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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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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
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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 (407 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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#99 in Books > History
#99 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

229 of 235 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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80 of 89 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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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Timothy Egan's writing is typically strong, his research typically thorough,his insights typically informing. But this is a book about PHOTOGRAPHY and the publisher, God knows why, printed the photos on the same rough paper stock that was used for the text pages. As a result, the photos are fuzzy, lack definition, lose the subtle shadings that make great photos true art, and are hugely disappointing. It's purely and simply a cost-cutting measure, but in this case ruins the book's true essence. And God knows again, they must have made enough money off of TE to afford decent print stock.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mark Stevens VINE VOICE on October 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The largest anthropological enterprise ever undertaken?

That's Mick Gidley, a professor of American literature, as quoted by Timothy Egan near the end of this exhaustive, gripping look at the life of photographer Edward Curtis.

M. Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn, lauded Curtis for capturing the Indians of North America "so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world..."

Egan's "Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis," makes a clear case that the accolades are justified.

You will recognize many if the iconic pictures Curtis captured. Woman and Child, 1927. Geronimo--Apache, 1905. Many more. And perhaps, like me, you never stopped to think too long about the work required to produce them. "Short Nights" fills the gap.

Egan traces Curtis from his first picture in Seattle (1896), when he was no crusader for Indian rights. "Curtis wanted pictures. Indians their treat rights, political autonomy and property disputes--all of that was somebody else's fight. Politics. Injustice. Blah, blah, blah. Who cares? The exchange between photographer and subject was purely a business proposition..."

That view doesn't last long. Curtis' empathy grows as he finds his way inside a variety of Indian cultures. In the end, Curtis took 40,000 photographs, recorded 10,000 songs, captured vocabulary and pronunciation guides for 75 languages and a documented an "incalculable number of myths, rituals and religious stories from deep oral histories."

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is a terrific biography of Curtis that weaves in and out of the fabric of U.S.
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