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The Comanche Empire

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  609 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a Native American empire rose to dominate the fiercely contested lands of the American Southwest, the southern Great Plains, and northern Mexico. This powerful empire, built by the Comanche Indians, eclipsed its various European rivals in military prowess, political prestige, economic power, commercial reach, and cultural i ...more
Hardcover, 500 pages
Published May 28th 2008 by Yale University Press (first published January 1st 2008)
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Jun 22, 2009 Terence rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: students of Native Amer & Western history
When I was growing up in eastern Missouri it was de rigueur that the man-children of the clan become Boy Scouts. Thus, despite little aptitude or interest, I was duly enrolled in the Cub Scouts and spent summer weekends attending den meetings and going on the occasional camping trip. (Don’t fear that this diversion is going to descend into horror stories about mental and physical abuse – happily my life as a Scout was quite banal. I never got beyond the Cub stage, truth be told, and my parents w ...more
May 20, 2014 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is described as part of the Lamar Series in Western History, which includes scholarly works of interest to the general reader for the purpose of understanding human affairs in the American West and adding a wider understanding of the West's significance to America's existence. This is certainly a book fit for academic use, but it also is informative to the general historical reader. The extensive source material used in the book's research produces extensive documentation of the facts while ...more
Mar 09, 2013 Rob rated it it was amazing
Wow. Really wow. A truly great work of history. This book has everything. It is a compelling story, a mind bendingly different view of commonly accepted fact and a very well researched uber serious history with over one hundred pages of notes. Oh yes and it is well written. It has clear structured prose that is a pleasure to read.

All I knew about the Comanche before I read this book were that they were a fierce tribe who lived in the south west of present day U.S.A. and had a deadly rivalry with
Craig Werner
Jul 22, 2012 Craig Werner rated it really liked it
Okay, I'll get this out of my system first: skip chapter 6. There, that's better.

It's not often that I read a book that fundamentally changes my sense of a major part of American history, especially not in one of the areas I read a lot in. PH's reconsideration of the history of the southern plains and Southwest does just that. The basic argument is clear: in order to understand the history of the region she (he? Finnish names confuse me) focuses on the areas encompassing Texas, New Mexico and ex
Ernest Spoon
May 14, 2014 Ernest Spoon rated it it was amazing
A straight, no chaser, ethno-history book on the rise and fall of what author Pekka Hamalainen accurately call the Comanche Empire of the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries on the southern plains region of what is now the United States.

The rise of the Comanche hegemony was facilitated by an economic system based on their mastery and perfection of equestrian culture and husbandry. Their fall hinged on the failure of that culture modify the basic economic model due to climatic change and environmenta
Nov 03, 2010 Corinne rated it it was amazing
For a non-fiction book, I was surprised how I couldn't put it down at some points. It isn't just packing information into a book, it tells the story of the Comanches. I thought it had a great balance in helping understand the Spanish and why they did what they did (and later other groups) and understanding the Comanches and why they did what they did. Neither were portrayed as outright victims or oppressors, and the book allowed the reader to make their own judgments based on evidence.

After too
Dec 17, 2009 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: natives
If I could give 6 stars, I would. This is one of those rare books that forces me to discipline myself. It was so good that I was on pace to finish it in a couple of days, but I intentionally slowed down to savor it. I wish more history books were as well written, thoroughly researched, and liberally footnoted.
Lucy Inglis
Nov 16, 2011 Lucy Inglis rated it really liked it
If you have any interest in the history of America (South West, admittedly, but still), or the American Indians and their culture, this is essential reading. I loved it. Serious without being dry, and full of good writing.
Ana Díaz
Jun 10, 2016 Ana Díaz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Bueno en realidad la puntuación son 2.5 estrella, porque la primera es Ok y la segunda me gustó.

Lo primero que quiero decir es que el libro parece (y digo parece porque yo de historia no entiendo mucho) muy bien documentado y completo. Pero yo, viéndolo desde una lectura más divulgativa o incluso de placer opino que es un poco pesado. La primera mitad, con todos los follones que se traían en Nuevo México, Texas y demás me interesaba más bien poco. Fue cuando empezó el capítulo "Hijos del Sol" cu
Jan 25, 2016 Relstuart rated it really liked it
A superb book. There is some academic jargon (mostly in the author's introduction which was somewhat off-putting starting out). As another reviewer pointed out the author does an excellent job of telling the history of the Comanche Empire and the peoples they interacted with without demonizing any of the sides.

The significance of this book is placing the Comanche people in an imperial context and explaining why that is appropriate. The Comanche were not thought of as an empire by some in their
This is a really thorough, fascinating look at a much neglected part of American history. Tracing the rise and fall of Comanche power in the southern plains of present-day U.S., Hämäläinen really fills in some gaping holes in America's "grand old" narrative (which famously omits so many events and people) by reinserting the story of the development of Comanche trade dominance from about 1650-1850. For these centuries, the Comanche successfully adapted from a more agrarian existence in the mounta ...more
Kate Lawrence
Jan 22, 2011 Kate Lawrence rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
I became interested in the Comanches after reading Empire of the Summer Moon, a bestseller last year about Comanche chief Quanah Parker and the last few decades of the tribe's nomadic life on the Southwestern grasslands. Unlike Summer Moon, which was written by a journalist, Comanche Empire begins at the beginning, when the tribe first appears on the scene as a distinct group in the 17th century. Written by a history professor, it is focused on their political and economic dominance in the regio ...more
Jul 24, 2009 Alan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is brilliant history.The author presents a very different view of the Comanche nation than that of the traditional warrior, hunter-gather notion that has dominated the Western view. While perhaps stretching the term "empire" a bit, Hamalainen shows the Comanches as an adaptable and sophisticated society that successfully dominated the Southwest for over 150 years. Moving out of the Rockies at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Comanches quickly pushed out competing tribes, most es ...more
Jan 19, 2009 Cat rated it really liked it
Saw this on the shelf at an indie book store in Jackson, WY. and I had to have it. Hamalainen's bold thesis is that the Comanche Empire was the dominant power in the southwestern US/Spainish Empire/Republic of Mexico area for about two centuries or so. Although many (positive) reviews call Empire "revisionist" it's hard to apply such a pejorative terms to such a comprehensive, well researched work. Hamalainen incorporates trends in both American and European histiography while advancing the thes ...more
Dec 03, 2014 Don rated it liked it
Hämäläinen presents a unique definition of "empire" to allow the Comanche to qualify as imperialists. Nonetheless, it is an interesting and well written book.
David Nichols
Jul 09, 2015 David Nichols rated it it was amazing
This award-winning book announces its theme in its title. The Comanches, masters of the southern Plains and one of the most powerful of American Indian nations, were an imperial power, capable of “impos[ing] their will upon neighboring polities” - including Europeans – extracting those neighbors' resources, and convincing “their rivals to adopt and accept their customs and norms” (p. 4). His study, author Pekka Hämäläinen argues, allows us to see Indians as a proactive, rather than reactive, for ...more
Richard Subber
Dec 26, 2016 Richard Subber rated it it was amazing
This book will change your mind about how the West was won. Hint: The Comanches got there first. The Comanches arrived obscurely in the American Southwest in 1706. This book provocatively makes the case that the Comanches created an imposing Southwestern American empire that spanned 150 years, blunted the 18th century colonial ambitions of the Spanish in Mexico and the French in Louisiana, and stalled the westward thrust of Americans and the U.S. government until the middle of the 19th century. ...more
Dan Gorman
Nov 01, 2016 Dan Gorman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Can an empire be an empire without permanent settlements, industry, or permanent agriculture? In Pekka Hämäläinen's telling, yes. The Comanche Empire, or Comanchería, dominated the Southwestern United States/Northern Mexico for 160 years. Native Americans used buffalo, horses, and goods acquired from trade with frontier settlements to become a military powerhouse. The American conquest of the west was not inevitable, because the government had to reckon with the Comanches. Eventually, the Americ ...more
Roger Burk
Jan 12, 2013 Roger Burk rated it really liked it
"Empire" is a misnomer--there was no emperor, no imperial government, hardly any government at all. As the author himself says, the Comanches were nomadic pastoralists, like the ancient Scyths, the Huns before Attila, or the Mongols before Genghis Khan. They pioneered the horse-centered way of life of the plains Indians, and developed a kind of parasitic economy in the southern prairie. It produced only buffalo and horses, and the Comanches relied on the surrounding settled peoples for everythin ...more
Nov 13, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
Really great. Larry McMurtry, in a quote on the cover, calls this "cutting-edge revisionist western history," but I'm not sure I'd call it revisionist. More just additive. It answered questions I didn't even know I had. There are many elements of Hamalainen's thesis that could be debated, but the importance of restoring this story to the history of the North American West seems so obvious. Hamalainen argues that you can't really understand major events in the 19th century American narrative- lik ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Chrisl rated it really liked it
Recommend at 4+ level for learning about Comanche.

CIP Subjects
1. Comanche Indians-History
2. Comanche Indians-Government relations
3. United States-History-19th century
4. Mexico-History-To 1810

Very useful book, excellent index, one to read and refer to over time rather than straight through ... my evaluative searches found clear information. Print size too small for comfort. My interest in the Lipan Apache and Kiowa Apache led to following quote that reflects content and style :

"Soon Comanches wer
Mar 31, 2016 Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How often does a book present information that is almost entirely new to the reader? Such is the state of history education in the United States that we remain largely ignorant of the histories of the peoples whose societies existed before the westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century.

Pekka Hamalainen's revisionist 'The Comanche Empire,' a winner of the Bancroft Prize, argues that large parts of our past have been left out. He restores agency to the native peoples of the Great
Sep 10, 2016 Ann rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Hamalainen does a good and full job of presenting Comanche history from Comanche perspective in contrast to the more usual perspective from invading, imperialist forces, including revisionist history. His report is particularly interesting because he focuses on Comanche economics and how this changed as Indian interactions and interactions with non-Indians changed, as more goods became available, as the horse became more important, as cultures and understanding shifted, and as the climate, weath ...more
Jeffrey Miner
Mar 10, 2011 Jeffrey Miner rated it really liked it
As a rule, I don't list books I read for work here, but this one is worthy of an exception. If you only read one book about the history of the American Southwest in your lifetime, I recommend this one. Granted, it's the only book I've ever read about the history of the American Southwest, but don't let that backhanded compliment fool you. This is a really excellent piece of scholarship that also happens to be readable, informative, and thought-provoking. If you ever wondered how it is that New M ...more
Oct 07, 2015 Gregory rated it really liked it
Highly recommend this great book. It is so important to remember that Native Americans were vital actors in the history of this continent, not just passive settlers displaced the instant Europeans arrived. As Hamalainen points out, the Comanche were the dominant power in the southwest through much of the 18th and 19th centuries, not the Spanish, before being displaced by the Americans. An imperial power (although of a very different variety than the Europeans), the Comanche aggressively promoted ...more
Colin Darby
Jul 07, 2016 Colin Darby rated it liked it
Ambitious but flawed. Hämäläinen's hypothesis, that the Comanche created an empire more or less out of thin air in the American Southwest and turned it into a trading system that lasted about two hundred years, is not in itself bad. The Mongols, after all, did much the same thing. Where he fails is, whether deliberately or not, he presents the Comanches as unified rational actors rather than heavily fragmented opportunists. True, in later chapters, he attempts to undo this, but by this point the ...more
Estevo Raposo
Sep 23, 2015 Estevo Raposo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historia
Aunque se trate de un libro más académico que de divulgación (tiene como unas 200 páginas de notas) la lectura resulta muy agradable, y por momentos apasionante.

Este largo ensayo aporta una nueva mirada a la historia de norteamérica de los siglos XVIII y XIX, considerando a los comanches que dominaron las grandes llanuras como un Imperio que plantó cara y llegó a explotar a los imperios español y angloaméricano.

Es lo suficientemente extenso y completo como para permitir al lector acompañar de ce
Sep 04, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Makes a good case that it was an empire. clear explication, sourced, for economics, politics, diplomacy, a little on the religion, population, technology. stunning how they devastated northern mexico for decades, how New Mexico bought peace, how white and native american trading groups prospered or didn't based on the commanche trade. gives me some more insight into how other horse and war technology empires rose and fell, like various larger asian migratory type empires such as the khazars, var ...more
Dec 12, 2015 Billy rated it really liked it
A bold new assertion not only for Native American history, but the history of Empire in general. Hamalainen asserts that the active application of soft/hard power tactics by the Comanche, most notably in the use of playing them off each other, created what can be considered a Comanche "Empire". Definitely a work worth looking into for general interest in either threads of history, but also ensure that this reading is balanced by book reviews arguing against his thesis.
Charles Kennedy
Jul 26, 2012 Charles Kennedy rated it it was amazing
One of the best histories on the Southwest U.S. especially as it pertains to the Comanche prior to U.S. citizens began taking their land. It presents a thesis that the Comanche were the most powerful people in the South Plains bar none for about 2 centuries. The author gives a reasonable explanation that the Comanche were in decline when they finally met the U.S. army. Even the Texans pre-civil war were unable to effectively contest for control of the South Plains.
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Pekka Hämäläinen is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2012 he will be the Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford University.

He is the author of The Comanche Empire (2008), which won several awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the OAH Merle Curti Award, the Caughey Prize, the Norris and Carol Hundley Award, and a Recognition of Excellence Award fro
More about Pekka Hämäläinen...

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