David Nevin, 83, author of epic novel 'Dream West'

By Dennis Hevesi
New York Times / March 29, 2011

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NEW YORK — David Nevin, an author of historical novels, including the best-seller “Dream West,’’ the epic tale of John Charles Fremont’s role in the opening of the American West, died March 18 in Greenwich, Conn. He was 83.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Luciana.

“Dream West’’ (1984) tells how Fremont, a daring, ambitious US Army officer, undertook surveying expeditions in the West in the 1840s, among them the mapping of the Oregon Trail. Because of his wanderings, including a hazardous trek through the San Juan Mountains, Fremont became a prominent figure in the US campaign to take control of California from Mexico.

“This is a good book of its kind, a rousing, old-fashioned yarn, a saga, the sort of novel, with a cast of thousands, that we generally call ‘sprawling,’ ’’ Anatole Broyard wrote in a review in The New York Times. However, he added, “I have, obviously, mixed feelings about ‘Dream West.’ While I couldn’t put it down, I couldn’t hold it up either as an unqualified blessing.’’

Readers were not troubled. “Dream West’’ was on the Times’s fiction best-seller list in March 1984 and again on the paperback best-seller list in January 1985. In 1986, a seven-hour miniseries based on the book, starring Richard Chamberlain, was broadcast on CBS.

Mr. Nevin wrote four other historical novels. His 1996 book “1812’’ tells of Dolley and James Madison’s role in the second war with England. “Eagle’s Cry’’ (2000) is about how the Louisiana Purchase set the nation on its path across the continent. In “Treason’’ (2001), Mr. Nevin gives his version of Aaron Burr’s desperate effort to regain his standing after killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. And “Meriwether’’ (2004) recounts the Lewis and Clark expedition.

David Reinhardt Nevin was born in Washington. His father, a veterinarian in the US Army when it had a horse cavalry, was soon assigned to Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Mr. Nevin joined the US Navy as a teenager and served in the Pacific. After the war he did poorly in college, but could write well enough to be hired as a police reporter for The Brownsville (Texas) Herald. That led to work for Time and Life magazines.

Mr. Nevin married Luciana Colla in 1958. In addition to his wife, he leaves a son, David; two brothers, Stanley and Jack; and two grandsons.