If you're a fan of nonfiction narratives that crackle with excitement and energy, this rip-snorter of an epic history by Hampton Sides (Ghost Soldiers) is right up your alley. Sides takes a story we think we know well (the 20-year battle for Navajo territory in America's relentless pursuit of Manifest Destiny) and turns it upside down. What shakes out are a series of unlovely facts that defy myth, confound stereotypes, and fly in the face of hallowed historical traditions. At the center of this violent, blood-soaked history stands the iconic figure of Kit Carson, an infuriating mystery of a man who understood and even respected the Navajo but betrayed them anyway. A riveting account filled with colorful, flawed characters neither wholly heroic nor villainous, Blood and Thunder is a must-read for both students and casual observers of American history.
The truth of history is often fickle and difficult to determine, and Sides demonstrates his awareness of this with a riveting narrative focus. Like the authors of many other recent works of popular history, Sides dispenses with footnotes but offers an exhaustive bibliography that underscores the scope of this monumental undertaking. Not only does Blood and Thunder capture a pivotal moment in U.S. history in marvelous detail, it is also authoritative and masterfully told.
The Washington Post
Like a Cinemascope western, Blood and Thunder abounds in colorful characters, bristles with incident and ravishes the eye with long, lingering pan shots of the great Southwest…as the title suggests, [it] resounds with war whoops, rifle fire and hoofbeats. Many scalps are taken, by both sides, and Carson dies on cue, with a jaunty farewell on his lips. In other words, the story always moves. In this case, that may be enough.
The New York Times
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Two related but not interdependent epic themes run through this book: the wresting of the Southwest and California away from Mexico to make them a part of the United States and efforts by the Navajo to protect their territory from inroads by Mexico and the United States. Outside magazine editor Sides (Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission) does not give readers much guidance as to which is the principal theme or what his exact intent is here. It appears that he began with the Navajo resistance and kept adding interesting stories as he came upon them, without considering how they related to the dual theme. But he does know how to tell a good story, drawing on a wide variety of published sources. Academic libraries already have analytical works that cover all these topics. However, little has been written for the general reader on either theme, so this book fills that gap and will be useful for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06.] Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kit Carson versus the Indians-and everyone against everyone else in the Hobbesian world of the newly conquered American West. Whereas Bernard De Voto, Wallace Stegner and latter-day historian David Roberts were and are concerned with the ideas and social trends behind historical facts, this author's chronicle mostly blends just-so stories with human-interest sketches: Americans stream west into Spanish-speaking lands as James Polk ("possibly the most effective president in American history-and likely the least corrupt") urges them to empire; the Navajo people, a case study in the terrible collision of nations, fight well even though they are culturally indisposed to draw blood; and few in the war between Mexico and the United States are inclined to play by the rules, leading to such little-sung moments as the Battle of San Pasqual, which should make no gringo jingoist proud. Sides (Ghost Soldiers, 2001, etc.) has studied the historical literature diligently and turned up some engrossing tales, from the fate of mountain man Bill Williams to the exploration of the Great Basin to the circumstances of Carson's first marriage; if the details of native customs and the wealth of future senators are sometimes repetitive, his attention to what motivates people to act is refreshing, and Sides has a fine way of complicating his heroes and villains so that they emerge as flawed humans rather than misty figures of legend. And the flaws are endless, as with one fellow, for whom more than a few points on the map are named, who writes back to Washington following the death of a Navajo leader, "I very much regret that I had not procured Narbona's cranium, as I think he had the finest head I ever saw on anIndian."Popular history in the Alvin Josephy vein. Sides works material well-known to historians, but less so to general readers, into an unchallenging but informative narrative.
“Riveting . . . monumental . .. . Not only does Blood and Thunder capture a pivotal moment in U.S. history in marvelous detail, it is also authoritative and masterfully told.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Stunning. . . Both haunting and lyrical, Blood and Thunder is truly a masterpiece.”
—Los Angeles Times
“We see a panorama and a whole history, intricately laced with wonder and meaning, coalesce into a story of epic proportions, a story full of authority and color, truth and prophecy . . . Sides fills a conspicuous void in the history of the American West.”
—N. Scott Momaday, The New York Times Book Review
“From the lean crisp descriptions of the characters to the sights, sounds and smells of the trail, this is a crystal clear picture of the West.” —San Antonio Express News