Allan W. Eckert James Nelson Goodsell - Essay

James Nelson Goodsell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Allan Eckert's brand of history takes some getting used to. It reads very like fiction, but is actually fact dressed up in the style of a novel. There's an intimacy in the effort which is often lacking in today's historical writing. Yet the approach poses problems.

For example, he leans heavily on dialogue to tell his story, making ample use of whatever historical conversation remains in archives but also adopting the practice of what he terms "hidden dialogue"—putting quotation marks around material not initially recorded as dialogue but reported as having been said or heard or thought after an event.

It is a practice that historians frown upon. Mr. Eckert defends it on the grounds that it helps "provide continuity" and maintains "a high degree of reader interest." He adds the assurance, nevertheless, that "in no case has this been at the expense of historical accuracy."

So be it. This "Wilderness Empire" is a readable and fascinating handling of the 18th-century struggle between the English and the French for supremacy in the Great Lakes area held by the various Iroquois tribes….

Much of the story as Mr. Eckert tells it is of brutality—on all sides. He leaves little to the imagination. The squeamish might be better advised to read elsewhere: But the author reasons that the era was a rough and tumble one, a brutal period in history, and it deserves to be told as it was….

"Wilderness Empire" is sequel to Mr. Eckert's "The Frontiersman"…. There is continuity between the two books, but it is easy to read one without the other.

History need not be dull as Mr. Eckert proves. But whether such an approach is ideal is open to question….

James Nelson Goodsell, "Should History Read Like Fiction?" in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1969 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), October 23, 1969, p. 15.