Books: Lighting Out

GREAT PLAINS by Ian Frazier

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

290 pages; $17.95

No sooner had the first motley pioneers lit out for the American West than they were followed by a band of nosy fellows with notebooks. Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) was among the earliest, in the 1830s. Francis Parkman (The Oregon Trail) packed his saddlebags a few years later. By the mid-20th century, when Bernard De Voto wrote Across the Wide Missouri, traffic on Western highways was clogging up with authors in vans, their kids and stalled novels left back home with parents.

New Yorker humorist Ian Frazier...

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