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on March 16, 2003
This is a marvelously well researched book. In respsonse to some of the bad reviews I have read I have to say that yes, Matthiessen does not try to hide the fact that he sides with the Indians. Yes the book is biased in the favor of the Indians. So what. When you examine the FBI and the US Government's history of maltreatment of all minorities, especially native peoples, why should an author feel obligated to paint the establishment in a flattering light. He is simply exposing the ugly truth of the dark underbelly of our "democracy".
This is hard for some people to handle, thus the poor reviews. Ask yourself this, in the midst of phenomenal violence why does the FBI never investigate dozens of unsolved murders, instead devoting lots of man-hours to tracking down Jimmy Eagle for the theft of a pair of cowboy boots???You be the judge.
This is an amazing read. Thankfully, the FBI, Special Agent David Price and Governor William Janklow all lost in thier legal attempts to keep this information from us. So celebrate freedom of press and curl up with this book!!! Freedom for Leonard
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on October 11, 2003
This book picks up where "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" left off, and unfortunately for Indian people the story does't get any happier. This book should be required reading for every high school student, journalist, politician or law enforcement professional. It shows us that despite the fine and uplifting words of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence that support our democracy, human dignity and civil rights always need to be fought for and protected by people. Unfortunately for all of us, sometimes innocent people lose the battle, and this is a story about some of them. Please read this book, you will not be sorry you did.
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on November 27, 2002
This book was meticulously researched. The author reviewed thousands of pages of documents, conducted dozens of interviews and visited dozens of sites. He reviewed evidence presented by both sides: the FBI and the Indians. He considered the opinions of people on both sides.
However, it's not just a research book. The book is peppered with the author's own opinions and speculations as well as the opinions and speculations of other people interviewed. He retells the story several times through the eyes of the different witnesses. Some of the witnesses actually change their accounts more than once. In the end, the killer himself (whoever that may be) is probably the only living person who knows what really happened.
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HALL OF FAMEon June 9, 2008
Those interested in the history of Native Americans will know that relatively few books cover the travails and challenges faced by Indians in the present day. This classic by Matthiessen is one of the best investigations in recent memory of how Indians still face a variety of hardships and harassment caused both by modern social problems and the legacy of their cultural annihilation. Matthiessen's topic here is the brief notoriety of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the early-to-mid 1970s, culminating in the much-discussed case against Leonard Peltier for the murder of two government agents.

Here Matthiessen covers not just the story of Peltier and AIM, but also the historical influences that culminated in the bloody 1975 confrontation in South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation. Matthiessen did an immense amount of research and delivered a highly compelling account of Peltier and the shootout, revealing that the situation was far more complex than is commonly believed (or reported in the mainstream press). The reader will find that Matthiessen does not necessarily find solid proof of Peltier's innocence. However, there is overwhelming evidence that Peltier definitely did not receive a fair trial, and a litany of Constitutional violations was committed by the illegitimate tribal government and its goons (the main source of animosity with AIM), federal agents, state and federal politicians, judges and lawyers, and prison officials.

The complex relationships among these parties, the unhappy history of the Pine Ridge Indians, and modern social problems were all at play in a situation far more complex than a simple shootout between an Indian militant and some agents. Government watchdogs will also be sickeningly familiar with the propaganda and misinformation exercised by the feds as Peltier was railroaded into prison, especially in view of the government's weak case against him. At the very least, Peltier's sentence was excessive and several government employees got off the hook for the horrors of that fateful day in 1975. And in the end, this powerful book proves that the railroading of Indians who resist the advance of American hegemony did not come to an end back in the 1800s. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on July 9, 2001
This is an excellent book. Peter Matthiessen covers all the bases. His depth of coverage is astounding. Everytime I had a question about a person or event, they were answered somewhere in the book. It is an amazing telling of what are truly frightening events in our history. It creates a desire to learn more and more, not just about what happened to the Lakota people, but about our government. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone! The fact that it took so long to be published speaks volumes about the content.
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on September 18, 2006
I'm often deeply suspicious of writing as political as one finds in this book - I greatly admire Matthiessen's writings on travel, nature and Buddhism, but found his novel "At Play In The Fields Of The Lord" a bit ham-fisted in its' approach, even when I agreed with it's sentiments.

But after a few reads, several years apart, IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE stands as a great, damning document - it's a piece of work that is impressive and massive, and will leave you infuriated.

The entire work is built around the trial and conviction of Leonard Peltier, and rather than simply recount the events or press an agenda, Matthiessen goes to meticulous lengths to contextualize and cover every side of the background. The history of the Sioux Lakota is covered extensively, as are the social conditions (health, income, education, and the infamous violence) on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The AIM (American Indian Movement) emerges on Pine Ridge, and it should be noted that the reservation is officially two counties - Shannon and Jackson, which were administered from elsewhere in the state, and run by Bureau of Indian Affairs appointees, instead of by an elected government (the case in most US counties). These appointees' extreme and unorthodox tactics in administering the reservation dovetailed nicely with FBI surveillance and subversion of suspected subversive groups, including AIM, and the paranoia generated set the stage for the firefight and subsequent trial.

Matthiessen expends considerable effort in the attempt at giving both sides a space to speak, not extremely successfully from an objectivity standpoint, but well enough for the purposes of this book: Matthiessen also unearths and publishes a vast array of court transcripts and legal documents; a certain point of view does begin to emerge, and Matthiessen admits where his sympathies lie, but generally, this is a book in which the FBI and various individuals within the government of South Dakota hang themselves with their own words. And they do this consistently, over hundreds of pages, and when afforded many opportunities by Matthiessen to justify or clarify themselves, they fail to do so repeatedly.

Such Machiavellian governmental machinations were an unfortunate part of the political landscape during the Nixon era (this has not necessarily changed with the passage of time); this is one of the most devastating documents of that ruthlessness (see William Shawcross' SIDESHOW for a second, scary glimpse at this political tendency), and Matthiessen - through meticulous investigation and research - goes out of his way to be fair. Give this dense and - at times - difficult book some patience; the history lessons and legalese do have both a point and a payoff - this is a far more infuriating document of injustice than any simple agenda-based hatchet job could ever be.

-David Alston
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on June 24, 2014
This book was very hard to read on 2 levels. On the first level it is simply hard to follow what was happening at the time and on the second level it was hard to read because this is OUR government doing these things to the people that roamed this land long before we claimed it.
Why do we as whites believe that we have some omnipotent claim on this land? I live in East Texas where I continually see the 'white man' tearing down the magnificent forests that used to encompass all of this land and replacing it with with fast growing trees that they can harvest. By doing that they are taking away habitat for so many species of animals that it boggles the mind.
I have signed the petition to free Leonard Peltier because I believe he is fighting for the earth, not just to be freed from prison.
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on March 2, 2015
I read this book because I asked a friend to read one of my favorites and he asked me to read this. I've evolved way over to the right while he remains true to our mutual hippy roots. He is dedicated to the Free Leonard movement and thinks I should be also. I can't say the book convinced me, but it certainly raised more doubts that I thought I would ever entertain.

There is no question that Peltier was there at the shoot out. There's no question that he exchanged fire with the FBI during the shoot out. Those facts alone would warrant a murder verdict. On the other hand, if you take him at his word, he probably should not have gotten life on a first degree conviction.

But, my friend and the author would also argue that the FBI started it; they were in the midst of a long campaign of oppression, involving torture and murder. Again, here the author convinced me that there must have been at least two sides to this. It seems that the FBI and other law enforcement, at a minimum, were out of line. Yet, I have a hard time believing the full story of the AIM members whose statements are used to back this up. But, even if the FBI were over the line, no one should argue that a person who engaged in a protracted shoot out with law enforcement deserves to be found innocent, even if was just shooting over their heads to scare them away as Leonard claims.

The harder argument is whether the long chain of undeniable horrible treatment of the Sioux should play any part in Peltier's conviction. I don't deny that the USA treated them terribly over the years. But, the fact is that those wars are over; the Indians lost and we're now all citizens of a country that has laws that must be obeyed. Most of the AIM "indians" did not grow up in their Sioux culture, but were instead, disaffected, communist influenced revolutionaries who adopted their Indian culture and used it to argue that they were aggrieved and deserving of taking retribution by force. Many were flat out criminals, losers, alcoholics, dope addicts. I admire the longing for reconciliation with a lost culture and a spiritual past, but it is and was lost and not actually part of them. Anyway, they were living in the USA and they were disobeying, often violently disobeying its laws. They should not be surprised to have law enforcement come down on them, hard.

Beyond the moral and legal issues, the book is very hard to read. The author strings together seemingly endless tales, quotes, facts which clearly have some place in the story but he never really helps us put it all together. Plus, it is very one sided and he is clearly bought in to the most extreme and unlikely version of events.

I would not have been able to finish this book if it were not for the obligation I felt toward my friend to try and understand his view of this issue. Now I know that he and I can never see it the same way, although I can see some of his point of view and I do think the way we treated the Indians and even the way we treated Leonard was wrong. But, I still think the man belongs in jail.
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on March 28, 2016
This is a book that I re-read every decade or so. The US government does many good things, but in the case of the American Indian Movement, it was callous, cynical, and criminal. As the saying goes: If you're not outraged, you have not been paying attention. Matthiessen brings his usual calm intelligence to this reporting job. The Native Americans appear fatalistic but determined not to submit. The white politicians appear - well - criminal.
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on August 16, 2013
If you believe the US is never wrong, and do not have an open mind on the issue, this book will make you angry. If you know that our greatness lies in looking wrongs straight in the eye, you will like it. And it will still make you angry.

The book is a detailed and footnoted history of the Leonard Peltier case, admittedly written with a pro-native bias. The author interviewed all sides and verified statements with government documents, some originally kept secret. Leonard Peltier was part of AIM as Native Americans, sick of abuse and continued killing of their own with little promise of justice, chose to stand up for basic rights. Strong evidence is presented for why the US government would have many reasons to want Mr. Peltier and other AIM leaders silenced. It also lays out the almost undeniable evidence that the government was also willing to frame him for murder. He remains in prison today, considered by many to be an American political prisoner. Efforts continue to seek his release.
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