Johnny Appleseed

Our Review of the Week peels back folklore to reveal the truth behind the legendary nurseryman

Johnny Appleseed and the American orchard : a cultural history

Karrigan, William. Johns Hopkins, 2012
231p, 9781421407289 $50.00, 9781421407296 $25.00

The legend of Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman, 1774-1845) is a fundamental component of American folklore. Disney created a cartoon that captured the legend in caricature in 1948. By contrast, Kerrigan (Muskingum Univ.) provides a book that brings reality to the myth(s) and, in doing so, paints a compelling picture of the social dynamics of the period both prior to and during John Chapman’s life. Readers will feel transported back to those days, as Kerrigan describes the religious, geographic, and economic environment. Like quality biography, this is good history, with a well-told story and excellent scholarship. Chapman was dedicated to providing seedling apples for fermented cider for settlers at the front edge of the expanding US territories of the 18th and 19th centuries, the present regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Kerrigan debunks many Chapman myths, including his vegetarianism, unwillingness to hunt or kill animals, or commitment to pacifism. This book takes away the dross of mythology, but replaces it with the realistic humanity of a most fascinating, unique American.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Academic and general audiences, all levels.
Reviewer: G. S. Howell, Michigan State University
Subject: Science & Technology – Biology – Botany
Choice Issue: Apr 2013