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A Dog's History of America: How Our Best Friend Explored, Conquered, and Settled a Continent Hardcover – August 26, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Derr (Dog’s Best Friend) takes a dog’s-eye view of American history, beginning with speculations on the dog’s first appearance in the Americas tens of thousands of years ago. Derr discusses the conquistadors and the use of dogs against natives, mentioning Panfilo de Narvaez and his crew, explorers who went to Florida dreaming of wealth, only to be starved out by the natives and "forced to consume many of their own dogs." While readers learn about the often grim roles of dogs in "settling" America ( used very often to hunt Native Americans, and later, slaves), few strong personalities, dog or human, emerge in this book, which sometimes reads like a chronological compendium of facts. Derr explains Washington’s remark about his "Tarrier"; follows Lewis and Clark with Seaman, the famous Newfoundland who accompanied them west, and notes that Lewis had an odd appetite for eating dog along the journey; explains how dogs were both used in and victims of the colonizing of America and during the civil rights era. He then rushes on to the next major event in American history, making little meaning out of his material. This book is nevertheless a solid history of dogs in America.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

If dogs did not come with the first people to enter North America over 10,000 years ago, then they were not far behind, and dogs have been part of the peopling of the continent ever since. Derr, writer-historian and author of a previous work on the human-dog relationship [Dog's Best Friend (1997)], presents a history of the dog in the New World, following their changing role in human societies and their importance to the survival of those societies. Using historical records and personal accounts from people living at the time, the author presents a story that ranges from the brutal Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and South America (greatly aided by their dogs of war), the use of bloodhounds to track runaway slaves and other prisoners, and the rise of the concept of purebred dogs. In the final chapter, Derr looks at the roles that dogs play in today's society and calls for changes in how we view the place of the dog. This fascinating history is both harsh and touching. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; First Edition edition (September 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865476314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476318
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,176,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on December 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While I found the book basically well written and interesting, I think Derr digressed a little too far into the biographies of some historical figures, such as Columbus and Custer, spending a fair amount of time on details of their lives that didn't really have anything to do with dogs. In a number of instances the information about the dogs seemed rather sparse and the digressive material seemed to be more of a filler. I was also surprised at some of the descriptions of violence (how the dogs that Columbus brought over were used against the Caribe Indians, as an example). Based on these descriptions of violence, as well as some other adult topics, it might not be suitable for youthful readers and perhaps ought to be screened by parents first. Granted, the reality of the harshness with which both dogs and people have been treated in history should not be hidden, but I was expecting a book for a more general readership, and found the descriptions of violence rather disconcerting here. On the plus side, Derr describes at some length the variety of dog types that Native Americans had (far more than I had realized), and I enjoyed the details about the various types that immigrants brought with them, and what important working partners they were. Dogs contributed much, and this book elucidates just how valuable they've been to us.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By David Selman on December 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover found Derr's writing compelling and very well researched. He kindly shows just how many places and events dogs have been involved with. Derr's tales of mayhem, heroism, exploration, hard work, betrayal, kindness, abuse and love demonstrates clearly the elements that attract people to dogs. History enthusiasts will enjoy the historic content within these pages tremendously. A Dog's History Of America tells the remarkable tales of American history that will inspire dog owners of all kinds. Overall, we found Derr's book fascinating reading but somewhat disturbing. Mark Derr explores the roles of sled dogs, dogs of war, guide dogs and show ring dogs from a historical perspective. We highly recommend A Dog's History Of America to dog lovers, history buffs and those interested in American culture.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By WT on February 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
I find the information contained in this book truly interesting, however the way it is written and structured makes it a difficult read. I am a tried and true dog lover, so the history of man's best friend fascinates me. I can't believe the buggers have put up with our mistreatment for so long! I am pushing myself through the book, because I crave the information, but the chronology and tangents have not made it easy. I am not sure how I personally would have structured it...maybe offering a visual time line...but I think a well-established writer could have done a little better.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Echo Two on November 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
While a well-researched and referenced history of dogs in America, Derr's writing style fails to give any sparkle to the subject matter. This book, which should be fairly interesting subject matter, veers off-course frequently (you can find many pages of this nearly 400 page tome without one mention of the word "dog" on them). It tends to be excessively academic, and is often grim and at the same time, dry as dust. Even Derr's recounting of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fala and other legendary American dogs is flat and relatively emotionless. I was hoping for a both informative and entertaining read but found it informative and tedious instead.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on December 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
From its arrival 20,000 years ago with the first settlers crossing from Siberia, to its present as inbred pedigree and drug-sniffing cop, Derr takes a comprehensive survey approach to the dog. He examines the major incidents of our history - Columbus (no dogs on his first voyage; a mistake he never made again!), the ruthless Spanish Conquistadors, the Civil War, the Depression, WWII and more - from the point of view of the dog's mostly overlooked contribution.

Although the fact-filled narrative does not conjure up a lot of personality, the loyal character of the dog quickly emerges as crucial. One man's best friend is that man's enemy's enemy. Again and again dogs are trained to attack and kill - the Conquistador stories and those of treeing runaway slaves are particularly gruesome.

Dog loyalty has more benign uses, of course, and Derr explores most of them, from herder and hunter to celebrity companion and adventurer. Explorers, from Lewis and Clark to Ernest Shackleton, have depended on dogs for companionship as well as hunting, guidance or transportation. But in times of trouble doggie devotion has often led to the final sacrifice - sustenance. That best-friend thing has never been totally mutual.

Derr's writing doesn't sparkle, but his breadth of research astounds, and there's a compelling feel to the narrative that comes from the canine slant on familiar history. Dog-loving history buffs will particularly enjoy it.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Dogs are here to stay because a great many people could not manage without them," says Mark Derr, and he is taking the long view. In _A Dog's History of America: How Our Best Friend Explored, Conquered, and Settled a Continent_ (North Point Press), Derr has tried to examine the thousands of years of American dogdom, with many surprises about what dogs have done for us and to us. Most of us who love dogs as companions aren't used to thinking of them as accomplishing labor for us, but the dog as a mere pet is a relatively recent invention. For all those millennia before, dogs worked for us, or fed us. Indeed, our lovable canine friends performed horrendous acts of torture and murder upon us, though it must be said, almost always at the instigation of other humans. Some readers who look through this volume with a devoted dog at their feet will find much of it hard to take.

Dogs first came here around 20,000 years ago, following the humans crossing from Siberia to Alaska. Not much is known about the Indian dogs because of a lack of history. They were companions, but they were firstly guards and pack animals. Christopher Columbus did not have a single dog on his first trip to the Americas, but this was probably the last time boats of exploring or colonizing nations did not bring dogs from Europe. Columbus himself did not go without them for his second voyage, for the bishop who was in charge of outfitting the fleet added twenty greyhounds and mastiffs for the purpose of making war. Thus begins a long and distressing history of dogs used as weapons, which will make difficult reading for modern Americans who romanticize their doggies. The Spanish brought dogs "specifically bred and trained to hunt down and disembowel Indians.
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