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The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of US History, by Ned Blackhawk

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Between my downloading this book from NetGalley and reading it, it won the National Book Award, so it’s clear that I’m not the only one giving it a look these days.

I think with books like this it’s important to understand what they are and are not. This is a map, a highlights version, hitting the high points. You can’t do four hundred years of history of a large portion of a continent and the people who live on it and go into really satisfying analysis and detail about…really much of any of it. So if you aren’t very familiar with Indigenous history in the US, this is a book that will have you making a list of what else is out there that you should find out about in more depth.

If you have taken the time to become familiar with Indigenous history in the US in some depth, you will probably only encounter one or two concepts and figures that are new to you. If your reading intention is to murmur, “I never knew that about the Mandan!” or similar phrases, you will likely come away from this large and magisterial work disappointed. Its purpose is relational, contextual. For the relatively informed reader, it is putting together pieces that you may previously have only had separately, the Ghost Dance and the arguments about citizenship in their temporal proximity.

It’s easy to see why it won a National Book Award; it’s a very useful sort of road map to have, to put this kind of information together and be able to have it all in one place, to be able to gesture clearly to the informed and the uninformed alike and say, look, these are the throughlines, these are the themes, this is what was happening all along. And Blackhawk does a very clear and briskly-written job of that.

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