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Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides

This reading experience was rather different for me. Because this book took forever to read despite not being overly long, but it never felt like it was dragging or boring. Just a slow read, that didn't feel like a slow read. What would happen is that I would very happily read and learn all sorts of fascinating new things for 20 pages, and I'd look at the clock, expecting it to be 30 minutes or 45 minutes, but instead it would have been an hour and a half. I  mean, it's great when you're so caught up in your reading that time flies by like that, but that means it's going to be a long, long time to finish the book.

And it was. But it was so worth it. Do you know much about the American West? Unless you grew up there, I doubt it. Mostly this book is about Kit Carson, but given who and when and where he was, that means it's also a pretty definitive history of the Southwest at a seminal moment. Kit Carson may have been illiterate (and he was embarrassed of that his entire life), but he was fluent in four languages and could get by in a dozen more, mostly Native American languages. He moved west at a young age and became a fur trapper until that career path ended (most of the animals were hunted to near-extinction and thankfully fur hats fell out of style.) He then was hired by the army as a scout and guide, and eventually he joined up. He was invaluable during the Mexican-American war and he also fought in the Civil War, although it was different in New Mexico than in the eastern half of the United States. His advice was always sound, and he was a level-headed voice of wisdom in a time of close-minded hot-heads when it came to Mexicans and Native Americans. One commander seemed to bring out the worst in him (and vice versa) but luckily he didn't serve with Carson long.

By the time Carson died, the West was pretty well conquered with trains coming and land acquired and Native Americans being herded into reservations. He went to Washington D.C. a couple of times and got to meet the president and he was feted, and he was amused by the novels written "starring" him. He always wished for more time at home with his family, and he would have been pretty happy with a quiet life, but that wasn't what he got. Instead he got a front-row seat to the final massive expansion of America.

I checked this book out of the library.

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