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7) Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, by Dee Brown

I'm surprised and somewhat saddened to say that I am dropping this one, not quite a third of the way in. I am sure that in 1970, when it was first published, the idea of telling the colonisation of the Great Plains from the native Americans' point of view was ground-breaking and necessary. Of course, this side of the story has now been effectively mainstreamed into American history; see eg Tindall and Shi's book, which is my main reference on that subject. What we have here is a collection of accounts of betrayal, massacre and forced expulsions, retrieved from official documents of the 1860-1890 period. But I felt that it leant far too much on one strand of source material to be really interesting; I had the same criticism of McCullough's much-acclaimed Adams biography, and am left wondering if this is a common fault in American historical writing.

I would have really liked some further background: both on the white men's point of view - some exploration of both the motivation for the settlers' murderous expansion, and some idea of how the political establishment reacted to or dealt with these crimes carried out in their name - and indeed some more on the native Americans - some sense of their culture, religious beliefs, concepts of their relations with the land and with the white men, rather than just treating them as the objects of genocide. As it is, I spend far too much time in my professional life reading about this sort of thing (usually perpetrated by Europeans on other Europeans) and this book failed to engage my interest in reading about it in a geographical area I don't know so well and don't care about as much.

Well, now I can give it back to the guy who lent it to me 15 years ago.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 10th, 2006 09:06 am (UTC)
> Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk

Strangely enough that was recommended to me a few days ago in a different community :-)

I'm trying to figure out ways of saying "I work in Risk" which sound sexy. It is pretty hard.
Dec. 10th, 2006 12:04 pm (UTC)
It does sound sexy... it makes you sound like you are some kind of devil-may-care rake who gambles the entire fortunes of large institutions on the single throw of a die.
Dec. 10th, 2006 12:07 pm (UTC)
That is kind of the exact opposite of what Risk does in a real financial institution - it prevents such "devil may care" activity.

And I actually work in RiskIT now which basically just records everything and tries to assess how risky it is so that Risk managers can suck in through their teeth and say "I dont think you wanted to do that"

Dec. 10th, 2006 10:24 am (UTC)
I read this book a long time ago-- in college, and I remember being shaken up about it. I wonder how it would fare if I tried to read it now.

On a side note, I recently read an earlier Dee Brown book (The Gentle Tamers) and was a little bit shocked at the way that he discussed the native Americans. It seemed really out of keeping with Bury My Heart and tended retroactively to make me doubt his sincerity.
Dec. 10th, 2006 12:46 pm (UTC)
I read it about a year before going to South Dakota. It was more contextually relevant for me anyway, as part of my MA research, and it's an area of history/geography I do know pretty well, so I guess it meant more to me as a result of that. Wounded Knee itself was an amazingly powerful place to visit - the geography of the area emphasises just how much of a massacre it must have been - and there are memorials and a modern graveyard there too. (We spent some time talking to a local resident who personalised the experience for us too, of course.) I think it's a very important book, even if a revised edition would be welcome! But I take your point about lack of engagement with it. Perhaps reread it if you ever get the chance to visit the sites talked about in the book?
Dec. 10th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
I somehow managed to grow up in Saskatchewan without ever having read that book, despite it having been on the shelves of pretty much every classroom I was ever in and reading just about everything I could get my hands on.

Trapped in western Canada for 17 years, I wasn't interested. We were taught that it was God's Country and everywhere else on earth (that had things like art galleries, history, foreign cinema and non-utilitarian shopping) was weak, decadent and bad. All I wanted was to get the hell out of there and move to Europe or New York. (Toronto and England in the end; close enough).

In recent years I've got really interested in settlement patterns in north and south America and by extension in the fate of the native americans, and thus this book has recently made it onto my to-read list. I'll probably be interested enough to persist in finishing it, even though I suspect I'll share many of your frustrations.
Dec. 10th, 2006 07:34 pm (UTC)
Did I lend you this? I remember it made quite an impression on me, about 15 years ago....
Dec. 10th, 2006 07:37 pm (UTC)
No, it wasn't you - another Cambridge friend, but not someone you know AFAIK.
Dec. 10th, 2006 11:40 pm (UTC)
Wasn't me either but I read it sometime in the mid 80s. I think you're right though - it was published at a time where we thought we'd done colonising, and that was that; and all that genocide stuff on our dorstep was history; and we heaved a great big sigh of relief...
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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