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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
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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

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  13,921 ratings  ·  1,770 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

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Paperback, 371 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Scribner (first published 2010)
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William Thomas
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
Elizabeth
I am not pleased with this book at all. I was excited to read it because it looked fascinating and I have always had an interest in 19th-century American history. In fact, this is my field of study currently (I'm majoring in history and soon to graduate.) So, with my perspective of having learned and read much about this period and about white westward expansion during this period and earlier, I was truly shocked by some of the innaccuracies and inflammatory, racist assertions that are all over ...more
Mike
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
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Anna-Liisa
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.
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Bill
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
Tim
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
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Vanessa
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
El
Jun 05, 2013 El rated it 2 of 5 stars
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
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David Brickley
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
Jennie
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 understo
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Jim Hale
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
Curtis Butturff
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
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Kurt
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
Jon Donley
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
Lyn
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
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Richard
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
Marcelle
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
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Tripp
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
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Dan
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
Max
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
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Brian
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
William Doonan
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
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
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happy
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)
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Greg
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
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Maria
Let's just say....do 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.
Derek
This is not the U.S. history that you'll find in American public school books. This book, as far as I can tell, is much closer to the truth. I'm far from being an expert on U.S. history, but if there is one branch that I know something about, it's the history of the American Indians of the southern plains, and their interactions with American settlers moving westward.

This book can basically be broken down into 3 parts.

1) A history of the Comanche tribe. From their humble beginnings as hunter-gat
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Jonathan
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
Steven Peterson
This book surveys the role of the Comanche in the western plains. The centerpiece of the narrative is the war Chief, Quanah, and his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker. But the story begins long before that.

First, this is the chronicle of the Comanche. It really begins with the access to horses, scrawny but tough, coming from Spanish mounts. The Apache, the Comanche, and others adapted to the new resource and began using the horses for mobility, hunting, and warfare. The Comanche, according to the book,
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Brendan Hodge
This book tells the history of the Comanche wars in the 1840s through the 1870s, and to an extent the history of the Comanche tribe as a whole, through the frame of telling the history of Quanah Parker -- the son of a Comanche war chief and Cynthia Ann Parker, a girl who was kidnapped at the age of 9 during the course of a deadly raid on her family's compound on the Texas frontier, and who was adopted into the Comanches.

It's probably important to understand that this is more a topic history tha
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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.” 4 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.” 3 likes
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