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Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  166 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for History

Encounters at the Heart of the World concerns the Mandan Indians, iconic Plains people whose teeming, busy towns on the upper Missouri River were for centuries at the center of the North American universe. We know of them mostly because Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804-1805 with them, but why don't we know more? Who were
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Hill and Wang
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(showing 1-30 of 1,383)
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Teri Beckelheimer
Dec 04, 2015 Teri Beckelheimer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
Encounters at the Heart of the World is a detailed history of the Mandan people from the Missouri river valley area of North Dakota. This is a tribe that was once a large, thriving people that over time was nearly decimated. They battled natural elements, disease and rodents brought by European traders, and battled area tribes, losing 90% or so of their population. Today they are remembered and their descendants have begun to reignite the customs and ceremonies once celebrated by the Mandan peop ...more
Julia Hendon
Jul 07, 2014 Julia Hendon rated it really liked it
An impressive feat of research and writing that makes the most of a scattered and diverse set of sources to produce a fascinating history of the Mandan people through the early 1800s. Renowned throughout the Missouri River watershed as traders and farmers, host to Lewis and Clark, and willing to extend cordial relations to all comers as long as they kept the peace, the Mandan were powerful players in the complex social framework of the region. Fenn emphasizes how they saw themselves as at the ce ...more
This is one of those books where you understand why it won a prize.

Odds are you've heard of the Mandan people, even if you are not aware of them. Lewis and Clark met them; it's where Sacajawea and her husband joined the group.

Wein's book is a, as she calls it, a mosaic. It is not a linear history, but more of a cultural history. It's fascinating and the parts about the Native Americans and disease are particularly hard to read. The book is not only about the interactions between various Native A
Nov 27, 2015 Blair rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
History is clearly written by the victors and this lesson was clear even before this book was written - for how many of us had heard of the Mandans this great native tribe that was the engine of agriculture and commerce at the centre of North America? We've know of the Sioux, Apache, Blackfoot and Crow - largely through many "Westerns" (movies); but because the Mandan were largely farmers and traders, their lives was not "sexy" enough to make it to the "big screen".

That said Elizabeth Fenn brill
Feb 10, 2015 Keith rated it really liked it
Packed full of information, to the point that it is probably of little interest to the general reader. Still, a valuable window into the lives of the western Indians. Perhaps this could be read in conjunction with the much more engaging Empire of the Summer Moon, about the very different but partially contemporaneous Comanches.
Dec 18, 2015 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, pulitzers
This is an excellent book and Fenn's research is amazing. The writing (or perhaps jus the subject matter) can be uneven at times, and the ending seems a bit rushed. -- but with the smallpox epidemic I can see why. Worthy of its Pulitzer Prize
May 18, 2015 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Yes, it won the 2015 Pulitzer for history and it paints a valuable anthropological picture of the Mandans, but it was much too long and included too much detail in the chronological telling. Using a thematic approach would have made the book much more readable.
Maggie Reed
Jul 22, 2014 Maggie Reed rated it it was amazing
Believe it or not, this is another book that is overfilled with footnotes. Still, it was fantastic research on the Mandans,Hidatsas, Arikaras, Yankton Sioux, and a little bit on the Crees, Blackfeet, Crow and a few others. I learned a great deal about the northern end of the Louisiana Purchase, its history before French "ownership", and the eventual acquisition by the US. You just have to read it. It's not hard to read, and I'd be writing another book just based on my description. :) Elizabeth d ...more
Amy B.
Jan 14, 2016 Amy B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Fenn did a wonderful job covering the daily life and culture of the Mandan--clothing, spiritual life, agriculture, etc. This was a well-written history for the most part, though her occasional intrusions of her experiences while researching struck me as odd and there were a few redundancies late in the book. Overall it is an excellent book for those who are interested in American Indian history and want to know how one tribe lived and thrived for hundreds of years before white contact decima ...more
Tim Brown
A usually engaging history of the Mandan people, who were significant in the Lewis & Clark expedition, but otherwise forgotten. A full picture appears of the triumphs and travails of the Mandans, from their status as the center of Indian trade in the upper plains, to their ongoing battles with the Lakota Sioux, to their initial friendliness to whites, and their virtual destruction (upwards of 90% died) due to small pox. I could have used fewer travelogues about the author's personal visits t ...more
Alberto Lucini
This is more of a research paper than a story. It is excellent for those looking to conduct detailed studies of native Americans. Otherwise it is too laborious. The story line also seems to jump around and is hard to follow. The book could be condensed to half its length to be more readable. Other then their sexual culture and rituals, I didn't find the Mandans to be that interesting. They seem to be on the periphery of other, more interesting historical occurrences.

The book is rather forgettab
Claudia Mundell
Aug 23, 2015 Claudia Mundell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent book full of research and a mountain of information. I could not soak it all up in one reading. I had some mistaken ideas of the Mandan people and this book set me straight somewhat but also gave rise to more questions. They were hospitable people who greeted Lewis and Clark...they suffered tragically from the small pox. Read this to not just learn of the Mandans but for an overview of how people live, move, change relationships with other groups, alter the earth by their e ...more
May 10, 2015 Bryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and unvarnished look at the Mandans and related tribes in North and South Dakota. Fenn has done meticulous research for this book, and although sometimes the information content is a bit dense, it is still quite an enjoyable read. It is also a sad book, as the Mandans are one of the tribes that were nearly decimated from a combination of new diseases, small pox being the most prominent, but also including whooping cough, measles and cholera. By the middle of the 19th century they w ...more
David Yost
An interesting and deeply sad bit of history and some impressive research, though I was put off by the structure--almost every page is a new section--and the author's insertion of her somewhat dull travels. (Example: in one two-page section she bikes down a road, and at the end somebody tells her she passed a bison jump without realizing it. She thinks about going back, but doesn't.) I'm surprised this won a Pulitzer, but then again I'm not qualified to judge what academic contribution it may ha ...more
Apr 05, 2014 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Indians. Lumped together in a single word are so many different types of peoples that are just beginning to be teased out, separated, and explored. Fenn does a wonderful job bringing the latest explorations of the culture, artifacts, and the land to life while she talks about the Mandan people from the Dakotas, and their neighbors, and the forces that changed and altered their society. Beautifully referenced and footnoted. Wonderful book and I look forward to more just like it.
Nov 21, 2015 Kathy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a difficult read for me. By presenting the story in a linear time line, the book turned into a list of incidents. I am less interested in lots of dates and battles than I would be in a more comprehensive, more personal presentation. I was hoping for a more sociological viewpoint. I doubt that I will finish reading this book.
Jun 27, 2015 Roger rated it liked it
I gave this book three stars because I did learn some things about the Mandan, but overall I found the book too Eurocentric and a weak attempt at truly understanding the Mandan. It was a book about the Mandan culture through a European lens of diseases and epidemics and needed more of a Native American view. There was too much focus on the author’s background of writing about smallpox epidemics in America and it carried over far too much in this book. Overall the book lacked continuity and neede ...more
Andra Watkins
Dec 16, 2015 Andra Watkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I gave it 4 stars because the author did extensive research, trekked through some hostile country on a bicycle, and bonded with the Mandan people. While she tried to recreate them, there's so much we can't know. It's the juncture where history becomes supposition and fantasy, and it frustrates me to see historians make leaps when they can't dig up concrete evidence to support their stories. Fenn worked to connect the dots, and for that I
Mohammed H
If the Mandan people interest you then this book is definitely for you. It looks at the Mandan early history from the 1400 up to the 21st century. Specifically it looks at how they built their homes, where they moved up the Mississippi river, their habits, diet, how they hunted, their ceremonies, enemies and many other details about their lives. I cant say i really enjoyed it..
Jun 27, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it
excellent book delving into the history of the Mandan tribe from pre-history to modern times. The book covered many interesting details about Mandan culture and gave me a new perspective on the horticultural river tribes and their place in the history of the northern plains.
Nov 01, 2015 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I never would have picked up, had it not won a Pulitzer Prize. Having said that, though, I must say that I really enjoyed this book, as it described a people, a culture, and a world I knew virtually nothing about. Fenn's writing is very good, and her perspective is multifaceted as she traces the long, slow, decline of the Mandan people of North Dakota. She describes a tragedy that unfolds in slow motion as we read about daily life in central North Dakota in the 17th and 18th centu ...more
Janette Mcmahon
Jan 21, 2016 Janette Mcmahon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well done research makes this an excellent read. I also appreciated how readable this book was, it could have easily been too dense. Instead readers will learn a lot about early Indian tribes of the plains that are often forgotten.
Teresa Hildebrandt
This book was so alive. I so want to go to he "heart of the world" now to pay my respects to the great people of The Mandan & Hidatsa tribes. Well written, bravo!
Aug 19, 2015 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read in History! Highly recommend this book, it is very accessible to the person interested in history, even from a non-academic background.
Aug 02, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my e-book Oyster version, the story itself ends at the 60% mark. There are 195 digital pages of end notes. Remarkable. A superb work of true scholarship. Little wonder Dr. Fenn earned a Pulitzer this year (2015).
Chock full of information and stories. I found all the photos maps and drawings fascinating. A long read as it covered so much Indian history.
I checked this out from my local library. Since I live in the Southeast, I really don't hear too much about the Mandan culture. This book covers pre-colonial through modern times and contains an extensive bibliography if you want to further your reading and research in this area.
Maryclaire Zampogna
Jul 02, 2015 Maryclaire Zampogna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very informative book for the history lovers, on the lives of the Mandan Indians of North Dakota. The author describes the life styles, their homes and their food and the importance of each, to the future people coming west. Lewis and Clark and other explores from Canada spent time with the Indians learning their ways and customs. The author explores how whooping cough,
small pox and sexually transmitted diseases spread through to the Mandan and others in the Plains along with blankets
Jul 11, 2015 Jakenv rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Well written and documented account. History buffs will enjoy while others may become distracted by footnotes and related material references provided. Definitely understand why author won Pulitzer.
Nov 16, 2015 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and well written. Wonderful story of the history of the Mandan tribe in the Dakotas.
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“Pierre de la Vérendrye and his companions had encountered a people blessed with material abundance. “Corn, meat, fat, dressed robes, and bearskins” were all among their riches. “They are well supplied with these things,” the Frenchman wrote. But his abbreviated journal barely mentions the villagers’ equally rich ceremonial life.1” 0 likes
“The waters that fed the Missouri had once flowed northeast into Hudson Bay, not south toward the Gulf of Mexico.” 0 likes
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