rating: 5 of 5 stars
I picked this book for no reason other than I loved the last book I read by Hampton Sides. His book, Ghost Soldiers, was so well-written and thoroughly researched that he became an instant favorite of mine as an author.
This book was no different. Scholarly, but not dry; dramatic, but objectively so; focused, but set on a broad landscape of the American west, while covering a range of years from the early 19th century through just after the civil war.
"Blood and Thunder" refers to the genre of twenty-five cent pulp fiction novels which were precursors "...to the modern western, briskly paced and packed with cliffhangers and hair-raising scrapes." The subject of the Blood and Thunder stories and the central character around whom this book is based is Kit Carson.
Yet this book isn't about the exaggerated way in which these novels portrayed Carson, this book was about the "real" Kit Carson. The loyal, meek, witty, intuitive, illiterate tracker of the West.
Though Carson is the central figure in the book, the book is paradoxically not exactly about him. It is a story of Manifest Destiny, of the Navajo nation, of General Kearny, of General Carleton's vision of a Utopian Indian reservation, and even the vast terrain of the west, from the Rockies to the desserts to the canyon homes of the Indians took form as an important character in this narrative.
And the narrative, expertly woven with historical and cultural backgrounds, explanations, quotes from official documents, diaries, and letters, brings the reader along as though the account given is a novel rather than actual history.
Hampton Sides has written objectively, giving the reader a good sense of the mood of the times related to western expansion, the perspective of various Indian tribes and their histories, attitudes of Mexicans, Indians, and white Americans towards each other, and the bleak hardships of life in the West in the 19th century.
I highly recommend this book, especially if your appreciation or knowledge of this time period and geographic region is lacking. After reading it, you will have received a comprehensive picture and a narrative of this era that is balanced and far more than simply anecdotal.
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