Continental Reckoning


Continental Reckoning

The American West in the Age of Expansion

Elliott West

History of the American West Series

704 pages
21 photographs, 29 illustrations, 12 maps, index


February 2023


$39.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

February 2023


$39.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

February 2023


$39.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Winner of Columbia University's 2024 Bancroft Prize in American History
2024 Spur Award Winner
Named a Best Civil War Book of 2023 by 
Civil War Monitor

In Continental Reckoning renowned historian Elliott West presents a sweeping narrative of the American West and its vital role in the transformation of the nation. In the 1840s, by which time the United States had expanded to the Pacific, what would become the West was home to numerous vibrant Native cultures and vague claims by other nations. Thirty years later it was organized into states and territories and bound into the nation and world by an infrastructure of rails, telegraph wires, and roads and by a racial and ethnic order, with its Indigenous peoples largely dispossessed and confined to reservations.

Unprecedented exploration uncovered the West’s extraordinary resources, beginning with the discovery of gold in California within days of the United States acquiring the territory following the Mexican-American War. As those resources were developed, often by the most modern methods and through modern corporate enterprise, half of the contiguous United States was physically transformed. Continental Reckoning guides the reader through the rippling, multiplying changes wrought in the western half of the country, arguing that these changes should be given equal billing with the Civil War in this crucial transition of national life.

As the West was acquired, integrated into the nation, and made over physically and culturally, the United States shifted onto a course of accelerated economic growth, a racial reordering and redefinition of citizenship, engagement with global revolutions of science and technology, and invigorated involvement with the larger world. The creation of the West and the emergence of modern America were intimately related. Neither can be understood without the other. With masterful prose and a critical eye, West presents a fresh approach to the dawn of the American West, one of the most pivotal periods of American history.

Author Bio

Elliott West is Alumni Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of numerous books, including The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story and The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado, winner of the Francis Parkman Prize and PEN Center Award.


"By the final chapter of Continental Reckoning, the reader should pause and realize they have read one of the most important contributions to the American historiography published in the past half-century. Historians of America and the West will recognize that Elliott West, one of the most respected scholars in his field the past 40 years, has accomplished a great deal in his career, but will remember Continental Reckoning as his master work, truly a magnum opus of his highly lauded scholarly career."—Stuart Rosebrook, True West

"Elliott West has written an engaging and innovative synthesis that will be of interest to all readers of history. It is a gift to anyone who writes lectures; teachers will find illuminating examples, useful metaphors, and an extraordinary amount of data to wield in the service of helping students make sense of the middle decades of the nineteenth century."—Amy Kohout, Missouri Historical Review

"With its scope, sophistication, and engaging prose, this marvelous book deserves wide readership."—Sherry L. Smith, South Dakota History

"Elliott West's Continental Reckoning vividly shows the importance of looking at the American West when studying the Civil War era. West makes sweeping arguments crucial to advancing Civil War West historiography, and his accessible writing style also makes the read enjoyable for the general public interested in the American West or nineteenth-century U.S. history more broadly. Rather than seeing the West as a "safety valve" for the East, Continental Reckoning demonstrates how the region became inextricably linked to the rise of the modern and robust U.S. nation state."—John R. Legg, Civil War Monitor

"The West is a big canvas. West uses brush strokes small and large to depict his engaging and thought-provoking perspective."—Tom Carpenter, RoundUp Magazine

"A comprehensive, lucid, and often surprising history of western settlement in America."—Kirkus Reviews, starred

"Readers who appreciate history and are privileged by having been born and lived in the Western United States should plan to allocate an appropriate portion of their remaining time to perusal of Continental Reckoning. They will be amazed by the impact which our region has exerted upon the development of both our own country and the rest of today's global community."—J. Kemper Campbell, Lincoln Journal Star

"Continental Reckoning is massive and brilliantly constructed, scholarly and literary, meant to be read beyond academic conferences by a public that—in these contentious times—needs to understand America's past."—David Luhrssen, Shepherd Express

"Westerners will do well to have this new anthology handy as a standard reference work of the expansionist period."—John Monnett, Denver Westerners Roundup

“Encyclopedic in its coverage, wonderfully written, full of revealing details, shrewd and funny in its analysis, Continental Reckoning will become the standard work on the creation of the American West. Elliott West remains astute and fair in covering a place and period often reduced to ideology and polemic. No one knows the nineteenth-century American West better than he does.”—Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865–1896

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Maps
Series Editor’s Introduction, by Richard Etulain
Prelude: 773,510,680 Acres
Part 1. Unsettling America
1. The Great Coincidence
2. Division and Multiplication
3. Letting Blood
4. The Horse and the Hammer
5. Conquest in Stutter-Step
6. Carnal Property
7. The Fluid West
8. Continental Reckoning
9. Civil War and the “Indian Problem”
Part 2. Things Come Together
10. Iron Bands and Tongues of Fire
11. Connections Real and Imagined
12. Maps
13. The “Science of Man” and the American Sublime
14. The World’s Convention
15. Crew Cultures, Cribs and Schoolhouses, Women on the Fringe
Part 3. Worked into Being
16. Cattle and the New America
17. Wind, Fever, and Indians Unhorsed
18. Breaking the Land
19. Domination and Extinction
20. When the West Turned Inside Out
21. Legal Wrestling, the Land Convulsed
22. The Final Undoing
23. Creating the West


Winner of Columbia University's 2024 Bancroft Prize in American History
2024 Spur Award Winner
Named a Best Civil War Book of 2023 by Civil War Monitor