Penguin Lives Crazy Horse Hardcover – Jan 1 1999
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In writing his superb life of Crazy Horse, Larry McMurtry faced the same obstacle as every previous biographer of the Oglala Sioux icon: a notable paucity of facts. This didn't inhibit such chroniclers as Mari Sandoz or Stephen Ambrose (whose dual portrait of Crazy Horse and George Custer featured a certain amount of authorial ventriloquism). In this case, however, the shortage of documentation actually works to the reader's advantage. Unencumbered by reams of scholarly detail, McMurtry's book has the shapeliness and inevitability of a fine novella. The author may describe it as an "exercise in assumption, conjecture, and surmise"--but his phrase does scant justice to this elegant, admirably scrupulous portrait.
As McMurtry recounts, Crazy Horse was born around 1840 in what is now South Dakota. Already the arrival of white settlers--who brought with them such mixed blessings as metal tools, firearms, and smallpox--had begun to transform the culture of the Plains Indians. But soon a more ominous note crept into the relationship: "The Plains Indians were beginning to be seen as mobile impediments; what they stood in the way of was progress, a concept dear to the American politician." As whites sought to remove these impediments with increasing brutality, Crazy Horse led his people in a sporadic and ultimately doomed resistance, which peaked at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Within a year the young warrior (and occasional visionary) had surrendered to the United States Army. Four months later he was dead, stabbed in a highly suspicious scuffle with white and Indian policemen, and the Sioux resistance died with its legendary leader.
McMurtry's powers of compression are formidable. In no more than a few rapid paragraphs, he gives a sense of how this "prairie Platonist" divided the world into transient things and eternal, invisible spirits. He also conveys his opinion of Caucasian double-dealing with fine, acerbic efficiency: "In August, Custer emerged and described the beauties of the Black Hills in mouthwatering terms. In another life he would have made a wonderful real-estate developer. In this case he sold one of the most beautiful pieces of real estate in the West to a broke, depressed public who couldn't wait to get into those hills and start scratching up gold." McMurtry's Crazy Horse is the leanest and least rhetorical version yet of this American tragedy--which makes it, oddly enough, among the most moving. --James Marcus
From Publishers Weekly
Deceptively brief and seemingly lightweight, this wonderful work effectively cuts through decades of hyperbole. McMurtry illuminates the enigma and the myth of Crazy Horse to present him as a man?no more, no less. He has stripped away the incessant Noble Savage image that persists in many serious works about Native Americans, even to this day. He gently jabs earlier biographers who based entire volumes on little or no evidence of the events in Crazy Horse's life. "Still I am not writing this book because I think I know what Crazy Horse did?much less what he thought?on more than a few occasions in his life; I'm writing it because I have some notions about what he meant to his people in his lifetime, and also what he has come to mean to generations of Sioux in our century and even our time." McMurtry's simple, eloquent prose conveys Plains Indian culture far better than most anthropological efforts, leaving the reader with a clear, dignified image of the great warrior (who died in 1877) without needless conjectures of day-by-day activities. Although complicated by the politics of money and land, this is, as McMurtry ultimately shows, the story of a man "who had no politics, just the conviction that he wanted to live his life in accordance with the precepts of his own people." First serial to American Heritage; BOMC alternate. (Jan.) FYI: Viking plans to release two Penguin Lives titles each season, six each year. This volume, along with Edmund White's biography of Proust (see p. 62), is the first.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
I was inclined to accept McMurtry's observation that little factual information exists on Crazy Horse. In fact, I think he's soured me somewhat on reading Mari Sandoz's much lengthier biography. However, this book goes in some strange directions dealing with this paucity of information. For example, in trying to describe the great gathering of Indians at the Ft. Laramie Council of 1851, McMurtry inexplicably quotes Wilfred Thesiger's account of an Ethiopian gathering of African tribesmen. Shortly thereafter, he describes the tribal warfare of the Sioux by quoting Peter Matthiessen's description of tribal warfare in New Guinea in the early 1960's. Well, the primary resources on Native Americans may be limited but not so much that we must wander to other continents for our facts. (On second thought, maybe I WILL read Sandoz's book). McMurtry suggests at one point that it would be "hubris" to think that we can read Crazy Horse's mind. He momentarily passes on speculation of Crazy Horse's thoughts and motives and then spends much of the remainder of the book doing just that. So much of these 141 pages are devoted to events that happened during the time of Crazy Horse that little space is left to the man himself.Read more ›
Several years ago, I read and enjoyed Mari Sandozï¿½s biography on C.H., but the book left me to wonder how much of the story was truth versus fiction. The novelist, Larry McMurtry, authored this Penguin Lives version and convincingly separated the C.H. facts from fiction. Far from diminishing the character, the author gives a more appealing portrait of the man who will always be an enigmatic historical figure.
I, for one, appreciate the authorï¿½s honesty and the ï¿½graynessï¿½ of the characterï¿½s story. I think it is more a sign of weakness for a biographer to invent facts to enhance the story. It is certainly disingenuous and non-academic. McMurtry gives more than one example of this form of literary excess especially when mentioning Stephen Ambroseï¿½s biography on C.H. Interestingly, the latterï¿½s excesses seem to now have caught up with him as shown in the plagiarism charges that have followed his more recent works.
The quality of this book, though, is in the warmth and dignity that the author gives to his subject. Crazy Horse was a solitary and misunderstood figure to even his own people. His is also a story of how greed and jealousy by his people led to his early death.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Crazy Horse has been puzzled over by genertions of historians. Larry McMurtry gives a sensitive portrait of the great Sioux warrior who became a reluctant leader at the battle of... Read morePublished on May 30 2003 by Evelyn Horan
This is my first run at Crazy Horse, so I have nothing to compare it to. While McMurchy does an excellent job of giving only the facts, this book was more about the Sioux then of... Read morePublished on March 20 2003 by Munawar Ali
There is too much political correctness in this book to really get a good view of Crazy Horse other than some mythic figure of the Great Plains. Read morePublished on July 26 2002 by Georgina
What was wrong with Mr. McMurtry here? This book has no blood in its veins. He circles Lakota culture without entering into it. He seems more curious than anything else. Read morePublished on Dec 17 2001
Near the beginning of "Crazy Horse" Larry McMurtry points how little is known about Crazy Horse. A loner in a non-literate community, even the stories of Crazy Horse's sparse... Read morePublished on Oct. 9 2001 by James Gallen
As I read this book, I couldn't help feeling that Mr. Mc Murtry would have been better off not writing this book. Read morePublished on Sept. 26 2001 by Donald Mitchell
Stark but not simple, this book focuses on Crazy Horse the man as opposed to the myth. While it appealed to my intellect, it also moved my emotions, and for that reason I recommend... Read morePublished on April 24 2001 by E H
I am a fan of the Pengin Lives books. I'll say that up front. But Mr. McMurtry's book on Crazy Horse falls short of the standard the series sets with other works like the book on... Read morePublished on March 25 2001 by Amazon Customer
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