A happy marriage of professional scholarship and childlike enthusiasm.



The latest entry in the Penguin Library of American Indian History traces the history and evolving theories about the large city of Cahokia, which sprang up near the current St. Louis, Mo., around 1050 CE.

Largely avoiding academic jargon, Pauketat (Anthropology/Univ. of Illinois; Chiefdoms and Other Archaeological Delusions, 2007, etc.) sketches the absorbing story of these people whose enormous earthen structures were for decades assailed by farmers’ plows, urban sprawl, the highway system and ignorant neglect. The “3200 acres of great pyramids, spacious plazas, thatched-roof temples, houses, astronomical observatories, and planned neighborhoods” now compose Cahokia Mounds State Park. Scholars estimate that more than 10,000 people once lived in Cahokia (many thousands more were in outlying settlements), a city that emerged so suddenly that Pauketat uses the term “big bang” to describe its advent. He explores various theories for its creation—the timely appearance of a supernova in 1054 might have been a significant factor—and describes how the influential Cahokian culture spread throughout North America. The author is careful to credit his scholarly ancestors in Cahokian studies, including Preston Holder, Melvin Fowler and Warren Wittry. Pauketat describes the enormous cultural significance of the game of chunkey (spears thrown at rolling stone balls), then zeroes in on some key earthen mounds and the bounties they’ve yielded—especially Mound 72, where multiple human burials were unearthed, including some personages so prominent that they became invaluable in understanding Cahokian politics and theology. Archaeologists also discovered a pit containing evidence of vast feasts, evidence buried so deeply that the remains still reeked. Among the most engaging late-emerging theories: the significance of women along the full range of the cultural spectrum—from human sacrificial offering to day-laborer to goddess.

A happy marriage of professional scholarship and childlike enthusiasm.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02090-4

Page Count: 188

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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