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Sacagawea's Nickname: Essays on the American West Hardcover – November 9, 2001

3.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The literature and the reality of the American West collide in these 12 brilliant and wide-ranging essays, originally published in the New York Review of Books. Pulitzer winner and bestselling novelist McMurtry (Lonesome Dove; etc.) rhapsodizes over an impressively eclectic array of subjects and styles, from his poetic-historical meditation on the Missouri River to his determined but sympathetic deconstruction of Western mythology. Two of the best essays focus on the Lewis and Clark expedition; after reading the pioneering duo's newly published journals, McMurtry pronounces their adventure "the first American epic." Two other essays directly confront the almost uniformly tragic experience of Native Americans in the West; in "Zuni Tunes," McMurtry devastatingly critiques the impact that anthropologists "bloodsucking leeches" have had on the famously unique Arizona tribe. Perhaps the most amusing piece is "Pulpmaster," a bemused ode to western pulp novelists like Zane Grey, whose prodigious output McMurtry ascribes to a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder: "The sufferers can't really write well, but they can't stop writing, either." Each of these essays is sharp, intelligent, sincere and winkingly funny in other words, vintage McMurtry. With penetrating wit he notes that Custer's death was "his most glorious career move." For fascinating characters, there is We'wha, the male Zuni transvestite who met President Grover Cleveland in 1885 and became the "hit of the social season." Not every piece succeeds perfectly, of course: McMurtry's musings on water use in the West are (unsurprisingly) somewhat dry, while his loving, elegiac essay about the forgotten writer Janet Lewis feels like an orphan from another book. Overall, however, this collection is a fine performance from a man who, excepting perhaps Cormac McCarthy, is our most talented and important chronicler of the West.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The well-known author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove and other popular novels, McMurtry has also written numerous essays and reviews. Film Flam: Essays on Hollywood, a collection of his pieces on scriptwriting and other aspects of Tinseltown, was well received. This new collection focuses on the literature and writers of the American West and on the West itself, considering topics such as popular entertainers (e.g., Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley), fiction writers (e.g., Zane Grey), and historians (e.g., Angie Debo). McMurtry is extremely knowledgeable about the subjects he covers, and his writing is witty and incisive. The essays were all originally published in the New York Review of Books. Recommended for any academic or larger public library collection interested in the history and literature of the West and especially for libraries where McMurtry's novels are popular. Charlie Cowling, Drake Memorial Lib., SUNY at Brockport
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Lewis & Clark Expedition
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: New York Review of Books; First Edition edition (November 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322929
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,371,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Knight on December 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
We all know Larry McMurtry best as fine, and successful, novelist whose work revolves around and in the American West. Perhaps he no longer has the stamina or time for fiction as he seems to have turned more and more to the essay form. "Sacagawea's Nickname" is a collection of twelve essays originally published in the most non-Western The New York Review of Books. The irony of their original appearance aside, these are simply wonderful essays. In one essay McMurty declares "The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition" (available in a newly published edition) to be the American Epic. In a companion piece he speculates about the expedition's guide Sacagewea's place in the company, wonders about her relationship with William Clark and laughs at her bumbling husband Charbonneau. In another essay he heaps scorn upon the pulp Western writers Zane Grey and Max Brand, while in another he waxes ecstatically upon a dinner with writer and poetess Janet Lewis. Whether writing about Western water issues and John Wesley Powell or about the professional anthropologists who tried to make their name off the Zuni tribe, McMurtry is always fascinating, provocative and highly readable. He, himself, is a Western treasure.
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Format: Hardcover
If you are familiar with many of the topics discussed in this collection, you will likely find this to be well worth your time. Anyone who has delved into western lit is undoubtably familiar with LM's inimitable style. It is readily apparent here, as is his incredible breadth of literary and historical knowledge. However, if you haven't read much of Stegner and Limerick (to name just a couple of writers LM explores),or you don't know a lot about Lewis and Clark, this may not be the place to start. As these pieces were originally written for the NYRev, the level of background needed to fully appreciate these essays is high. All in all, a thoughtful, funny and wideranging collection worth having on your bookshelf. One final note: I wish the introductory piece on western lit was longer; good as it was, it left me wanting to hear more.
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By A Customer on January 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Sacagawea's Nickname purports to be McMurtry's essays on the Old West. Well, yes and no. Maybe half the book is that and it's really good! McMurtry is extremely insightful on this theme. His views on Bill Cody as a businessman, Annie Oakley as America's original liberated woman,Lewis and Clark, western pulp fiction, the Missouri River, Oh and Sacagawea and her various names...all great stuff.But the other half is the author commenting on other author's comments on the West. Dull.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Sacagawea's Nickname, McMurtry provides a well-reasoned, persuasive argument designed to induce contemporary writers and historians to take into account all theoretical aspects of Western history while making their interpretations. While it might seem, at first glance, that the author is exceedingly critical of authors whose take on Western history skews to the revisionist, this is not necessarily the case. Generally, McMurtry praises the scholarship of such individuals but alludes to their failure to consider anything but the evils of manifest destiny. McMurtry argues that such individuals are so hell-bent on dark revisionism that they have lost sight of the fact that Western mythology has become an intricately woven part of the equation.
Conversely, McMurtry also warns against those who would mythologize for the sake of financial gain alone, such as in the spirit of Ned Buntline, Buffalo Bill Cody, Zane Grey, or even Time-Life books. This rather fuzzy delineation between fact and fiction is, perhaps, best demonstrated by McMurtry's essay Inventing the American West. McMurtry writes of Kit Carson's attempt and failure to save a woman who had been kidnapped by Indians. Carson tells of how a dime novel was found in possession of the murdered woman, which portrayed Carson as a hero in slaying hundreds of Indians.
McMurtry fully embraces neither the revisionists nor the traditionalists, but alternately praises and critiques both in an attempt to bring them closer together for the betterment of Western historical scholarship. It is remarkable that a book comprised of twelve separate essays should conduct such a strong central theme.
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By A Customer on December 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In this collection of essays for the New York Review of Books, McMurty applies his word-herding skills to themes centering on the American West. Like many cattle drives, there is lots of rambling, usually with a general destination in mind. Sometimes the rambling leads to interesting places, sometimes to dry gulches. Along the way, a few strays run off that the reader will wish the author had chased down.
McMurtry is preoccupied with the ongoing signficance of Western myth. While praising revisionist historians for correcting some entrenched misconceptions about the West, he gently chides them for believing that the Marlboro Man can be deconstructed into oblivion. One might go further and point out that the Western values of individualism and self-reliance still have value for us because they speak to enduring aspects of human experience. As long as conflicts simmer between the desire for law and order and the yearning for a life free of restrictions and regulations, between community and wide-open spaces, between us and nature, in some form the Western will continue to strike a chord with thoughtful readers. Yes, there will probably always be pulpmasters like Zane Grey, but opportunities remain for more sophisticated writers to lead the Western in new and exciting directions. The work of authors like Cormac McCarthy, James Galvin, Larry Watson, and James Welch attests to this.
McMurtry is at his best introducing us to little known talents who deserve a wider audience. After reading the essay on Janet Lewis, I wanted to read some of her novels. I also gained an appreciation for the pioneering research of historian Angie Debo.
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