Synopses & Reviews
Seventeenth-century North America was a dangerous, untamed land, a vast wilderness where settlers, fur traders, and missionaries all struggled to eke out an existence. But the New World was also a place that attracted a special breed - men with a thirst for adventure and discovery. Robert Cavelier de La Salle, whose energy and single-minded ambition made him one of the greatest explorers of the time, was such a man. Born in 1643 to a family of wealthy linen merchants in Rouen, France, La Salle joined the Jesuits in hopes of becoming a missionary and traveling to distant lands. The hotheaded Robert soon found himself unable to conform. Sedentary teaching appointments ill suited his passionate nature, and, at the age of twenty-four, he left the Society of Jesus and crossed the Atlantic to America. Like Columbus before him, he was obsessed with finding a western passage to China. But the New World so intrigued him and inflamed his imagination that he abandoned the Far East for the mysteries of the still uncharted regions of North America. La Salle's explorations took him from Quebec and Montreal down the Saint Lawrence River to the Great Lakes; south along the Ohio and Illinois rivers; and finally, in 1682, down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, where he claimed the territory he had traveled through for France, and named it Louisiana in honor of the Sun King, Louis XIV. La Salle spent twenty years in North America, returning three times to France to enlist support for his further explorations and to gather funds to pursue them. Throughout those years he never lost sight of his grand strategic goal, which was to link the Great Lakes to warm water ports on the Gulf of Mexico. Nordid he waver in his integrity and determination to succeed, or lose his exceptional physical endurance. A man of such quality inevitably attracted lifelong friends, as well as mortal enemies who would assassinate him just as his triumph was nearly complete. The author combines impeccable scholarship with a novelist's narrative power and eye for stunning detail. She brings to life not only La Salle but the period and place: the vast cold of the north; the seething, insect-infested heat of the south; endlessly warring Indian tribes; intrigues on both sides of the Atlantic; and the constant, daily battles with nature itself. Muhlstein's masterly analysis of the political and economic significance of La Salle's great feat in linking the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the mouth of the Mississippi illuminates an event that shaped the development of this continent. Her depiction of life among the natives - La Salle, an accomplished linguist who spoke many Indian languages, arrived not as master or conqueror but as friend and equal, and in most of his travels he was accompanied by his devoted Shawnee guide, Nika - gives us vivid new insights into daily life in North America three hundred years ago.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 221-236) and index.