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Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West Hardcover – October 3, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Although delivering little in the way of new information, Sides, an Outside magazine editor-at-large and bestselling author (Ghost Soldiers), eloquently paints the landscape and history of the 19th-century Southwest, combining Larry McMurtry's lyricism with the historian's attachment to facts. Inevitably, Sides's main focus is the virtual decimation of the Navajo nation from the 1820s to the late 1860s. Sides depicts the complex role of whites in the subjugation of the Navajos through his portrait of Kit Carson—an illiterate trapper, soldier and scout who knew the Native Americans intimately, married two of them and, without blinking, participated in the Indians' slaughter. Books about Carson have been numerous, but Sides is better than most Carson biographers in setting his exploits against a larger backdrop: the unstoppable idea of manifest destiny. Of course, as counterpoint to the progress of Carson and other whites, Sides details the fierce but doomed defense mounted by the Navajos over long decades. This culminated in their final, desperate "stand" during 1863 at Canyon de Chelly, more than a decade after a contingent of federal troops—operating under a commander whose last name of "Washington" seems ironic in this context—killed their great leader, Narbona. (Oct. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Hampton Sides's Blood and Thunder is more ambitious in its sweep than his acclaimed Ghost Wars (2001), a World War II history. His recounting of harsh frontier life and the violent clashes among the Navajo, the Spanish (Mexican), and the U.S. Army offers a gripping epic while enlivening many of the era's remarkable figures, from soldiers to trappers, farmers, Indians, and pioneer women. Critics especially praised Sides's nuanced discussions of the Navajo and other Native American tribes, as well as his inclusion of maps that chart key routes and conquests. A few critics cited some factual errors, tangential discussions, and omissions of some key historical figures, but overall it's clear that "Sides knows how to tell a good story" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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The book includes many mini-biographies of people who intersected Carson's life, which is a lot of people, and he often spends dozens of pages on events far from Carson. Sides keeps the story moving briskly, and he is a colorful writer. He belongs to that school of historian who feels comfortable making judgements about personalities, and whose syntheses of the literature and of biographies may push at the edges of what the sources would strictly support. As someone sympathetic to that approach, I am happy to cut him some slack when speculating about characters' alcoholism, psychology, or presumed motivations.
Sides does his best to be fair to everyone, whether Navajo, Mexican, or American. He leans to the biographer's fault of treating his subject too favorably, but that's easy to forgive. That becomes a difficult line to travel as he turns to his second major subject, the Navajo nation. Carson played a central role in the conquest of the Navajo and in their disastrous removal to a reservation at Bosque Redondo. Sympathetic to both Carson and the Navajo, Sides nonetheless pulls back from criticizing his hero as fully as some historians might.
Still, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, wide-ranging history of the West, appealing to a wide audience.
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