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The Comanche Empire

(The Lamar Series in Western History)

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  814 ratings  ·  76 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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4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  814 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Nov 08, 2008 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
Apr 29, 2012 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
Apr 13, 2012 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
Sep 02, 2009 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
Ernest Spoon
May 14, 2014 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
Oct 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Fredrick Danysh
A history of the Comanche Indians that follow their conquest of the Apache for control of the southern plains to their eventual demise as a major power by the United States government. Many individual Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans are mentioned by name but not so the Comanche. The work does demonstrate how Native Americans were just as guilty as Europeans in displaced others to take over territory.
Jul 07, 2009 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 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.
James Murphy
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In chronicling the history of the Native American Comanche peoples of the southwest, Pekka Hamalainen tells a story in many ways at odds with the Indians of our national mythology. The Comanche finally were forced as a group onto reservations in the 1870s after a 20-year drought, the breakdown of their pastoral economy and lifestyle following the demise of the huge bison herds of the plains, and military pressure from the expansionist United States. They were largely ignored on the reservations ...more
Ana Díaz
May 27, 2015 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 14, 2016 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 11, 2011 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 05, 2009 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
Dan Gorman
Nov 01, 2016 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
Jan 19, 2009 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
Aug 29, 2013 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.
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In general, the history of North America has been portrayed as an unrelenting expansion of Euro-American colonialism sweeping away the myriad of Native tribes, despite the occasional valiant, but futile resistance from them. A number of recent works, however, have come out to that have begun to challenge the image of natives as supine actors against colonial aggression. In particular, Richard White’s The Middle Ground focusing on the practical arrangements between the various Algonquin people a ...more
David Nichols
May 18, 2010 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
David Montgomery
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating and well-sourced history overturning many popular (and obscure) assumptions about what is today the American Southwest. The author traces the history of the Comanche, arguably the most geopolitically successful Native American confederacy of the colonization era, who not only resisted determined efforts by the Spanish, Mexicans and Americans to suppress them for nearly two centuries, but in many cases imposed their will on the hapless colonizers, reducing their outposts to tributar ...more
Jacob Hiserman
Hamalainen’s groundbreaking work turns the nature and scope of “empire” on its head. He argues in The Comanche Empire that the Comanche Indians created an economic imperial system that subjugated colonial powers and altered the Southwestern landscape in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hamalainen reverses the narrative of colonialism because he explains how Comanches made Spain, Mexico, and the US economic subordinates and paved the way for US expansion. Additionally, Hamalainen adds a n ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it liked it
'The Comanche Empire' is a thorough history of the most powerful and largest Native American nation that for 150 years dominated the South West plains of the United States. Hamalainen's sweeping history begins in the early 18th century when a relatively unknown nomadic group moved into the south west and began to clash with Spanish and later Mexican interests in the area. Contemporaries of the time noted these ferocious roaming groups north of their territory. The rise of the Comanche is a blood ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing read. Structured cohesively and easy enough for those that aren't necessarily scholars or academics to follow. It contains such well researched cross referenced material on the Comanche empire. I'd not heard much of these lower plains Indians until recently and was absolutely carried away to what felt like a completely different world with this book.

The material covers the rise and fall of this fascinating people that really were a power to be reckoned with. Their ultimate de
Allen Cheesman
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pekka Hamalainen's "Comanche Empire" is a phenomenal read! After the Seven Years War and the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Spain believed that it controlled most of the lands of North America when France surrendered it's claim to the Louisiana Territory. This proved to be illusionary at best because the Comanche Empire dominated and controlled a vast amount of territory in the Southwest and Plains of modern day United States lands. Hamalainen provides an accurate history of the Comanches through extensi ...more
Zachary Bennett
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book does something many historians have wanted to do in early America but have been unable to show: an example of Indians kicking the crap out of Europeans. Pekka's "Politics of Grass" article essentially summarizes this book. This suggests that biological history is too deterministic and ignores agency. The Comanche way of life was utterly transformed by the energy of the horse. Wild horses migrated from New Spain to the Comanche homeland between the Rockies and Louisiana. They fed off th ...more
Adil Ehsan
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A tough read but interesting to see how the Comanche society was structured and how the general opinion of their relative "powerlessness" was false. In addition the book also clearly lays out the downfall of the Comanche Empire despite their strength and in built structural weaknesses that led them down.

Its not an easy read though and if its your first introduction to American history than you will find yourself lost more than once.
Aug 17, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is packed with lots of information. However, I only gave it three stars because I think the author could have done more to enliven the material in general. In addition, I would have liked to have learned more about Comanche training. How did they become so adept at horsemanship and such fierce warriors? Lastly, I disagreed with many of the authors conclusions. Nonetheless, this is worth reading if you're interested in the topic.
Bill Taylor
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Superb historical and cultural study of the Comanche Nation -- from its beginnings in the early 18th Century until its depleted relegation to Reservation existence by the 1870s.
Though the work of a first-class academic historian, the book is easily accessible and understandable. It is richly documented and interspersed with helpful maps and illustrations.
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating take on the history of the American West in which the Comanches, rather then simply reacting to European and U.S. intrusions, are the dominant players, forging their own empire and in many ways deciding the fate and history of the Southwest and Great Plains. The only drawback is that the writing is academic and somewhat dry.
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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

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