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War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War (The Lamar Series in Western History) Hardcover – September 29, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Action-packed and densely argued.”—Larry McMurtry, New York Review of Books
(Larry McMurtry New York Review of Books)

“Brian DeLay is one of the most articulate and original authors writing in the Western Americana field today.”—Howard R. Lamar, author of The New Encyclopedia of the American West
(Howard R. Lamar)

“With a good sense of drama and narrative, DeLay tells the story of how the interactions and preconceptions of Mexicans, Americans, and independent Indian tribes shaped the borderland region in ways none of the parties expected. This book will force many readers to rethink their basic assumptions about Indians as nineteenth-century political actors. This is not just the most significant work on the U.S.-Mexico War to appear in a generation, but a study with wide-ranging implications for the history of North America. Brian DeLay shows how enlightening transnational history can be when done well.”—Amy S. Greenberg, The Pennsylvania State University
(Amy S. Greenberg)

“In supple prose, DeLay analyzes the interactions in the years leading up to the war among three ‘nations’—the struggling new Mexican republic, the confident and opportunistic (but also relatively new) U.S., and the older, highly dynamic peoples of indigenous America—as well as among the compellingly depicted individuals and groups that composed them.”—Margaret Chowning, University of California at Berkeley
(Margaret Chowning)

"DeLay's War of a Thousand Deserts begins with a long-neglected question: what role did Indian Nations of the Southern Plains—Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches—play in the era of the U.S.-Mexican War?  His answers sweep across the borderlands in stories of violence, trauma, and the devastating cultural effects of endemic warfare on indigenous and Mexican peoples alike. A tireless researcher and gifted writer has given us a necessary, if profoundly disturbing, look at the history of our American West."—James F. Brooks, author of Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands
(James F. Brooks)

“Brian DeLay’s compelling and well-documented narrative of a little-known subject—Indian raids into northern Mexico—offers new insights on the impact of those attacks on the affected countries and peoples.”—Pedro Santoni, author of Mexicans at Arms: Puro Federalists and the Politics of War, 1845-1848
(Pedro Santoni)

Winner of a 2009 Southwest Book Award sponsored by the Border Regional Library Association
(Southwest Book Award Border Regional Library Association 2009-12-01)

Recipient of 2010 Bryce Wood Book Award, given by the Latin American Studies Association.
(2010 Bryce Wood Book Award Latin American Studies Association 2010-01-01)

"An engaging book that enlivens the debate over the clash between Indians, Mexicans, and Americans in the Southwest. Both Indian and western historians, as well as those who still call themselves borderlands specialists, will want to read DeLay's work."--Gary Clayton Anderson, Western Historical Quarterly
(Gary Clayton Anderson Western Historical Quarterly)

"A truly outstanding work of transnational history. It should be required reading for graduate students in American Indian, Latin American, U.S., and global and comparative history."—Matthew Babcock, Journal of World History
(Matthew Babcock Journal of World History)

"This prize-winning study explores the part indigenous societies played in directing their own fate, and in doing so provides important insight on the agency these peoples possessed."--Joseph F. Stoltz III, Journal of the Early Republic
(Joseph F. Stoltz III Journal of the Early Republic)

"[An] outstanding book. . . . A highly readable, jargon-free, interpretive study. . . . The work is a rare combination of wit, intelligence, and a dash of cynicism that produces a sparkling narrative full of juicy anecdotes and profound conclusions. The War of a Thousand Deserts provides many jewels of wisdom for those fortunate enough to read it. . . . The War of a Thousand Deserts is a brilliant study and a magnificent contribution to the historiography of the U.S.-Mexico War and the Southwest."—Douglas W. Richmond, New Mexico Historical Review
(Douglas W. Richmond New Mexico Historical Review)

About the Author

Brian DeLay is assistant professor of history, University of California, Berkeley.


Product Details

  • Series: The Lamar Series in Western History
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300119321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300119329
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,621,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brian DeLay received his PhD from Harvard University and taught for several years at the University of Colorado before moving to the University of California at Berkeley, where he is now an Associate Professor of History. He is the author of the award-winning War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War (Yale University Press, 2008), editor of North American Borderlands (Routledge, 2012), and coauthor of the U.S. history textbooks Experience History (2010) and U.S./A Narrative History (2011), both published by McGraw-Hill.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I was taking a course on U.S. Military History for my masters degree, there was one war for which a book was conspicuously absent from the syllabus: The U.S.-Mexico War. When I asked my professor about it, he informed me that he hadn't found a good book that covered some unusual aspect of the war to fit in with the other readings for the class.

That book is now here.

In War of a Thousand Deserts, Brian DeLay takes on a little known subject from an often neglected period in American history--the effect that Indian raids in northern Mexico had on the U.S. War with that nation. His conclusions about such topics as whether Comanche raids were conducted simply for material gain or also vengeance, or that such raids were as essential a component in the lead-up to the war as any political or expansionist motivations, are backed up by extensive research and pages of data. Professor DeLay is obviously a very careful and conscientious investigator, as evidenced by the outstanding material presented in the appendix.

But just as impressive is DeLay's writing style, which avoids the dryness of many scholarly works at this level and makes the story as enjoyable to read as it is informative. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in U.S., Indian, Mexican, or military history, as well as anyone simply looking for a good read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The description above is from a Mexican official, Jose Maria Sanchez, writing in 1830 about the North Americans flooding into Texas (then a Mexican state). Manuel Mier y Teran also noted the North Americans' contempt for Mexican laws and refusal to learn the language. The Mexicans clearly saw the threat to their sovereignty, and outlawed immigration from the north.

However, the Mexicans were unable to stop the eventuality they clearly foresaw. The Mexican North was a "thousand deserts", laid waste by Comanche raids, terrifying attacks of up to 1,000 warriors who could travel 100 miles a day. Roiling internal politics and a poor economy meant that Mexico did not protect its north from the norteamericano or Indian menaces. American and Mexican willingness to turn a blind eye to buying branded animals created a ready market for stolen livestock.

The next time I hear someone extolling Indian simplicity and virtue, I will grit my teeth. The Comanches were renowned for their gratuitous cruelty and devotion to vengeance and retribution, leaving behind "bellowing farm animals dragging their guts behind them",slaughtered noncombatants, some burned alive, and wholesale destruction of grain stocks and wells poisoned with corpses. Because Texans appear to have matched Comanches for ferocity, most of these raids were directed into the Mexico, even as far south as San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas, victimizing people who were no conceivable threat. Warriors would engage in a scorched earth campaign (as opposed to merely efficiently stealing animals) even when this put them in danger by giving defenders time to organize. There was plenty to seek vengeance for.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
All those maps you saw in school that show changing European borders cutting through central North America are a fiction. Those maps showed various expanses of British, French, Spanish, American and Mexican rule. Yet, arguably the largest national territory for decades was Comancheria. At it's peak Comanche military, commercial and political power extended from western New Mexico east almost to the Mississippi and from north of Okalahoma to deep in to Mexico. They influenced and sometimes destroyed the colonial dreams of great European powers. Thinking of the Comanches as anyone's as victims is non-historical and an insult.

Conventional histories may mention the Comances in passing but that's like writting a history of Asia with Gengis Kahn appearing only as a footnote.

I can also recomend a companion book on this topic "The Comanche Empire" by Pekka Hämäläinen.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
War of a Thousand Deserts is an excellent book that successfully places the Comanche people as actors during the US-Mexican War. The writing is both engaging and fluid, and the author has undertaken serious archival research to track Comanche raids in Mexico during the mid-19th century. The cataloguing of these raids, however, support his argument that interethnic violence contributed to the course of the war and future territory designations of the United States and Mexico. Like a historic companion to Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, we see how violence increased across the region, turning prosperous areas of modern northern Mexico into empty wastes. DeLay's fascinating analysis describes how this came to be, and how it played into nation-building and 19th century geopolitics in North America. Highly recommended for students of Latin American, Comanche, Native American, or borderlands history.

Now that I've praised this 5-star book, I'd like to add that you should avoid buying the Kindle version, even though it is cheaper (and if you are a student like me, that along with the other advantages of an ebook might seem tempting.) Yale University Press has failed to obtain rights to the illustrations used in this book, (including charts created by the author!) leaving several gaping holes in the text ("Please refer to the print edition" it tells you) and ultimately failing to share important primary source material. I contacted the press about this matter, but as of yet they have provided no response or apology. I've never heard of any publishing press simply failing to obtain permission for pictures, but I guess someone dropped the ball in New Haven.

In summary: great book, but if you buy the Kindle version, you are literally buying an inferior book. I look forward to following DeLay's academic career and future publishings.
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