The Man Who Beat Death Valley – Based on the True Story of William Lewis Manly

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In The Man Who Beat Death Valley: Based on the True Story of William Lewis Manly, Deborah A. Fox has crafted a wonderful tale of adventure and the struggle for survival that is made all the stronger and more emotional through the medium of the graphic novel. There is a level of empathy and tangibility that can be achieved in both illustrations and words that supersedes that of the average nonfiction book consisting of just words.

This is the story of William Lewis Manly in the mid-nineteenth century who ventured on a unique journey all the way from Mineral Point, Wisconsin to Los Angeles, California. A miner and hunter in trade, Manly was someone who trusted in his friends and always looked to help others. With the exciting promise of the gold rush in California, he agrees to travel with a party there, along with his good friend Asahel Bennett and wife Sarah Bennett, whom Manly bears some very strong feelings for, and it seems Sarah does for him also. But they have already left without him and we begin to see a little of Asahel’s unlikeable character. And so the arduous journey crosses the states of the nation and takes a heavy toll on the party, who are constantly in search of food and fighting to stay alive. Along the way, they meet Native Americans who are friendly and offer help.

But it is when they reach a point that all seems lost and it is up to Manly and one other to find a way through Death Valley and survive that we see the true grit of the man. For the two travel across this seemingly unassailable terrain and make it to the Rancho de San Francisco where they are welcomed and helped, and then must make their way back across the terrible valley again to their suffering party, and then one more time back across it, keeping alive as many as possible, and making it finally to the Rancho and a place of rest and recovery.

This is a harrowing tale that is brought to life through journal entries from Manly (carefully researched by Fox). The dialog and scenes of sweeping vistas and harsh terrain that blend actual photos and images with illustrated characters and scenes tell a poignant tale on many levels. A palette of vibrant colors brings the characters and views to life, as emotions of anger and heat are shown with red, making things crystal clear. One can’t help but feel the reader is suffering along with the characters with this level of detail. The story is riveting from beginning to end, along with numerous maps to show the way and the use of a font based on Manly’s journal script. Another fantastic example of the nonfiction graphic novel that makes it easily accessible for people of any age.


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Star Count 5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 106 pages
Publisher Deb Fox Design Co
Publish Date 2020-Nov-20
ISBN 9781250256102 Buy this Book
Issue April 2021
Category Historical Fiction


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