Books: The Great Divide

THE YEAR OF DECISION: 1846—Bernard DeVoto—Little, Brown ($3.50).

In January 1846 universal peace seemed assured at last: Biela's comet was about to wipe out the world. But, as comet and Earth rushed toward the fatal conjunction, a watcher in the U.S. Naval Observatory saw the "ominous and inconceivable" happen—Biela's comet split in two. This lucky break permitted history to crowd into the balance of that amazing year a series .of events (of which the Mexican War and the westward migration are best known) that cause Historian Bernard DeVoto to believe that 1846 was...

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