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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis Hardcover – October 9, 2012


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Frequently Bought Together

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis + Edward S. Curtis: Visions of the First Americans + Edward S. Curtis: Portraits of Native Americans: A Book of Postcards (Postcard Books)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1ST edition (October 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618969020
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618969029
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (332 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the summer of 1900, Edward Curtis gave up a successful photography career to pursue a quixotic plan: to photograph all the Indian communities in North America. He quickly learned that his subjects were dying off fast, so he’d need to hurry if he was “to capture the essence of their lives before that essence disappeared.” A mountaineer, explorer, intrepid photojournalist, and amateur anthropologist, Curtis was Ansel Adams crossed with Annie Leibovitz, a willful and passionate chronicler of a people he came to love. “I want to make them live forever,” Curtis said in the early days of his decades-long mission. As Egan’s thrilling story attests, he succeeded, even though he died penniless and alone. --Neal Thompson

Photos from the Author (Amazon.com Exclusive)

Bear's Belly
Bear's Belly (Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of Cardozo Fine Art)

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Before the Storm
Before the Storm (Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of Cardozo Fine Art)

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Canyon De Chelley
Canyon De Chelley (Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of Cardozo Fine Art)

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Oasis in the Bad Lands
Oasis in the Bad Lands (Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of Cardozo Fine Art)

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Piegan Encampment
Piegan Encampment (Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of Cardozo Fine Art)

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Watching Dancers
Watching Dancers (Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of Cardozo Fine Art)

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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Before half its 20 volumes were published, The North American Indian was called the most important book since the King James Bible. When the last emerged, its director and primary researcher and author, self-made master photographer Edward Curtis (1868–1952), was old, broke, and dependent on his daughters. Though his great work consumed $2.5 million of J. P. Morgan’s money over the course of three decades, Curtis never took a cent in salary. He lost his business, his property, his marriage, and any control of his great project. But he completed it, preserving a great deal of what we know about Indian cultures, including more than 75 languages, thousands of songs and stories, traditional practices in everything from clothing to religious ritual, and the Indian accounts of such historic milestones as the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Simultaneously, he fixed the image of the North American Indian in a body of work as iconic as any created by any other visual artist in any medium. To accomplish this, he braved the remote, nearly inaccessible places where small tribes clung to their identities, painstakingly won the confidence of wary elders in many larger tribes, and wooed the titans of American wealth to keep going. Ace popular historian Egan makes Curtis’ story frequently suspenseful, always gripping, and monumentally heroic. --Ray Olson

More About the Author

TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of seven books, most recently Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, named Best of the Month by Amazon.com. His book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, won a National Book Award for nonfiction and was named a New York Times Editors' Choice, a New York Times Notable Book, a Washington State Book Award winner, and a Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book. He writes a weekly column, "Opinionator," for the New York Times.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#75 in Books > History
#75 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Very well researched and written.
Jean A. Haugen
This book reads like a novel, and I enjoyed the read.
Anita S. Sawyer
Timothy Egan brings Edward Curtis back to life!
Maryann G. Rhodey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

218 of 224 people found the following review helpful By Pam Gearhart on September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had heard of Edward Curtis but knew only that he was a photographer, and that he took many pictures of American Indians in the early 1900's. That should make me ashamed, since I lived in Seattle, Curtis's home town, for many years.

Timothy Egan's book gives a detailed, balanced look at Curtis's life and his life's work: Publication of a 20-volume look at American Indian communities in the early 20th century. Just thinking about such a venture makes me tired, but Curtis was tireless (hence the "short nights" in the title -- he rarely slept). The series would include not just photographs but a lexicon preserving languages, and in the making of this Curtis would make film and audio records of songs and ceremonies that would have been lost forever.

His ambition seems quite unrealistic, almost delusional, to someone from present day. Traveling thousands of miles with bulky photographic equipment, in unmapped territory without the benefit of conveniences we take for granted -- GPS, airplanes, cell phones, overnight delivery, fax machines. He and his team made a photographic and textual record that has never been equalled, and probably never will be. And during this time he made a movie and developed a stage presentation that wowed even the most sophisticated audiences.

Even if you're not particularly interested in photography or American Indians, Egan's book is fascinating as a look at the early 1900's, movers and shakers, people like J. P. Morgan and Theodore Roosevelt. Egan's writing is brisk, his descriptions evocative. It never bogged down, even when things weren't going well for Curtis.
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120 of 130 people found the following review helpful By Tactitles VINE VOICE on September 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Edward Curtis was a man consumed by an almost inhuman drive, aided it seemed by an energy supplied from the universe itself, to record and create. Like many substantial historical figures, it seemed that circumstances and coincidences were resolved by and around his presence, to whatever outcomes most favored his mission. In other words, to place a word on it, "destiny" seemed to have a corner carved out just for Curtis. His vision was to be fulfilled, even at the cost of all else in his life. Something bigger had fallen upon him, and claimed him for its own.

This was my overwhelming impression after reading my very first biography. Throughout the book I knew I would struggle to remain concise as I tried to put words to my praise for this work. I am a reader of fiction, the authors of which have the advantage of being able to create emotions from imagined events. The author here creates the same powerful effects with facts. Adventure, surprise, wonder, inspiration, heartbreak and incredible sadness are all found here. This is real history, and not a history lesson. Readers will learn many things without being aware of it.

Here is my attempt at conciseness. Why does this book work so well?
1. The subject matter is interesting by itself. The time period is filled with adventure, achievement, and people larger than life.
2. Edward Curtis is a likeable figure, as evidenced by all those he influenced. His dream was contagious, and many others leaped at the chance to witness it.
3. The American Dream, if it ever existed in definable terms, can be found here. Curtis was not highly educated, grew up poor, and achieved his goals using only his natural talents, his charisma, and extraordinary hard work.
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74 of 83 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Timothy Egan has done it again. He is a columnist for the New York Times, often writing articles on the American West. Thanks to the Vine program, I've read a couple of others of his works: The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America and The Worst Hard Time. Both were well-written and well-researched accounts of some aspect of American history that had largely eluded me. The latter book even "changed my life," well, at least led me to be a "tourist" in Dalhart, Texas, for a day, which was an epicenter for the Dust Bowl catastrophe. Fortunately, the skies were clear that day. So, when this book popped up in my Vine offerings, I had to say YES, please, and once again was not disappointed, and now I am even a bit more informed.

Alas, I had never heard of Edward Curtis, (`Tis embarrassing to say), a/k/a, "The Shadow Catcher," an apt name for a photographer. Sure, there were Joseph Stieglitz, and Ansel Adams, brilliant photographers, both, but in terms of life achievement, Curtis at least equaled, and perhaps even surpassed them. I had seen his photographs before, for example, the seven horsemen in the Canyon de Chelly, but it took Egan to make me realize the whole. With the death of his father, at a youthful age, he became the principal support of his family. They moved to Seattle in the late 1800's. He became successful in the new medium of photography, operating the studio that catered to the "rich and famous," in a new boom town. And that could have been that.
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