book-reviews

Empire of the Summer Moon

by S. C. Gwynne

Rating: ★★★★

An interesting and blood-drenched history of the Commanche, one of the largest and more dangerous of the many tribes crippled and disabled by the expanding United States. Gwynne very much avoids painting them as a noble race which needs sentimental regards -- he goes into graphic detail about the many tortures and atrocities they carried out against captured foes, painting them as a fundamentally bloodthirsty civilisation with the notable distinction of being some of America's first steppe warriors.

So far as that is true, I appreciate the honesty. I have heard mixed reviews of the scholarship, which I am not competent to judge on so foreign an area. I will comment, however, that Gwynne does seem to overstress the competence of the Commanche warriors as a combat force. To be sure, the braves had impressive personal combat and survival skills, but Gwynnes narrative voice fails to obscure that in the majority of encounters, the tribes run away or are defeated by the Texan or US troops. The story is really one of a great decline, from the heyday of dominion over the Spanish, to feuding with settlers, to slowly being pushed from their haunts, to being captured on reservations where they eventually die of Western poisons and regret. There is little romance in this sad tale.