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Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  18,777 Ratings  ·  2,160 Reviews

In the tradition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a stunningly vivid historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West, centering on Quanah, the greatest Comanche chief of them all.

S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanche

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published May 25th 2010 by Scribner (first published 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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William Thomas
Jan 08, 2013 William Thomas rated it liked it
Shelves: general-history
As a historian, I will rarely give a general or popular history more than 3 stars. Much the same way I will never say 'an historian'. And no matter the amount of research that goes into popular history, it hardly ever seems to merit so much praise. And that is because it answers no questions, asks no new questions, puts forth none of its own theories, and has no one singular hypothesis. This book, although a fantastic, sweeping history of the Comanche, it is not a work to be discussed as academi ...more
Sam Gwynne's History of the Spanish, the Texans, the Americans and the Comancheria

 photo SCGwynne_zps5da6721a.jpg
Sam C. Gwynne attended Princeton and Johns Hopkins Universities. He's spent most of his life as a journalist. He spent almost twenty years as a correspondent, bureau chief, and Chief Editor for twenty years. Gwynne's work has appeared in the New York Times, Harpers, California, Texas Monthly, among other publications. Gwynne was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for Empire of the Summer Moon
Dec 05, 2011 Anna-Liisa rated it did not like it
I quit reading this book after the fourth chapter. As it is one of the most racist books I have ever read, I am baffled by the glowing reviews it receives. For your consideration:

"Thus the fateful clash between settlers from the culture of Aristotle, St. Paul, Da Vinci, Luther, and Newton and aboriginal horsemen from the buffalo plains happened as though in a time warp--as though the former were looking backward thousands of years at premoral, pre-Christian, low-barbarian versions of themselves.
Sep 16, 2011 Bill rated it did not like it
I bought this at the airport, it looked like a good read. A chapter or two in the language and stereotypes became really disturbing. His version of human history, summed up in two pages is just bizarre.The language, and long discredited concepts that Gwynne prattles along with are apalling."Higher civilizations", of which the Plains Indians were "three to four millennia behind". And oh yes, the Native Americans were "premoral, pre-Christian, low-barbarian versions" of Europeans. And of course t ...more
Nov 05, 2015 Lyn rated it liked it
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne, first published in 2010, tells the entertaining and informative, somewhat scholarly account of the Comanche tribe.

Gwynne uses the histories of Cynthia Parker (the historic inspiration for Natalie Wood’s character in John Wayne’s The Searchers and the Mary McDonnell character Stands With a Fist in Kevin Costner’s film Dances With Wolves) and her son
May 30, 2011 Vanessa rated it it was ok
Other reviewers' claim that this is an unbiased historical account is laughable. This is yet another telling of a war written by those who won it. Gwynne states that he constructed the book using "a large number of firsthand accounts from the era." The firsthand accounts written are naturally all of settlers and the military, and all of them appalled and offended that anyone could dare attack them and deny the greatness of Manifest Destiny. The books and articles referenced in the end are, as fa ...more
Sep 02, 2015 Tim rated it it was amazing
Every now and then one runs across an historical non-fiction book that is breathtakingly enlightening.

Commancheria - the millions of acres of treeless plains encompassing northern Mexico to present day Nebraska, the land of the 5 principal bands of the Commanches, a culture centuries behind the development of the eastern Indian tribes, and intertwined with the buffalo herds. Commancheria - a region so forcefully held by the Commanches that the westward tide of Anglo-Saxon expansion was held at
Oct 09, 2013 Jennie rated it did not like it
This book is not about Quanah Parker, his mother, or the Comanche. It's really about How the White Man Conquered the Savage, Primitive, Warmongering Barbarians.

My complaints about this book are many, but I'll try to keep it simple.

Mainly, it's because a "history" written in 2010 contains things like this:

There were no witnesses to this great coming together of Stone Age hunters and horses, nothing to record what happened when they met, or what there was in the soul of the Comanche that underst
David Brickley
Aug 12, 2012 David Brickley rated it really liked it
This is a book that I think every American should read. In the beginning we came into this land and immediately began displacing all of the aboriginal peoples who had dwelled here for many centuries. Yet I would wager that almost nobody knows anything about those peoples other than what watching Wagon Train has showed them. Which leaves out anyone born later than 1960. This is all to say that this book does an excellent job of showing, with most excellent clarity, the dichotomy of a native peopl ...more
Jun 05, 2013 El rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to El by: Dicker
I didn't really need to read this book because I've seen Pocahontas and remember very vividly this whole song. Reading this book was sorta like reliving that song and that's a damn shame.

Aside from how freaking white this book is, and not even commenting on the occasional racist undertones (or overtones), it's just not even that great of a book. The subtitle leads the reader to believe that this will be about Quanah Parker when in reality that played such a small part of whatever it was Gwynne w
Jon Donley
Mar 19, 2011 Jon Donley rated it it was amazing
As a native Texan who grew up in the former Comancheria, and whose family (both white and native) has deep roots there, I've always been fascinated by the blood-feud between Texans and Comanches. I was once an editor for Ted Fehrenbach, and admire his classic on the Comanches, and found this to be an excellent, well-told companion piece. Ironically Comanches were the proximate cause of Texas developing into the home of its most implacable foes, as Spain desperately recruited Anglo Americans to s ...more
Mar 23, 2013 Ashleigh rated it did not like it
Astonishingly, uncomfortably, unforgivably racist portrayal of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The (fascinating) history that exists in this book is buried so far beneath the author's prejudice that his account is wholly untrustworthy. This book is useful only as a study in modern-day manifestations of racism that go unacknowledged in mainstream American culture.

Here are four illustrative examples of the casual racism entrenched in the author's vocabulary throughout the book:

1. “While t
Jim Hale
Apr 09, 2014 Jim Hale rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Reader beware that this fine book includes some of the most gruesome descriptions of violence I've ever come across, and I've read plenty of Holocaust literature. Gwynne is unsparing in telling the story of the Comanches, who were undoubtedly among the most savage, barbaric and cruel people whoever roamed the face of the earth. The abduction, torture, gang rape, and mutilation of women and children (including babies) were standard procedure for settlers as well as other Indian tribes. Of course ...more
Jun 01, 2013 Maria rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Let's just not read this book if you have any background in anthropology whatsoever. I couldn't come close to finishing it. Racist, ethnocentric language permeated the whole book and I was disgusted with the way individuals and groups were portrayed. The Comanches obviously had a different, war-centered culture, but it is still not okay to call them uncivilized savages. You have to have an understanding for the way others live.
Jun 24, 2012 Greg rated it did not like it
Wow! Was this written in 1908? I was surprised and very disappointed by this book. I was taken in by the author's very good writing. The way he writes is so engaging and it reads better than most history books I've read.

There were two things that bothered me about the book. First, were the inaccuracies. I'm not as well read in the History of the American West as many people, but I was finding common mistakes, especially when he was talking about other tribes.

What bothered me more was the fact th
Curtis Butturff
Jul 23, 2010 Curtis Butturff rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I'm not sure that comparing the fights against the Commanche in Texas to the Sioux Wars is really a topic that will bring a universal agreement as to who fought best and so on. The description of the tactics used by the Commanche in their fights and their horsemanship are identical to accounts of the fights in the northern plains and the skills of the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne.

The Sioux and Commanche share some common things as both were horse tribes, they both drove other tribes from the bes
Mar 18, 2012 Tripp rated it it was amazing
I can't decide whether this book is the best nonfiction I have read all year, or whether it is the best in the past few years. This is the sort of book that rises above its subject matter, thanks to narrative pace, blending in of context and the quality of the writing.

The book tells the story of the Comanche Empire which, having mastered horse warfare, defeated all enemies until the late 19th century. It took the US decades to find a way to defeat them. Much of the story is of two cultures clash
Jan 01, 2015 Brian rated it did not like it
So far I am extremely disappointed in this book . I picked it up after Having finished " Bury my heart at wounded knee " (amazing novel) and similarly was expecting a more honest , transparent view of the Indian American wars . However so far the labels savage , primitive And violent have all been assigned to the Comanches. Gwynne highlights the violence toward settlers without explaining that these same settlers were stealing native lands with no restraint much less remorse. They were also driv ...more
Oct 18, 2011 Kurt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to imagine the plains of the central United States as author S. C. Gwynne describes them. However, having seen many Westerns lately, I could put myself there. The level of danger that pervades the everyday lives of both Indians and White settlers is astounding. This book contains very graphic descriptions of individual acts of torture, rape, mutilation, and village massacres. Gwynne builds the story well, and readers will clearly feel the tides turn in favor of the the bluecoats, espec ...more
Aug 26, 2014 Jonathan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I can not believe that Goodreads leads it's synopsis of this book by saying it is in the tradition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. As many people have written in previous reviews of this book, the author is completely careless in his use of racial loaded language like: primitive, stone-age, uncivilized, savage, etc; he writes with a triumphant tone when describing the development of the Texas Rangers and the final campaigns of the US Army against the Comanche. While Gwynne insists that he is t ...more
Jul 29, 2014 Max rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Hard hitting, rugged and raw history that feels chillingly authentic. Neither the white man nor red man comes out well in this retelling of the brutal collision of the Comanche and relentlessly expanding America. I was quickly disabused of any idyllic notions. Well written, detailed and informative, highly recommended for anyone who wants to know how the West was really won.

Odd and End Thoughts:

GR readers seem to be hotly divided as to whether Gwynn’s depiction of the Comanche is racist or simp
Aug 24, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As noted on the blurb on this book's cover, S.C. Gwynne has chronicled a history of the Comanches, "the most powerful Indian tribe in American history." The book contains an excellent history of how the Comanches grew from a nondescript tribe living in the Wind River country (Wyoming), became early adopters of the horse culture of the plains in the early part of the eighteenth century, and moved south, to become the dominant force among Indian and European-based civilizations in an area comprisi ...more
Jun 15, 2011 Marcelle rated it it was ok
It's interesting, I'll give it that. And I'm learning more than I thought I would. But I'm over half way through the book and Quanah Parker hasn't risen past the toddler stage. (I got so frustrated just waiting for his mother's story to finish that I googled her to cut to the chase.)

Much of it is repetitive. Chapter 1, the Comanches were bad - stab, burn, rape, kill, steal. Chapter 2, the Comanches were bad - stab, burn, rape, kill, steal. etc etc. It does nothing to move the plot forward. (The
Robert Delikat
Sep 21, 2011 Robert Delikat rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I have read a number of books on native peoples and it’s always rewarding when they are somewhat balanced. For example, books by Joseph Marshal III consider a history of Native Americans much more comprehensively than S.C. Gwynne does in Empire of the Summer Moon. Marshall, while perhaps because of his own ethnicity, does not only write of the war, weapons and carnage of the combatants but also of their cultures and the backdrops and backgrounds of what led to and obtained during war. Reading Gw ...more
Jul 08, 2011 Dan rated it liked it
Not knowing much detail of this period of regional US history, I can't attest authoritatively to the accuracy of Empire of the Summer Moon but it feels like a very well researched work. Gwynne tells the stories of both the plains Indians and the white settlers in both a compassionate and critical manner. There is much, sometimes an amazing amount of, detail about the lives on boths sides in the southern great plains and learning the realities of what spawned the American Cowboys and Indians myth ...more
Craig Werner
Jul 16, 2012 Craig Werner rated it did not like it

Update: After having read most of Pekka Hamalainen's The Cherokee Empire (review to come fairly soon), I'm knocking this down to one star. Gwynne's simply wrong about huge pieces of the picture. His mis-characterizations of Cherokee culture and politics create a dangerous image. The fact that the book's well written make that all the more problematic. It's going to take a lot of hard work to counter the story he tells.

Original review follows:

The problems start with the title. What the Comanche h
William Doonan
Dec 20, 2011 William Doonan rated it it was amazing
I’ve been talking about Quanah Parker in my anthropology class for years, specifically in his relationship to the Native American Church. But I feel like this book just opened up a new corner of history for me. I don’t think I ever quite understood why Spanish/Mexican imperial interests were consistently thwarted somewhere in Texas. Empire of the Summer Moon also allows an important reminder to us prehistorians - migratory nations like the Comanche can wreak havoc on the world, but are archaeolo ...more
Erik Larson
Nov 01, 2012 Erik Larson rated it it was amazing
Holy Shit!!! Sorry if the opening statement is offensive, but if you are offended by it, then this book is NOT for you. Very graphically detailed. I read it almost a year ago and it still haunts my dreams. The Author painstakingly detailed account of the Comanche’s is remarkable to say the least. First the disclaimer: This book is riddled with violent rape, unimaginable torture, Bloodshed, and unbelievable detail of humanity at its worst.
Why did I give it 5 stars? Without a doubt, this is the mo
Jan 04, 2013 happy rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-general
This a history of the Comanches and a semi biography of Quanah Parker, their last great chief.
Very good read. If you are at all interested in the history of the West, I would highly recommend this.

Some interesting facts

(view spoiler)
Jun 18, 2015 Chrisl rated it it was amazing
Would like to visit the Palo Duro
Starting a re-read with NYT as impetus.

When this rich book makes an appearance, I generally then think of the duo by Douglas Jones, what I consider the finest fiction concerning Comanche ...

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“Forty years ago my mother died," he said. "She captured by Comanches, nine years old. Love Indian and wild life so well, no want to go back to white folks. All same people anyway, God say. I love my mother.” 7 likes
“Worst of all was the blizzard. People from the east or west coasts of America may think they have seen a blizzard. Likely they have not. It is almost exclusively a phenomenon of the plains, and got its name on the plains. It entailed wind-driven snow so dense and temperatures so cold that anyone lost in them on the shelterless plains was as good as dead.” 4 likes
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