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Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, The Premier Edition Paperback – October 16, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 249 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Black Elk Speaks is widely hailed as a religious classic, one of the best spiritual books of the modern era and the bestselling book of all time by an American Indian. This inspirational and unfailingly powerful story reveals the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West. In 1930, the aging Black Elk met a kindred spirit, the famed poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881-1973) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota elder chose Neihardt to share his visions and life with the world. Neihardt understood and today Black Elk is known to all.

Black Elk's remarkable great vision came to him during a time of decimation and loss, when outsiders were stealing the Lakotas' land, slaughtering buffalo, and threatening their age-old way of life. As Black Elk remembers all too well, the Lakotas, led by such legendary men as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, fought unceasingly for their freedom, winning a world-renowned victory at the Little Bighorn and suffering unspeakable losses at Wounded Knee.

Black Elk Speaks however is more than the epic history of a valiant Native nation. It is beloved as a spiritual classic because of John Neihardt's sensitivity to Black Elk's resounding vision of the wholeness of earth, her creatures, and all of humanity. Black Elk Speaks is a once-in-a-lifetime read: the moving story of a young Lakota boy before the reservation years, the unforgettable history of an American Indian nation, and an enduring spiritual message for us all.

The premier edition features the first-ever annotated edition of Black Elk's story, done by renowned Lakota scholar Raymond J. DeMallie, the original Standing Bear illustrations and new commentary on them, new maps of the world of Black Elk Speaks, and a revised index.

"If any great religious classic has emerged in this century or on this continent, it must certainly be judged in the company of Black Elk Speaks ... [T]he book has become a North American bible of all tribes ... it speaks to us with simple and compelling language about an aspect of human experience and encourages us to emphasize the best that dwells within us..." -- Vine Deloria Jr.

"The experience of Black Elk ... comes to one great statement, which for me is a key statement to the understanding of myth and symbols." -- Joseph Campbell in an interview with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth

"It is sufficient that Black Elk Speaks is an extraordinarily human document--and beyond that the record of a profoundly spiritual journey, the pilgrimage of a people towards their historical fulfillment and culmination, towards the accomplishment of a worthy destiny." -- N. Scott Momaday

"If a religious text of powerful import occurred in the twentieth century, it was Black Elk Speaks. If both Eastern (Buddhist/Taoist) and Western (Judeo-Christain/Muslim) religious canons are to be challenged and grounded in new theology, a major source will be Black Elk Speaks." -- Whole Earth, 2000

About the Author

For more information on John G.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press; annotated edition edition (October 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1438425406
  • ISBN-13: 978-1438425405
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (249 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I didn't read this edition; a little paperback version came to me. I read it long ago and read it again recently. This book had an incredible impact on me. Over the years people have come to criticize the author, John Neidhardt. The book ends somewhat abruptly not long after Wounded Knee and then there is an account of Black Elk's prayer on Harney Peak when he was an old man and he asked to make his people live again kind of tacked on the end. Many seem to feel Neidhardt was exploiting Black Elk to get a book out of him. I don't claim to be an expert on Black Elk and this subject, but from what I know I do not agree with the totally cynical assessment. Black Elk had been off the reservation in the Buffalo Bill Show and given his experiences he was hardly naive or ignorant. Black Elk's son Ben had been in the Carlyle school so he would have known if the book did not reflect his father's vision and words and life. The book was also not an instant bestseller. Neidhardt promoted this book and Black Elk's vision tirelessly until the end of his life and I truly believe it was because he saw the incredible spiritual nature of Black Elk, his life, and visions. And his "great vision" as a youngster can only be described as cataclysmic and psychedelic. When the spirits want you to see something you will see it and no drugs are necessary.

Neidhardt left out the ensuing years on Pine Ridge Reservation and Black Elk's acceptance of Catholicism to frame a lost way of life, the sadness and injustice of it, and the greatness and seeming inevitability of Black Elk's vision. I believe any poetic license taken was in service of bringing forth a greater truth. The book was not meant to be a biography or history of the Lakota, but to preserve Black Elk's vision and so the purpose of the book was accomplished.
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Format: Paperback
To potential readers, worried about the authenticity of this work and its right to speak for Native Americans:
The question of how closely the words of this book follow the words of Black Elk has long been debated. It will not be decided here. Turn to the scholarly literature if you truly wish to pursue an answer. I have done that and in my mind (and I do have some education in these realms) am at peace with the book as a genuine expression of turn of the century Lakota spirituality. Neihardt may have written the words, and Ben Black Elk (Black Elk's son) may have done the translating, but Black Elk lived the life, as is corroborated by other sources.
I use the work in my introduction to religion classes, to bring another world to life for my students. Is Black Elk's vision theirs? Of course not. Is the book even Black Elk's vision? Perhaps not exactly. But it is a vision of power and every now and then it awakens a vision in students living 100 years after Black Elk. I belive Black Elks speaks and there is some power in his words still.
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Format: Paperback
This is the biography of Black Elk, a wichasha wakon (priest) of the Oglala Sioux, as recorded by John Neihardt. This is not some cheesy new age fiction nor is it a dry documentary told from a western view point. This is the actual life story of a holy man and goes into great detail about his visions. From his words we are able to catch a glimpse of Native American religion and spirituality on the Great Plains as it was in the late 1800s/early 1900s. This stands out as one of the greatest works on Native American religion to date. I highly rocemmend that ANYONE read this book.
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Format: Paperback
I saw this was rated one star and couldn't believe it. Now I see it was not the book that was being rated but erroneously it was the "seller" who failed to deliver. The seller should have given negative feedback to the seller and left the book alone.

This is a wonderful book on so many levels. I went back to college at 40+ and read it then. Later on I bought it for my grown son. It's full of patient wisdom and compassion that we all need to remember how to use and seldom see anymore. Some things never go out of style. They touch on basic human qualities and needs.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a biography of the famous Sioux holy man Nick Black Elk.
It tells of young Black Elk's powerful vision. This is one of the few books to place the colors in the proper directions.
This is not a blanket statement that everything in this book is correct. I noticed two errors.
1. The word Oglala is misspelled throughout the book
2. The photo on page 282. I have seen this photo in other sources, and the indian standing to the left of Nick Black Elk was called by another name.
If you want a biography of the famous holy man this is an excelent book.
If you want a book on American Indian Spirituality go elsewhere.
"The Sacred Pipe" Joseph Epes Brown
"Foolscrow: Wisdom and Power" Thomas E. Mails
"Native Wisdom" Ed McGaa
"Mother Earth Spirituality" Ed McGaa
Please contact me if you have questions or comments. Two Bears
Wah doh Ogedoda "We give thanks Great Spirit"
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Format: Paperback
I was a student at the time when various fields (Native American studies, Women studies, Afro-American studies, etc.) were just being established, and although I took a minor in anthropology, I never got into the topics underwritten by these new departments. Since I also worked in the book store, I was aware that two of the key texts for Native American studies were Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Black Elk Speaks. Sad to say, but it took me nearly 30 years before I read either book.
The former book was written by a sympathetic outsider who painted the American Indian as a helpless victim of European greed--which for the most part he was/is. The latter was dictated to an interested party, John G. Neihardt, and is the words and reminiscences of Nicholas Black Elk, who witnessed as a child or participated in as an adult, some of the major events of the American Indian Wars that were the outcome of the US expansion into the West. For those of us reared on John Ford westerns, manifest destiny and pioneering had a patriotic ring, as well they might most of them having been made in the years immediately following WWII. In the social souring of the sixties and seventies that brought so many discontented groups vocally into the foreground, it became more obvious that the expression of manifest destiny by our European forebearers spelled manifest disaster for the Native American populations across the country. An outgrowth of the discontent of the "younger generation" was the establishment of the afore said departments. That of American Indian studies introduced us to the more honest, or at least more balanced, story of the indigenous people of the country.
Black Elk Speaks is a superb eye witness account of the Sioux experience with European expansion into the Dakotas.
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