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The Comanche Empire (The Lamar Series in Western History) Hardcover – May 28, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This comprehensive history of the Comanche people treats them as an independent power rather than as victims of American westward expansion. And though Hamalainen frames his arguments within scholars’ debates on proper perspectives toward the Comanche, general readers interested in the history of the Southwest will discover his to be a fascinatingly informative volume in its explanatory and narrative modes. Between the Comanche’s initial appearance in Spanish records in 1706 to their final defeat by the U.S. in 1874, Hamalainen traces an ascent in Comanche numbers, wealth, and influence that enabled them to dominate western Texas and New Mexico for decades. Interpreting such Comanche activities as raiding and slaving as distinct instruments of imperialism, Hamalainen credits these practices with endowing the Comanche with their fierce frontier reputation within the extensive Great Plains trading network they operated. A valuable library resource for its subject. --Gilbert Taylor


The Comanche Empire is a landmark study that will make readers see the history of southwestern America in an entirely new way.”—David J. Weber, author of Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment
(David J. Weber)

“This exhilarating book is not just a pleasure to read; important and challenging ideas circulate through it and compel attention. It is a nuanced account of the complex social, cultural, and biological interactions that the acquisition of the horse unleashed in North America, and a brilliant analysis of a Comanche social formation that dominated the Southern Plains. Parts of the book will be controversial, but the book as a whole is a tour de force.”—Richard White, author of The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815
(Richard White)

The Comanche Empire is an impressive achievement. That a major Native power emerged and dominated the interior of the continent compels a re-thinking of well worn narratives about colonial America and westward expansion, about the relative power of European and Native societies, and about the directions of change. The book makes a major contribution to Native American history and challenges our understanding of the ways in which American history unfolded.”—Colin G. Calloway, author of One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark
(Colin G. Calloway)

“Pekka Hämäläinen profoundly alters our understanding of the American Southwest, asserting that Comanche expansion and domination eclipsed European imperialism over the 18th and early 19th centuries. Readers of this ambitious and discerning ethnohistory learn close-up how the Comanches made colonial as well as native communities the building blocks of their own ascendancy. In a counter-narrative to frontier history and a revision of borderlands study, Hämäläinen features the contingency of historical change and the agency of Indian people.”—Daniel H. Usner, Vanderbilt University
(Daniel H. Usner)

"Cutting-edge revisionist western history. . . . Immensely informative, particularly about activities in the eighteenth century."—Larry McMurtry, The New York Review of Books
(Larry McMurtry The New York Review of Books 2008-05-29)

"[A] fascinating and richly detailed study."—Si Dunn, Dallas Morning News
(Si Dunn Dallas Morning News 2008-06-29)

"The Comanche Empire is a hugely important documentary survey of the Comanche Nation, as known from documentary sources between the late 17th and the late 19th centuries."—Ed Baker, The Austin Chronicle
(Ed Baker Austin Chronicle 2008-06-20)

"A fascinating new book, details [the Comanches] unusual and colorful history. . . . [Hämäläinen] has rescued the Comanches from myth and distortion and given them their due in the sprawling epic that is our American story."—John Sledge, Mobile Press-Register (AL)
(John Sledge Mobile Press-Register (AL) 2008-07-11)

“Hämäläinen not only puts Native Americans back into the story but also gives them—particularly the Comanche—recognition as major historical players who shaped events and outcomes.”—Sherry Smith, Southern Methodist University, author of Reimagining Indians: Native Americans Through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940
(Sherry Smith)

"Comanche Empire is an impressive, well-written, and important study that should significantly influence future metanarratives, whether they include all or parts of Texas, the West, the Borderlands, or even general histories of the United States and Mexico."—Ty Cashion, Journal of Military History
(Ty Cashion Journal of Military History 2009-04-01)

Winner of the 2009 Award of Merit, sponsored by the Philosophical Society of Texas
(Award of Merit Philosophical Society of Texas 2009-01-01)

“Perhaps we can simply stipulate that The Comanche Empire is an exceptional book—in fact, one of the finest pieces of scholarship that I have read in years. . . . Hämäläinen has given us a closely argued, finely wrought, intensely challenging book.”—Joshua Piker, William and Mary Quarterly

(Joshua Piker William and Mary Quarterly 2010-01-01)

"This book deserves all the accolades it has and will receive. It is certain to be on reading lists for years to come."—William J. Bauer, Jr., Journal of World History
(William J. Bauer Jr. Journal of World History)

"Argued with a drama befitting the subject, The Comanche Empire is bound to influence thinking about western history considerably."--Daniel J. Gelo
(Daneil J. Gelo Journal of American History)

"An important read for any researcher interested in Indigenous North America, the West, or colonization."--James O'Neill Spady, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
(James O'Neill Spady Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History)

"Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, The Comanche Empire is much more than a tribal history of an important plains Indian people. Hamalainen's bold interpretation that the Comanches created a uniquely "Comanche" empire that challenges and subsequently dominated the southern plains for over a century forces a complete reevaluation of the various storms that brewed in the colonial Southwest."—Thomas A. Britten, The Historian
(Thomas A. Britten The Historian)

"Ambitiously revisionist. . . . An important read for any researcher interested in Indigenous North America, the West, or colonization."—James O'Neil Spady, Project Muse
(James O'Neil Spady Project Muse)

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Product Details

  • Series: The Lamar Series in Western History
  • Hardcover: 500 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (May 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300126549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300126549
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 103 people found the following review helpful By David M. Dougherty VINE VOICE on December 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding scholarly work well deserving of five stars. In some respects I wonder if it could have been written by an American (the author is Finnish) since it sharply contrasts with the politically correct myth of the American Indians, always fighting in defense of their homeland and way of life against the overwhelming encroachments of evil Europeans. Some will use the term "revisionist" to describe this work, but more accurately it should be described simply as Comanche history for two centuries from the Comanche viewpoint. To put the contrast in more familiar terms, until recently almost all books on the World War II Eastern Front between Germany and the Soviet Union have been told from the German side. Now David Glantz and others are writing books that tell the Soviet side. Are they "revisionist?"

The author traces the Comanches from origins among the Shoshones, moving through Colorado and becoming allied with the Utes (other authors describe the Comanches as being forced out into the Great Plains by the Utes), acquiring horses and guns from Mexican traders, then spreading into Northern Texas and surrounding country. There they established a virtual "empire", or more accurately, a sphere of hegemony and influence, that extended into six US states and several states in Northern Mexico by 1840. This can be considered as a region controlled loosely by semi-nomads who would eventually face the problem of maintaining their "empire" through population growth in permanent settlements. (The reader should look for parallels to the Golden Horde on the plains of Southern Russia.) The Comanches did not always exterminate all other people in their sphere of influence, but rather used them for trade, a source of slaves, and goods acquired through war and negotiation.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Margaret A. on September 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This well-written and tightly argued work on the Comanche Indians and their relations with the Spanish, French, Americans and with other Native peoples might be called a foreign-policy history of the Comanche empire. The author's long-awaited book details how the Comanche made use of their physical and cultural environment to develop an empire that controlled much of the southern plains, dominated trade within the southern and central Great Plains and Southwest, shaped the development of Spanish and French colonies in the region, and eventually collapsed from internal pressures, environmental difficulties and U.S. military action.
General readers interested in a new way of thinking about the Comanche and the history of the Southwest will enjoy this readable work. Scholars too will find much of use, including copious and meticulous citations and a good index. I highly recommend this work.
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90 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Boll Weevil on October 10, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First, I would draw your attention to two excellent reviews of this book, one in the May 29, 2008 /NYRB/ by Larry McMurtry and the other in the Dec. 2008 /American Historical Review/ by Gerald Betty. I think McMurtry's review sums it up best: This book contains many valuable insights into Comanche history, particularly during the 18th century, but fails to sustain its central argument that the Comanches were an empire. Hamalainen does not adequately define "empire," which is problematic if one is asserting that the Comanches were one.

Some suggest the assertion that American Indians had power in colonial America is a novel and significant revision. I'm not so sure. Haven't scholars already constructed and dismantled the "imperial" Iroquois? Didn't George Hyde demonstrate half a century ago that the horse prompted a whole new set of power relations on the Plains between not only Indians and Europeans but also initially between different Indian groups? One is left to wonder where to draw the distinction between revision and "reinvention." The question isn't whether Indians had power; it's identifying in what instances they did or did not, and then accounting for the dynamism in power relations. In the end, the enduring persuasiveness I've found in Richard White's /Middle Ground/ and James Brooks' /Captives and Cousins/ is their ability to illustrate a mulivalent world in which power is variable across time and space and its various forms (political, economic, and cultural) aren't always congruent. White and Brooks capture this dynamism and complexity in a manner that recent revisionists such as Hamalainen don't. If power (who has it and who doesn't, etc.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By T. J. Monika on July 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
When I was growing up in eastern Missouri it was de rigueur that the man-children of the clan become Boy Scouts. Thus, despite little aptitude or interest, I was duly enrolled in the Cub Scouts and spent summer weekends attending den meetings and going on the occasional camping trip. (Don't fear that this diversion is going to descend into horror stories about mental and physical abuse - happily my life as a Scout was quite banal. I never got beyond the Cub stage, truth be told, and my parents were "cool" with that.) I bring this episode in my life up because it was as a Scout that I first encountered the Native American. Admittedly it was a highly white-washed (there's a loaded word!) version that stressed the most admirable aspects of Indian culture (at least "admirable" in Anglo eyes) and ignored the complexities and less savory history of relations between Indians and Europeans (and between Indians and Indians). It also tended to focus exclusively on Plains Indians, blinkering my perception of non-Plains tribes for the longest time. Subsequent reading (remember, I'm not the Grizzly Adams type) led me to other works sympathetic to the Native perspective. In particular I remember a YA biography of the Seminole chieftain Osceola (giving me the animus I bear toward Andrew Jackson to this day). It was a kid's book so the more gruesome details of the war against the Seminoles didn't figure in the narrative but I understood that the white man had been grossly unjust to the Indian. Even my fiction reading favored the Indian (or at least sympathized with their plight).Read more ›
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