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A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  248 ratings  ·  30 reviews
Frederick Russell Burnham’s (1861–1947) amazing story resembles a newsreel fused with a Saturday matinee thriller. One of the few people who could turn his garrulous friend Theodore Roosevelt into a listener, Burnham was once world-famous as “the American scout.” His expertise in woodcraft, learned from frontiersmen and Indians, helped inspire another friend, Robert Baden- ...more
Hardcover, 436 pages
Published January 25th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company
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4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  248 ratings  ·  30 reviews

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Frederick Burnham lived a restless life of daring and adventure. A scout and prospector, his story encompasses gunfights in the Wild West, tracking (and being tracked by) Apaches in Arizona, prospecting for gold and minerals in the frozen tundra of Alaska, fighting in wars for the British Empire against natives and Boers in Africa, and attempting to establish settlements in Mexico while fighting against bandits. And lots of interactions with famous historical characters along the way: Winston Ch ...more
I confess I knew nothing of Frederick Russell Burnham until my book club picked this book 2 weeks ago. He lived 86 years, from the start of the Civil War until just after WW II. That's an amazing time period in which to live, and Burnham made the absolute most of his time. The book jacket does a nice job of summarizing his life, from the American West to Africa, To Alaska, to Mexico, and on. He essentially was an adventure seeker, prospector, and renowned tracker. He gravitated to exciting place ...more
Mar 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
A fascinating life and character-dreamer, schemer, scout, prospector. It's amazing I had never heard of him. Non stop action even as a baby-he survived the Sioux Massacre in Minnesota by hiding in a corn field. This man could not sit still. His wife is the real hero for putting up with him. They lost two children and loved each other but he loved adventure more. Burnham was all over the map from the age of 12: Arizona Territory, Alaska, Africa-all over the continent. He was the type of guy who n ...more
Anthony Meaney
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frederick Burnham was a larger than life character who crammed more adventure and danger into his life than 100 people, well to be fair most people would have died doing what he did. He cheated death almost continually starting as a toddler when his mother hid him in a corn field to escape rampaging Sioux warriors. Burnham obeyed his mothers instructions to be silent and he survived. This would start him on a path of adventure that spanned several continents and numerous guerilla wars against va ...more
Jon Angell
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
What and interesting life? This was an incredible tale from an adventuresome man who happened to be born in an era that suited him perfectly. From a pioneer family to becoming a scout during a time of wars with the American Indian... to traveling and exploring the American West, the Klondike, Mexico, East, West, and South Africa... ... range wars, Indian wars, Boer wars, World wars and more...
Rhodes, Churchhill, Taft, Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, Edward Harriman, and a long list of other interestin
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-researched account of the amazing life of a forgotten American hero. FRB has so many connections with American and world history that it boggles the mind. I am pleased also that Kemper does not shy away from the controversies and inconsistencies of Burnham's life (indeed, the inconsistencies lie at the heart of Burngam's identity). He gives a fair examination of the zeitgeist of Burnham's time, cautioning readers not to be too harsh looking backward in history.
Tom Hamilton
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was an exceptional story about an exceptional man. I simply did not want it to end. I can't help but feel as though the author romanticized the myth of this man a bit meaning he painted a rosy picture while hinting at deep flaws, but chose not to make the flaws the focus of the story. It makes me appreciate a time in recent history when men lived very differently than we do today...and perhaps makes me feel as though I was born a century too late.
Robert J. Kraus
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an amazing life. Truth is better than fiction in this case. Who would have thought a person could have as many separate adventures in so few years. Additionally, he was present for so many historical events and met or worked for such famous people. Reading this was like stringing together multiple westerns. I don't think they could make it into a movie--but it might be a great mini-series.
Kris Irvin
Oct 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Heavens. It took me forever to read this book because it was just so exhausting. Burnham did SO. MUCH. I don't know how he did 1/4th of all the things he accomplished. The book is meticulously researched and really well written. It was engaging and informative. Just a good read all around.
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Had not read much about Burnham before and did not know much about his exploits. If only half of what is reported here is true, Burnham’s life makes Indiana Jones pale by comparison. Soldier, explorer, miner, tracker and conservationist, his story is remarkable. Recommended.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well researched and enlightening read on a subject heretofore unknown. What a marvelous and fascinating character. If history books would only include his exploits and adventures, they’d be a lot less dusty.
Gerald Guy
This was an interesting novel, but it just dragged. I made it more than half way through before setting it aside. Burnham had an amazing life, but the story-telling just failed to captivate me. I need to be motivated to read on, and Kemper failed me.
Erick Njenga
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant book about a brilliant individual.
Nancy Christie
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham by Steve Kemper is a fascinating, multi-level exploration of the life and adventures of Frederick Burnham, who rose to fame as “the American scout” during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
One might say that Burnham was destined for a life of excitement, beginning with his survival of a Sioux raid at the tender age of 15 months. By 12, he was working as a Western Union mounted messenger and two years later as a hun
William DuFour
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent read and very thought provoking, interesting, and without the old west cliches about Indian scouts.
David Kessler
A splendid life of adventure Burham lived. Too bad that the author could not lay it out so it was smooth and fun to read. If you can overlook the writing, he lived a full life: Africa, Alaska, SoCal, Europe and other parts of the globe.
Mark Luongo
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Readers interested in an adventurous life story.
Recommended to Mark by: Saw ad in History Book Club
A good biography of a man who's life is deserving of a movie! From Arizona to Africa to Mexico to the Yukon, California, Europe and back again. Hobnobbing with the likes of Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell, author H. Rider Haggard, correspondent Richard Harding Davis, Cecil Rhodes, Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt. He made "scouting" an art by observing, listening to the "old beards", and painstaking practice.
To quote TR: "He is a scout and a hunter of courage and ability, a man tot
Gavin McGrath
May 27, 2016 rated it did not like it
A disappointing biography! Kemper's style is clear but desultory. Perhaps Kemper lost his focus or, more likely, couldn't find anything on which to focus.

Moreover, not once did I gain any idea why Burnham's life intrigued Kemper - consequently, I never clicked with Burnham. Burnham often comes across in this biography as paradoxically in love with his wife and children but also selfishly moved to leave them for his adventures.

I cannot recall the last book I read that I struggled to read. Perso
(As usual, NB: narrative text concluded on page 386; remainder is notes, etc.)

Another on-a-whim book from the library. I'd never even heard of this guy before I picked up the book. Burnham was an interesting fellow! Really, I feel like I can best summarize it by saying that this guy is basically the epitome of a D&D ranger -- tracking, woodlore, all that stuff. He was every inch an adventurer.
Nick Penzenstadler
Mar 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Gripping tales of the frontier and Gilded Age. Dovetailed perfectly after reading about Burnham's "gregarious friend from New York" that ended up being a lifelong pal in Teddy Roosevelt. This era of "hard men" makes you want to go out searching for adventure in the woods or the desert.
Aug 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating tale of famous scout, explorer, prospector who traveled and fought in the old West, Africa, Mexico, Yukon. A man of contradictions (adamant conservationist when he was older but big game hunter when he was younger), Burnham was the inspiration for the creation of the Boy Scouts
Edgar Burrough
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book.
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Very entertaining. Burnham is a fellow I had never heard of and who lived at a time I don't know a lot about. His courage and character are a great challenge and encouragement to me.
Frank Kelly
Fredrick Burnham was a fascinating explorer and tracker who took his almost super-natural skills to multiple continents and in so doing changed history. Great read of a restless, relentless man.
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Plenty of new info I did not know before. I always thought of the other engineer named the same. This guy led a wild life I wonder if he was hyper
Edward Sullivan
An absorbing, richly detailed biography of a colorful, larger-than-life, peripatetic adventurer and fortune seeker.
David Flaugher
Jul 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Larger than life character with adventures on nearly every continent. His open racism was none the less appalling. Interesting look back in time.
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Sep 22, 2016
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Goodreads Librari...: Page count incorrect for A Splendid Savage 3 109 Jul 26, 2016 09:31AM  
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Steve Kemper is the author of A Splendid Savage, A Labyrinth of Kingdoms, and Code Name Ginger. His work has appeared in many national publications, including Smithsonian and National Geographic. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut.