Month: December 2021

by Peter Singer

Classic of the animal rights movement. I have had this book on my shelf for many years but always hesitated to read it- it’s written by a philosopher who specializes in ethics and I thought it would be difficult material. Not so. I was surprised to find it very readable and easy to understand. I also assumed it would be full of absurdly extremist ideas or overly sentimental appeals. Quite the contrary. Although at the end Singer makes a few conclusions and suggestions for future action that sound extreme and impossible (doing away with all carnivorous animals in the world to eliminate animal suffering!! what??) he doesn’t explore those any further and admits they are likely untenable. He does think zoos and farms that raise animals for consumption should disappear though.

Getting ahead of myself. The main premise of the book is: animals feel just like we do and can suffer pain and emotional distress (wow, see my previous read for a lot more detail on that point). Singer makes many clear and logical arguments that humans should not cause suffering, or think we are “better than” animals, or control their lives so completely as we often do. They should just be allowed to live and do their own thing. I have to agree with some of that. He doesn’t just point out that we shouldn’t cause animals pain or treat them like objects to create meals for us at the lowest possible monetary cost, but also argues that meat from animals that were terrified or in pain when they died is of lesser quality, that raising animals for food is more costly to the environment, and that plants give us more energy return. There’s a lot more of course, I’m just mentioning some bits that stood out to me. I found of most interest (unexpectedly) the chapter that explores historically the beliefs that cemented in western thought this idea that we as humans have a right to rule over the rest of sentient life. Starting with the bible and going through Greek and Roman thinkers. I have to say it sounds like Descartes is hugely to blame for the idea many people still firmly: that animals are instinctive automatons without any feeling.

There are parts of this book that discuss the horrors of factory farming, animal experimentation and product testing. I would hope that many of the things described are now of the past. I know that at least nowadays you can easily find beauty products that were not tested on animals and buy eggs laid by chickens that roamed free outside (whatever that actually means) for example. There are photos in this book which disturbingly make the point of how much animals suffered in labs and factory farms, thankfully they are few (the book could have easily stuffed a ton more in there to make its point).

Personally, I am not a strict vegetarian though this book makes very good points on why one should be. I have for many years now made an effort to eat less meat and to choose it as wisely as I can- milk from “grass-fed” cows, meat from pasture-raised beef or bison, fish that was “sustainably harvested”. My conundrum is twofold: how do I know those labels are factual? If I don’t go visit the farm where those cows grazed to see for myself, does “pasture-raised” really mean what I think it does? For a while we bought our meat once a month from a small local farm- my husband would drive an hour there with our cooler- and yes it was more costly but I felt good about it. Unfortunately the farm is no longer selling meat products since the pandemic- I do hope they weather this and become operational again because I would like to purchase from them once more.

My other issue: what about all the other life that dies to make a field profitable for growing plants we eat? I’m a gardener, do you know how many slugs, aphids, caterpillars, leaf hoppers, stink bugs, cucumber beetles etc. etc. I have drowned or squashed or smothered off my plants. Must be hundreds by now. And I have read reports that vast fields of crops which use large machinery to harvest kill billions of small wild animals- rabbits, mice, birds, snakes, etc etc.- but then there’s arguments that those numbers are not what they seem- I just read six different articles on it, so now I don’t know what to think. Eating strictly plants does not mean we are causing less harm to living things, or to the environment. I would like to think I am making the best choices, standing there in the grocery store staring at packages, but sometimes I feel like I have to go home and do more research- and it just gives me a headache. I try to eat local, in-season, raised-as-humanely-as-possible foods, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to choose. I don’t think eschewing all animal products is the answer. I do think we should avoid supporting companies that perform needlessly cruel experiments on animals or raise them for food in appallingly stressful, crowded and unhygienic conditions. It’s hard to know which reports are truthful, though.

Definitely this is a book I think everyone should read.

Note: Animal Liberation was originally published in 1975. It was revised in 1990, with some chapters rewritten to update the material, report on improvements that had occurred, and respond to criticism received. The author notes which parts of the book were rewritten; it’s extensive enough that I consider 1990 the publication date of my copy.

Rating: 4/5
324 pages, 1990

How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves

by Laurel Braitman

Animals sometimes display a wide variety of mental and emotional distress very similar to what humans can experience. The author describes this both first-hand in an account of her adopted dog’s extreme separation anxiety (and how she failed to alleviate it despite trying many many different things) and more widely, drawing from historical and anecdotal accounts as well as personal interviews and travels to visit different places and see for herself how animals are faring.

There are in this book many sad and upsetting stories about animals abused or mistreated when young, shocked by land mines going off under their feet, traumatized by seeing their parents killed, terrorized by thunderstorms, completely lacking social skills due to being removed from their mothers too early and/or isolated, self-mutilating (feather-plucking parrots and paw-licking dogs), lashing out in violence or exhibiting repetitive behaviors (probably from the frustration of being locked up in cages, bored out of their minds, or forced to learn inane tricks) and the list goes on and on. In some cases, clear parallels can be drawn between the animals’ disorders and human psychiatric diagnoses, although nobody will actually call it “mental illness” in animals because we can’t actually know what they are thinking or feeling. In other cases, odd behavior displayed by animals still has no explanation.

There are sea lions and whales that behave strangely, due to absorbing toxins from red tides, or ingesting mercury up the food chain. There are dogs that snap at invisible flies, horses that chew on wood or suck air, apes that pull out their own hair. Much like people with anxiety or OCD. Sections of this book that explained how our understanding of human emotional and/or mental ailments has changed over time due to our own growing knowledge of the mind and how to treat such things, was pretty interesting. In Victorian times for example, many animals were literally said to have died of “a broken heart” or “homesickness” or “melancholia”. Nowadays I’m guessing we would say it was depression with the resulting apathy leading to weight loss and further physical deterioration. I found the chapter where she discussed the idea of can animals commit suicide or not disturbing.

And all the explanations of how unhappy, stressed and crazy animals get when confined and unable to do things really made me feel glum. The author points out that enhanced zoo exhibits for example, often only make the viewers feel better about the animals’ environment, because plants are fake or have to be guarded by electric wires so the animals don’t actually eat or pull them apart. For the animal that’s just frustrating. She pointed out so many behaviors seen in zoo animals that are due to the stress they suffer, no matter how great things are it will never be like a free life, that I now feel guilty for ever enjoying a zoo visit. It went a bit extreme I think, saying that all zoos should be done away with. Yet several stories in here describe great efforts zoo staff went to, helping animals adjust and overcome their problems. Some it took years. This included things like changing the environment, carefully monitoring which animals interacted, behavior modification training, and sometimes even using psychoactive drugs.

Another part of the book that took me by surprise was about whales and dolphins that beach themselves. Apparently a new understanding is that if the animal is so weak or ill it can’t hold itself at the surface to breathe, beaching is a way of being able to rest and not immediately drown (so people shouldn’t try to return them to deep water). I’d never thought of it that before. Why healthy companions beach themselves alongside is still unknown. But it may be they are offering support with their companionship. There were also some great stories of abused or lonely elephants that did so much better after befriending another elephant. It wasn’t people that helped them, it was their own conspecifics.

Well. This book felt a bit repetitive to me at first, because it has some material similar to Zoobiquity, and the parts about elephants included a lot I’d read before too. Also it’s kind of jumpy- switching suddenly back and forth between telling about the author’s dog, to wild animals, to other domestic animals, to what happened to her dog later on, then back to some of his earlier treatment, in a way that was hard to keep track of sometimes. Though I’m not sure I always agree with the author’s conclusions, it had a lot to make me think, and made me realize again how closely we are related to the other animals in our world (emotions and brain chemistry so very much the same). And we often don’t treat them well. I’m saying this in general. I was pretty curious if there were cases of animals displaying mental illness in the wild? but no mention of that. I do remember a few examples from Jane Goodall books- a chimpanzee that lost its mother young and then had bizarre or inappropriate behavior as an adult which caused problems- but I can’t remember the details now.

A lot I can’t mention here, there was actually tons of material in this book- and much of it fascinating. Not all depressing- many stories of animals having a full recovery too- some which are remarkable. Animals often appear to have a lot more resilience than we do, to emotional stress or trauma. I just mentioned the ones that leaped out at me right now. And why is that always the dramatic negatives? I have a copy of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation on my shelf, and feel a strong urge to read it next, though I really could do with something cheerful instead!

Rating: 3/5
374 pages, 2014

More opinions: Book N Around
anyone else?

The usual TBR posting, with a note: I’ve discovered my public library’s website has a feature where you can create your own list (or multiple lists!) of titles. So when I happen across something on the shelf or in the catalog that I want to read someday (always far more books than I can bring home at any one time) I just add them to my list there now. Which means they won’t show up here until I actually read them!

Also, I belong to a group on LibraryThing where people ask readers to help them remember book titles they’ve forgotten. I’ve used this feature myself and most of the books I was looking for, people knew- so helpful! Mostly it’s fun to go on there and see if I know any of the titles other people are looking for. And there are soooo many books out there I never heard of in my life. I’ve been in this group for years now and can still only count on one hand, the number of times I knew a title. Far more often is that I jot down books that sound interesting too add to my own list.

books found at my public library:

Blue Moon Rising by Simon Green
No One Like You by Kate Angell- Lark Writes
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
The Reign of Wolf 21 by Rick McIntyre- Rhapsody in Books
Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden- Lark Writes
The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson from Lark Writes
Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald- A Work in Progress
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
The Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour
Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne
The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson
Girl A by Abigail Dean- A Bookish Type
Beyond Words by Carl Safina- Book Chase
Deep by James Nestor- Read Warbler
Horse by Talley English
I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel- Book Chase
The Disaster Tourist by Ko Un Yun- Indextrious Reader
The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge- Indextrious Reader
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri- Bookfoolery
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang- Rhapsody in Books

Tamed and Untamed by Sy Montgomery and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde- Shelf Love
Klawde by Johnny Marciano- Bookfoolery
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams- Book Chase
Dog Man by Martha Sherrill
The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernières- Bookfoolery
The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir- Book Chase and others
The Cat Who Saved Books by Natsukawa- Bookfoolery
The Elephant of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh- Book Chase
Your Life Has Been Delayed by Michelle I. Mason – The Last Book I Read

not at the library:

Green Rising by Lauren James
Wildwing by Phoebe Erickson
Crawling Horror edited Butcher and Leaf- Read Warbler
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri – Rhapsody in Books
The Rest of the Robots by Isaac Asimov- Opinions of a Wolf
In the Garden: Essays on Nature and GrowingCaptive Reader
Lone Seal Pup by Arthur Catherall
Featherhood by Jim Jenner
Were- edited by Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier
Prairie Chicken Dance Tour by Dawn Dumont- Indextrious Reader
Hemi: a Mule by Barbara Brenner
A Horse Called Mystery by Marjorie Reynolds
Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson- Jane Badger Books
Minor Mage by T. King Fisher- Thistle Chaser
Bookworm by Patricia Craig- Captive Reader
Bear by Marian Engel- Opinions of a Wolf
Magpie by Elizabeth Day- A Little Blog of Books
Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussain- Read Warbler
Give Me Your Answer Do by Peter Marchant- Neglected Books Page
September Moon by John Moore- Bookfoolery
The Only Gaijin in the Village by Ian Maloney- Captive Reader
The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe by D.G. Compton- Opinions of a Wolf

made by Workman ~ artist Sarah Walsh ~ 1,000 pieces

This puzzle was really easy to put together, and fun. The artwork is bright, simple and charming. I like that I can identify most of the plants in the picture- monstera, dracanea, pothos, sansevieria, palm, spider plant, asparagus fern, etc. Even most I don’t actually know the names of, I still easily recognize. So that’s why I like this puzzle, even though the piece shapes are a boring straight ribbon cut, and some things about the picture are kind of odd (is that a zebra with abnormally long hair, or a horse painted with blue stripes? and what happened to the texture in the bottom left corner. It looks like it was scribbled in with crayon when the artist got tired). Also the reference poster is smaller than the image on the box lid, so rather pointless.

My other problem is the overall quality. I didn’t mention this before, but it has come up several times now, so: Some puzzles hurt my fingers. Literally. The skin on my fingertips will start to vaguely ache with a burning sensation. It’s bothersome enough that I cut the ends off disposable gloves to wear while working certain puzzles- or typing for long periods on my laptop. I’ve figured out that my skin is probably sensitive to nickle in the laptop surfaces, but on the puzzles I think it’s something in the very very thin plastic layer over the cardboard. It was particularly pronounced with the last cheap made-in-China puzzle I had. This one didn’t mention that origin anywhere, but did state it was made with imported materials. Same issue with some of my other puzzles that were printed in China. This one also has quite a few knobs bent and layers peeling up- I used glue to repair quite a few pieces but didn’t bother with all of them. I have one other puzzle by the same company and artist, which I got from a local seller.

That was annoying though. I saw this person’s listing online, lots of puzzles she does once and then sells secondhand. Fine. I had messaged her asking what items she actually had at the moment, and she sent me current pictures, and I told her which ones I was interested in. We set a day and time and I drove over forty minutes to her place. It would have been worth the trip for the four puzzles I really wanted.  I got there and looked through her stack- over twenty puzzles, but the four I’d picked out weren’t there. She’d already sold them to someone else. Yes I know it’s usually first-come-first-serve with these kind of local sales, but I thought since she sent me pictures just the day before and I’d indicated a specific choice, she might have held onto them for me. Or at least told me someone else would get there first. I bought these two just to make the trip feel worth my time, but I’m never going back. I see her listings on the same site all the time still. No guarantee what’s up there is what will be on the table when you arrive.

Anyway, petty rant over. Lesson learned. Here’s how assembly went. (My pictures aren’t as clean as usual because I didn’t care). Use arrows to view:

from CList - bought used

What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing

by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers

Animals can have many of the same illnesses and disorders that humans do, sometimes called by different names. The author (a cardiologist) was surprised when she found out that primates can die of stress-induced heart conditions, and started looking for other examples of maladies that are common in both human and animal species. There’s tons. She started to wonder why veterinarians and human doctors didn’t consult with each other, especially because she saw that in many cases treatment and techniques from one discipline could inform the other. So this book was the result. A bit disappointingly, it didn’t go into a lot of detail on any of the examples, but on the other hand, I really blazed through the pages in a short time. Horses with skin cancer. Gorillas in a zoo with eating disorders. Parrots that self-mutilate. Dogs, rats, monkeys, bighorn sheep and other animals that seek out mind-altering substances and consume them over and over. Pigs that aren’t ill per se, but refuse food to the point of starving. Obese pets and zoo animals (and how their caretakers get them to loose weight). And so many more examples I can’t mention. There’s a whole chapter on animal sexual behavior, and another on diseases transmitted that way (a real problem among wild koalas). For some reason I first had the assumption that this book would be mostly about diseases that cross over from animals to humans, and while it’s not, it does mention viruses like Ebola, West Nile, rabies, lyme disease, toxoplasmosis, etc etc. I can only imagine what it would have to say about covid, had it been written just eight or nine years later! Like The Ancestor’s Tale, this book reminded me how very closely related we really are, to all the other living creatures on this planet.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
308 pages, 2012

More opinions: Man of la Book
anyone else?

Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me

by Jon Katz

I felt iffy about this book, at first. When I picked it up off the library shelf, I assumed from the cover and title, that it was mostly about the author’s young black lab, Lenore. And while he does first acquire her as a puppy in this narrative, she’s not the focus by a long shot. It’s more about his border collie Izzy, and himself. The first few chapters honestly started to bore me- I noticed some inconsistencies, and the prose didn’t feel focused. He tells about finding Izzy, a border collie that had been basically living in a field with another dog for three years without human contact. Although has often stated he doesn’t take in rescue animals, the author accepts this dog, thinking he’ll rehabilitate it and then find it a new home. Instead he finds it a new job and purpose working alongside him doing hospice visits. And that’s what most of the book is about: hospice care using dogs to comfort people. Izzy seems to be a natural at it. Mostly he speaks in general about this work, but there are a few stories about specific people they visited regularly during their final weeks. Lenore, the young labrador, doesn’t really come into the picture until chapter fourteen. I didn’t see anything remarkable about her character- she’s food obsessed, friendly and energetic like most lab puppies. But her loving nature is a balm to the author, who honestly relates his struggles with depression and some health issues. For the rest of it, I wasn’t much interested in the pages about his camping trips- yes nature is peaceful and restorative, and camping can take a lot of work and planning too, but nothing about this really stood out to me. To be honest, my favorite part of the whole book was the chapter about his goats. So it was really an uneven read, one I nearly gave up on until I came to the goat chapter, but then kept going because the hospice subject was so gently and honestly written. Just felt like it needed a little better focus in some places.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
205 pages, 2008

Inspirational Stories About Horses and the People Who Love Them

by edited by Jack Canfield, et al

Sometimes you just need an easy, feel-good read. Came across this book while browsing at the library a week or so ago, and got it on a whim. Enjoyed it way more than I expected to. I thought a lot of the stories would be cheesy, overly sentimental or with a religious bent, but surprisingly few of those. Most are heartwarming, even the ones with sad endings. They’re all just a few pages long, so perfect for reading in small snatches or late to bed. Submitted by everyday people, they tell how many lives have been touched by horses, or vice versa.

There are stories of little girls longing for a pony, what a struggle that is, or a dream come true, or how the horse affected their lives in ways unimaginable. There are stories of the effort in treating an ill or injured horse, or caring for an orphaned foal. And on the other side of things, stories about people with illness or emotional loss who are helped by their companionship with horses, as well as equine therapy for children with special needs, or struggling teens. There are people in this book who keep horses their whole lives, even when trying to also balance work and family, but then bittersweet stories of kids who outgrow their interest in horses, so the animal is then ridden by a younger sibling, or sold when the kid goes to college. A few stories of reunions years after the horse was sold, really heartwarming. Also some about neglected horses being rescued and nursed back to health, given a second chance. And then a few that were just plain funny. Such a wide range of subject matter, all revolving around the horses (although I think there was also one story about a mule). None of them really leap out at me, thinking back over the book. Though I did note how widely diverse the personalities of the horses themselves were! Some are sweet and gentle, patient with everything or extremely hardworking. Others are stubborn, badly behaved, wild and untamed or simply mischievous. I did skim a lot through the section on horse racing- tried but those just did not interest me at all.

One thing the book introduced me to- the racking horse. I’d heard of Tennessee walking horses, but didn’t know what this actually meant- the pace they do when racking. Looked up a few videos of a horse racking at high speed, and that really is something else. Makes me think of a windup toy, seeing them move like that!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
398 pages, 2003

Tales from a life without technology

by Mark Boyle

Near the end of this book, the author says “I decided that instead of spending my life making a living, I wanted to make living my life.” He left the city and job behind, built a cabin on a piece of land and committed himself to living without a phone, electricity, plumbing, etc. Doing all his work with hand tools. Living off the land, engaging in a bartering and gift economy with neighbors (though most of them had the usual conveniences). He deeply felt that this would make his life more purposeful, even though without internet or cell phone he soon lost contact with myriad people, remaining close only to those that lived nearby or stayed in touch via paper mail. I have to say I know what he means, feeling like doing things with your own hands and simple tools is more meaningful. I prefer an hour weeding in the garden or trimming shrubs to typing on a keyboard myself. I don’t know if I could go so far as to do without electricity and heating, though. It’s hard to eschew all the easy things most people take for granted, and live in a way that takes a different kind of work. Boyle doesn’t avoid admitting the difficulties, or things he has to do without. But he also waxes long on the rewards, which are of a different kind. Feeling tied into the seasons and close to the land. Paying more attention to the other living things around him- insects and plants. Learning skills that seem forgotten in this day and age.
His book doesn’t have a lot of day-to-day details (which I might have enjoyed) rather it’s a series of vignettes and noted thoughts on varied topics, as the mood took him to recount them. Sometimes he discusses how decisions were arrived at, where he came from, or how his thinking has shifted (he used to be vegan but now fishes and eats venison). Other parts of the book are little stories about things with his neighbors or specific pieces of the work he does around his land- planting trees, washing clothes by hand, cutting wood, building a hot tub (I wanted to see a picture of that!), foraging berries and greens, starting seeds, turning compost, making candles, etc. He also recounts a lot about visiting the Great Blasket Island, quoting from written works by the people who once lived there (in a very sustainable manner) and reflecting on why they eventually had to leave. I didn’t feel as immersed or connected to those parts of the book. Also some segments started to get repetitive near the end. He lives in Ireland, by the way. And now I’d like to read a previous book he wrote, The Moneyless Man.
I did notice, and appreciate, how old-fashioned this book itself feels as a physical object. It’s a clothbound hardback, without the slick plastic cover library books usually have. The paper is a nice muted off-white and has the texture of good recycled paper- or at least so I imagine. It felt like a book in hand I’d usually from a discard sale or found in a thrift shop, not a relatively new book produced just a few years ago! I’d like to think this was a conscious choice the author made in having his book printed- which seems very in harmony with his stated purpose and lifestyle.
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 4/5
266 pages, 2019

An Uncommon Friendship

by Catherine Raven

I’ve read so many books about animals, and relationships with wildlife, and living alone in the wilderness- and this one seems to stand aside them all, on a different plane. I don’t know what it is- something about the voice, the pacing, the way individual scenes are described like glass panes slightly overlapping at the edges where they change color. It’s a narrative about the author’s time spent in wilderness places- working as a park ranger, or a hiking guide, or a teacher of online field classes- living alone in a small cabin on a hillside near a National Park boundary in Montana- alone because she had always been alone since leaving a home that (from what little is mentioned of it) sounded neglectful and unwelcoming- and because she fit into the wild spaces more comfortably, living alongside the wild creatures until deer stepped boldly through her yard, magpies quarreled over egg yolks she offered them, and a fox made regular visits. She read out loud to the fox. Her descriptions of his closeness- not a needy animal, but one that crossed paths and interacted with her out of- curiosity? or more likely, because he recognized that her activities in the clearing made for productive rodent hunts. The wording in this book, the slant of how it looks at wildlife is unlike most others I’ve encountered. Its has clarity from a different way of looking at things. It’s not just about the fox, deer, and voles- but about eagles, weasels, mice, swans, a badger cub, myriad insects and plant life that each have their own characteristics and ways of going about living in the world.

Raven quotes from The Little Prince, Moby Dick and Frankenstein by turns- which delighted me with recognition, although it’s been a long time so now I want to read them all over again. She relates the incidents in the woods alongside remarks about acquaintances and friends, students and colleagues, all a tad off-kilter as if something’s missing from those interactions. With the animals and plants it makes sense, though. If there were more of her words, for me to see how she saw- a feather in the hand, a certain rock, the way rain arrives in the sky- I would read them. It felt patchwork at times- but there’s an understanding at the end. There’s firefighting and road building and an attempt to rescue a wounded fawn. There’s her palpable worry when she thinks the fox has mange, and other times when she realizes acutely how short the life of a small wild animal can be. She attempts to keep her observations of the fox unemotional, to study him (that’s what her students and the scientific community expect) but finds that it changes their relationship, and she’d rather think of him as a fellow being, a creature alive in his own right, a friend.

There’s even a few segments written as if from the fox’s point of view, which I really liked and they didn’t feel out of place at all. This book is not without sad or even brutal moments, or frank descriptions of gore (she hunts deer, the fox tears apart prey, there’s discussion of foxhunting too) it’s not a sweet story but it’s a vivid private picture of how this wild animal touched her life. I would wish to know a fox, or even any wild animal, in this way.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
286 pages, 2021

More opinions:

by Dee Brown

It is hard to know what to say about this book, when so much has already been said, and it was a difficult read. History of European expansion across the West in the 1700’s, from the Native American perspective. Well, it was written by a white man, but the account relates what the Native leaders recorded of events, battles and outcomes. Over and over the same story was told: local tribes welcomed the explorers and settlers they met, gave them food, land, sometimes taught them how to fish or hunt local game. Gave them permission to build roads, travel through their horse pastures and hunting grounds, mine for gold. Watched in dismay as wildlife was driven away and became scarce, protested when they were told they had to move, or stay in one place instead of following the game in their nomadic lifestyle. Made agreements to keep the peace in treaties they couldn’t read, and that weren’t kept anyways. Faced continually broken promises, were pushed into corners where the land was inhospitable, they met unfamiliar diseases, there was nothing to eat, provisions were inadequate. Saw their families starve, their women and children ruthlessly killed. Yes some of them retaliated but for the most part it sounds like overwhelmingly the white soldiers and settlers acted without mercy, treated them as less than human, and systematically tried to eradicate them from the earth. With many tribes they succeeded. The Native peoples didn’t have comparable weapons, and they were vastly outnumbered.

The book details many incidents I was somewhat familiar with: the battle of Little Big Horn, the massacre at Wounded Knee- but there are so many I’d never heard of. The chapters are set in more or less chronological order, each tells the story of a different tribe or Native leader. There is quite a bit of overlap as the stories are interconnected and the different tribes that had long fought over territory among themselves, came together to face their overwhelming enemy: us. Key groups mentioned include the Cheyennes, Sioux, Apache, Nez Percé, Utes, Navahos, Comanches and Kiowas.

My copy has a spread of photographs in the center with portraits of famous leaders: Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Victorio and dozens more. (There is no picture of Crazy Horse). I knew these names but not their stories, before. Their words are eloquent, the predicament they faced an outrage, injustice, a history we should be ashamed of. They were human just like us- some of them acted brashly, or in anger, or retaliated against settlers who had personally done them no wrong. Quite a few displayed a sense of irony or humor towards the soldiers and politicians that pushed them around. But for the most part, I got an immense sense of sorrow and anger from this book. It put into perspective for me what I read in Lakota Woman. Very good companion reads, but it makes the heart heavy.

Rating: 4/5
458 pages, 1970


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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