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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


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.

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