Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis” as Want to Read:
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  5,938 ratings  ·  967 reviews
How a lone man's epic obsession led to one of America's greatest cultural treasures: Prize-winning writer Timothy Egan tells the riveting, cinematic story behind the most famous photographs in Native American history -- and the driven, brilliant man who made them.

Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous photographer, the Annie
Hardcover, 370 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published September 1st 2011)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Gema Baldwin Yes, just finished it. Best biography I've read in a long time. I'm a local Seattleite so this was historical & pertinent. I recommend it to you.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,938 ratings  ·  967 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis
One of the highlights of growing up in the Chicago area is all of the city’s museums. As a history enthusiast from an early age, I preferred trips to the Field Museum of Natural History. An interactive part of museum trips that I always enjoyed was the Pawnee Earth Lodge, a full sized tipi that allowed visitors to experience what Native American life was like. The lodge was the centerpiece of rooms of Native American artifacts and pictures so that the original inhabitants of North America would ...more
Elissa Washuta
Oct 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Egan is a compelling storyteller. He wove the events of Curtis's life into a cohesive narrative, a story with high stakes and heartbreak, and Curtis was rendered as a character of interest, which will be appealing to many of us who know him only as the person on the other side of the camera who created so many portraits of Native people across North America.

However, I felt that this was much too rosy a portrait of Curtis, or at least, one that does not interrogate his actions. Curtis was a
Diane S ☔
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 5000-2019, lor-2019
Thoughts soon.
Oct 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If only I had read Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis before my trip to Seattle this past June. The trip was wonderful but this book would have greatly enhanced the trip. There were many places I missed not knowing they existed. The$19 million dollar, 23,000 square foot cultural center of the Tulalip Indians would have been a place to visit. My road trip to Mount Ranier's Paradise would have been more meaningful. Hopefully, I'll visit this ...more
This was a long-overdue Netgalley read – thanks to them.

Once upon a time (in the late 1800's), a young man discovered the emerging art form of photography. And he discovered that he was good at it. And he began to make a living at it – a very good living, until he was the premiere portrait photographer of the also-emerging city of Seattle. And then one day he met a princess on the beach, and he fell in love.

He didn't fall in love with the princess, though.

The young man was (of course)
Kudos to Egan for an utterly fascinating piece of historical research. I'm sorry it took me so long to (finally) get around to reading this.

WHAT A STORY! What a life! What a legacy! Wow. If you were ever looking for a (not surprisingly, tragic) case study on the level of commitment (or obsession) of a great artist, this one is tough to beat.

While I was primarily drawn to the book because of photography angle, the book also is a potent, poignant reminder of how horrific the nation's history is
Mikey B.
Page 322 (my book)
The Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday wrote in “Sacred Legacy” a book of Curtis pictures “I felt that I was looking into a memory of my blood. Here was a moment lost in time, a moment I had known only in my imagination...Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession.”

Canyon de Shelley

Three Chiefs

Red Cloud

This is a great biography of truly one of
John Cooper
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If there were any justice, this month's Indian-themed Johnny Depp movie would not be "The Lone Ranger" but the Edward Curtis story — I don't know another actor who could convincingly handle both the charisma and dash of the young Curtis and the tragedy of his later years, when the weight of his accomplishment had broken everything else in his life, and yet even his accomplishment had been largely forgotten. In short, Curtis set out, almost by himself, to document in photographs every surviving ...more
Sep 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm only about halfway through, but I don't need to finish before giving it five stars. Timothy Egan is to books as Ken Burns is to television -- a master at bringing history and its players to life.

But I'm kicking myself. I lived in Seattle for many years -- Edward Curtis's home base. I'll bet there were plenty of times I could have seen exhibitions of his photographs -- there's probably a permanent collection in one of Seattle's museums -- but I never sought him out.

This book makes me long
Saleh MoonWalker
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Onvan : Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis - Nevisande : Timothy Egan - ISBN : 618969020 - ISBN13 : 9780618969029 - Dar 370 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2011
Cheeky Cher
3.5 stars - It was really good.

While the writing was a bit too journalistic and dry in style, the story of Edward Curtis' life, sacrifices and accomplishments was wonderful. Learning more about Seattle's history, and the differences among various Native American tribes was also very interesting. Above all else, what made this book was the inclusion of Curtis' photography, with the pictures packing an emotional punch and reminder of the inconceivable iniquities the natives suffered.

All 20
May 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
I'm rarely ashamed to admit ignorance, because shame gets in the way of learning. My ignorance about this,that, or the other might surprise me, though; and my ignorance about Edward Curtis is somewhat jaw-dropping. I thought he was a period photographer who snapped some iconic Native American portraits and scenes that have survived as postcards, and that was that. Boy, was I wrong!

Edward Curtis, successful portrait photographer of the Seattle upper-classes, met and photographed, Princess
Dec 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This rating is a case for me of a worthy book that simply did not come alive to me; I never felt drawn into the narrative. That may be more a matter of style preferences than writing quality; it is not a reflection of the readability or subject matter. I found that the energy of the narrative seemed more alive and energetic with quoted excerpts from letters and books, than with: "When he stared at the picture of Chief Joseph - those eyes!- he could feel a bit of the ache from the old man's ...more
Sue K H
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a fast paced and well written story about the amazing Edward Curtis. Curtis had a lofty goal to document the lives of the many different tribes of Native North American Indians before their customs, language and race became extinct or forgotten due to forced assimilation. This book is rich with period details and it documents the American dream story of a man with a sixth grade education who becomes a self taught and groundbreaking expert in mountain climbing, photography, anthropology, ...more
Gary Brecht
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Like the ponies ridden by North America’s plains Indians, this story gallops alongside its doomed target, relentless until it has taken its last breath. Author Timothy Egan takes us on that hunt, examining the life of Edward S. Curtis, not only to admire his work, but also to cast a critical eye to his shortcomings as a father, husband and businessman.

It is a tale much too familiar…an artist so obsessed with his work that he neglects those around him who love him; an artist whose body of work,
Linda Marshall
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan, a powerful biography of Edward Curtis, is an epic, essential, invaluable book in itself, being an important addition, not only to North American history, but to world history by making an underlying case for every culture’s sovereignty and preservation. Thank you, Mr. Egan, for your time, exhaustive research, effort and priceless writing style to bring Edward Curtis’s life to life in a compelling, insightful page turner for all readers, to ...more
Bobby D
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I do want to say straight off that his is an absolutely marvelous book and that no matter what you think you know of Edward Curtis and his famous Indian photographs you will be astounded to learn of the adventure that was his life. One great book!

Edward Curtis’s life was one of obsession. He worked for no material reward and yet created twenty volumes entitled THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN which was lost and discarded by history only to have a complete set sell in 2010 for $1.8 million dollars. He
Don Dennis
Apr 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Fascinating subject, irritating author. On a subject matter that has the experience of the Native American community at the heart of it, I found it absurd to find the Minnesota Massacre of 1862 described as involving the white settlers vs. "insurgents". In what manner could the local tribal people be considered the "insurgents"? This is a blatant example of a word-smith using the opposite word from what would have been appropriate.

The term "insurgent" developed its current media definition
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps the most enjoyable biography I've read in a long, long time. I'm still unsure if Curtis' story is one of tragedy. Self taught photographer, ethnographer, anthropologist who gave us a treasure beyond value in his 20 volume "The North American Indian," and died penniless. Okay, so it is tragic, and fascinating, and deeply moving. Too often we don't appreciate greatness when it stands before us. Curtis' work was loudly applauded in its early execution but gradually faded as interest in ...more
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very impressive biography. Curtis is largely forgotten today, but Egan brings his life long work back from the dead with “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher.” Well written and Egan’s passion for Curtis’ work is obvious. What a fascinating life he lived too: spending months at a time with the natives while rubbing shoulders with Presidents and business tycoons. He crossed the continent over 100 times. Tireless energy. Warning: might make your life feel endlessly dull in comparison. Highly ...more
Laura Hahn
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: top-picks
What a winner of a book! Language, Prose, Subject Matter, Style - Timothy Egan is a fantastic writer and the subject matter is equally intriguing. Hard to call it a bio - reads like a novel - about an intriguing man and excellent Photographer who dedicated his life to photographing the Indian Culture at the dusk of it's existence. Highly recommend. In my novel The Heart Code, I speak of Curtis as one of my characters loves his work on the Indians and has a wall of his prints. Now to find such ...more
Gloria Piper
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If not for Edward Curtis and his associates, many Native American tribes would have lost their customs and languages. Curtis was a world class photographer in Seattle whose passion was to record American tribes before they vanished. He would not only photograph them but record their customs and languages. He felt a sense of urgency, for already before the turn of the 19th century, the cultures of many tribes were being lost through outside influence and forced assimilation. Curtis, in his search ...more
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stunning, but also heart breaking to read about how Native American populations were decimated, not just by centuries of war and disease, but also by laws designed to kill their way of life, language and culture. Even though Edward Curtis died almost penniless, and without recognition for his phenomenal work documenting the inner lives of Native Americans, it is heartening to see how his legacy is used to revive long forgotten ceremonies and cultural links. Also, kudos to the author for bringing ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The small Muskegon Art Museum in Michigan placed their collection of Edward Curtis photographs on exhibit this past summer; and sadly, I never made it to the west shore of the state to see them. They are now ‘resting’ in storage. After reading National Book Award winner Egan’s excellent biography of this amazing photographer, I will not let such an opportunity pass again.
Edward Curtis was a self-taught photographer known in Seattle for his polished studio portraits. But when he came upon ‘
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If I had to choose another life for myself, I could do no better or no worse than Edward Curtis photographer who planned and executed a mission to photograph all of the North American Indian tribes before their way of life disappeared forever. He was not rich, he did not have a degree, he had no experience as an Anthropologist, what he did have was a sense of timing, a devotion to this mission in spite of extreme financial and personal challenges. Edward Curtis should have received the Noble ...more
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Edward Curtis was an amazing photographer and adventurer, determined to do the work of a self-trained anthropologist and capture the native lives of America's first people. This is his fascinating story. Like many great artists, he was obsessively dedicated, swinging between poles of manic fieldwork (17 hours a day, 7 days a week), and bouts of deep depression. Amazing to think that Curtis spent 30 years WITHOUT BEING PAID A CENT to create the 20-volume national treasure The North American ...more
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Eternal Photographs of Edward Curtis was an uncorrected e-book manuscript from Net Galley. The e-book galley was full of random capitalization and occasionally a little lacking in narrative coherence, but a totally involving read! What a fascinating life the obsessed Curtis lived in his attempt to document the story of the vanishing cultures of the American Indian, and what a record of photographs and text he left behind! I may have to ...more
Cook Memorial Public Library
Most Americans are familiar with photographs of Native Americans such as Geronimo and Chief Joseph but are not necessarily familiar with the stories behind the pictures of the individuals who went to great expense and effort and even personal risk to create a lasting look of a vanishing culture. Edward Curtis (1868-1952) was such a unique individual and Egan’s telling of his story is a masterpiece of biography and history.

With little formal education but with an insatiable passion to leave a
Sep 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I would happily read or listen to any book written by Timothy Egan. His research is excellent, he writes like a dream and he picks fascinating subjects. THE BIG BURN about Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot is riveting, especially in its descriptions of the huge 1910 forest fire that swallowed up whole towns in a matter of hours. THE WORST HARD TIME shed new light on the Dust Bowl and introduced us to individuals whose families are still scarred by that terrible blight on the land, brought ...more
May 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
I started to listen to this book last year while on a road trip but it seemed to start slow and didn't keep my interest. However, after reading all the positive reviews and finding myself with a week where I would be on the road a lot I thought I'd give it another try and am glad I did.

Edward Curtis was a man driven by his passion for capturing and recording details of Native American cultures that were quickly fading. To do this with the precision and accuracy he demanded required massive
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control
  • Wolf: The Lives of Jack London
  • Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival
  • Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West
  • Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West
  • Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836
  • The Sea Runners
  • Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
  • The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend
  • In Suspect Terrain
  • Arctic Solitaire: A Boat, A Bay, And The Quest For The Perfect Bear
  • Man's Search for Meaning
  • Grass Kings, Vol. 3
  • The Tempest (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, #19)
  • Aquaman, Vol. 1: Unspoken Water
  • Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman
  • Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder
  • Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America's Forgotten Border
See similar books…
Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize winning author of nine books, including THE WORST HARD TIME, which won the National Book Award. His latest book, A PILGRIMAGE TO ETERNITY, is a personal story, a journey over an ancient trail, and a history of Christianity. He also writes a biweekly opinion column for The New York Times. HIs book on the photographer Edward Curtis, SHORT NIGHTS OF THE SHADOW ...more
“I am beginning to believe that nothing is quite so uncertain as facts. (Edward Curtis)” 15 likes
“Good pictures, Curtis explained, are not products of chance, but come from long hours of study.” 2 likes
More quotes…