. Some settlers considered Chapman a New World saint. Others thought he had been kicked in the head by a horse. And yet he was welcomed almost everywhere, and stories about him floated from cabin to cabin, village to village, just as he did.
As eccentric as he was, John Chapman was also very much a man of his times: a land speculator and pioneer nurseryman with an uncanny sense for where settlement was moving next, and an evangelist for the Church of the New Jerusalem on a frontier alive with religious fervor. His story is equally Americas story at the birth of the nation.
In this tale of the wilderness and its taming, author Howard Means explores how our national past gets mythologized and hired out. Mostly, though, this is the story of two men, one real and one invented; of the times they lived through, the ties that link them, and the gulf that separates them; of the uses to which both have been put; and of what that tells us about ourselves, then and now.
Advance Praise for
“Finally, the cliche is peeled away and the essence of this utterly American character is so revealing. John Chapman comes alive here and it is a thrilling experience to escape the specific gravity of the decades of myth.”
-- Ken Burns
“So it turns out that Johnny Appleseed, iconic naturalist of the American frontier, is one of folklore’s great inventions. The real man behind the myth was an itinerant loner, a failed entrepreneur, a nutty, religious mystic. This is a perfect tale for our fractious times when the facts of history are so often willfully rearranged and made to advance agendas of all sorts. A delightful parable for post-modernists who understand that there is no truth, only text.”
--Ellen Chesler, author of Woman of Valor
and#8220;Johnny Appleseed is one of the great myths of our childhood. With insight and a lively touch, Howard Means tells us the story of the real Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman, a mystic and visionary who turns out to be a most memorable American character.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Evan Thomas, author of andlt;iandgt;The War Loversandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;We all know the caricature, but few of us know the man. Howard Means produces a feast of a story that strips away the myths of this folk-tale hero and gives us the real John Chapman and the rough-and-tumble world he lived in. This is a thoroughly fascinating and fun book.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Jay Winik, author of andlt;iandgt;April 1865andlt;/iandgt; and andlt;iandgt;The Great Upheavalandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;Engaging . . . Means scrubs away nearly two centuries of rumor and myth to uncover the truth about 19th-century pioneer nurseryman John Chapman. . . . Meanand#8217;s meticulous research reveals Chapman as an ascetic, conservationist and pacifist well-suited to serve as patron saint of todayand#8217;s faith-based and#8216;creation careand#8217; movement.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --andlt;iandgt;St. Louis Post-Dispatchandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;Means supports the legend with hard-earned fact in his portrait of Chapman as a and#8216;nurseryman; religious zealot; real-estate dabblerand#8217; and even altruistic capitalist.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --andlt;iandgt;The Wall Street Journalandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;Delightfully wry and perceptive . . . a captivating achievement in Americana.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt;--andlt;iandgt;Booklistandlt;/iandgt; (Starred Review)andlt;/bandgt;
“Finally, the clichÉ is peeled away and the essence of this utterly American character is so revealing. John Chapman comes alive here and it is a thrilling experience to escape the specific gravity of the decades of myth” (Ken Burns).
A portrait of John Chapman, alias Johnny Appleseed, that separates man from legend and explores how one of the most extravagant myths about early America got born and grew—from the frontier wilderness to Walt Disney and beyond.
About the Author
andlt;bandgt;Howard Meansandlt;/bandgt; is a former senior editor and senior writer at andlt;iandgt;Washingtonian Magazineandlt;/iandgt;. He is the author of many books, including andlt;iandgt;The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nationandlt;/iandgt;;andlt;iandgt; Colin Powell: A Biographyandlt;/iandgt;; and andlt;iandgt;The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmerandlt;/iandgt;,andlt;iandgt; andlt;/iandgt;coauthored with Susan Sheehan. He lives in Virginia.