Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Published two years after his nonfiction examination of the Kent State University shootings—Kent State: What Happened and Why (1971)—Centennial returns to the genre upon which Michener’s reputation rests. Like Hawaii and The Source, Centennial is a fascinating blend of historical fact and fiction. Unlike his previous novels, though, which are set in exotic lands, Centennial takes place in the continental United States.
In Centennial, Michener employs the same type of narrative artifice that he used in The Source, but which he believed was unnecessary in Chesapeake, The Covenant, and Space (1982). The contemporary presenter of the historical episodes in this novel is the fictional Professor Lewis Vernor, who is commissioned by US magazine to validate a series of articles on a town in Colorado called Centennial.
As in Hawaii, Michener provides a dramatic and historically verifiable explanation of how the land was created and populated. It is in his exposition of the prehistory of Colorado that Michener introduces two themes that run through the entire novel: the survival of the fittest and the persistence of the past into the present. The first human inhabitants of Colorado followed the woolly mammoths across a land bridge from Asia to Alaska thirteen thousand years ago. Michener then moves to the second half of the eighteenth...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)
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