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The Comanche Empire Paperback – May 19 2009

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; unknown edition (May 19 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300151179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300151176
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 726 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #28,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"'Cutting-edge revisionist western history... Immensely informative, particularly about activities in the eighteenth century.' Larry McMurtry, The New York Review of Books"

About the Author

Pekka Hämäläinen is associate professor of history, University of California, Santa Barbara. He lives in Santa Barbara.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars 59 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars At times it seemed like a dense tome that I had to struggle through June 7 2016
By Nancy K Hughes - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very comprehensive study of a relatively contemporary indigenous population building an empire in the midst of European and American conquest. The book was insightful and informative. At times it seemed like a dense tome that I had to struggle through, but by and large I enjoyed it very much and have recommended to others. Anyone who loves the Southwest should read this book. I believe much of the Southwest is part of the United States because of the role the Comanche's played at stopping the expansion of first the Spanish and later the Republic of Mexico into these areas.
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable Addition to the Field Sept. 29 2008
By Margaret A. - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This well-written and tightly argued work on the Comanche Indians and their relations with the Spanish, French, Americans and with other Native peoples might be called a foreign-policy history of the Comanche empire. The author's long-awaited book details how the Comanche made use of their physical and cultural environment to develop an empire that controlled much of the southern plains, dominated trade within the southern and central Great Plains and Southwest, shaped the development of Spanish and French colonies in the region, and eventually collapsed from internal pressures, environmental difficulties and U.S. military action.
General readers interested in a new way of thinking about the Comanche and the history of the Southwest will enjoy this readable work. Scholars too will find much of use, including copious and meticulous citations and a good index. I highly recommend this work.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A "must read" for North American historians July 25 2009
By S. Darragh - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is very little to add given all the five and four star reviews. There were a few typos, such as making 1875 the Centennial year of American Independence, and some glaring mistakes. For the record, the U.S. Army was never armed with Winchester repeating rifles. They went from the single shot Model 1866 45-70 cal. trapdoor Springfield, which was the standard long arm of the Indian Wars, to the Krag-Jorgensen rifle in 30-40 calibre in 1892. Thus the Indians usually had the firepower advantage, as at Little Big Horn. That niggling mistake in a field well known to me makes me wonder what other mistakes might be lurking in the book. But, overall, a herculean effort that is well worth the price of the book.
105 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comanche History, 1700-1880 from the Comanche Side Dec 8 2008
By David M. Dougherty - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding scholarly work well deserving of five stars. In some respects I wonder if it could have been written by an American (the author is Finnish) since it sharply contrasts with the politically correct myth of the American Indians, always fighting in defense of their homeland and way of life against the overwhelming encroachments of evil Europeans. Some will use the term "revisionist" to describe this work, but more accurately it should be described simply as Comanche history for two centuries from the Comanche viewpoint. To put the contrast in more familiar terms, until recently almost all books on the World War II Eastern Front between Germany and the Soviet Union have been told from the German side. Now David Glantz and others are writing books that tell the Soviet side. Are they "revisionist?"

The author traces the Comanches from origins among the Shoshones, moving through Colorado and becoming allied with the Utes (other authors describe the Comanches as being forced out into the Great Plains by the Utes), acquiring horses and guns from Mexican traders, then spreading into Northern Texas and surrounding country. There they established a virtual "empire", or more accurately, a sphere of hegemony and influence, that extended into six US states and several states in Northern Mexico by 1840. This can be considered as a region controlled loosely by semi-nomads who would eventually face the problem of maintaining their "empire" through population growth in permanent settlements. (The reader should look for parallels to the Golden Horde on the plains of Southern Russia.) The Comanches did not always exterminate all other people in their sphere of influence, but rather used them for trade, a source of slaves, and goods acquired through war and negotiation.

The Comanche collapse came swiftly through a combination of factors, notably drought, disease, and the decimation of the Bison herds through natural causes and over-hunting. By the time they faced serious opposition from Americans (Texans), they were already in steep decline. But until 1840, Comancheria was ruled by the Comanches, taking what they wanted from people on their borders, whether Anglos, Mexicans, or other Indians.

The Comanches were not a benign people, frequently murdering, raping, and enslaving those who opposed them or simply had nothing else of use for the warriors to take. The author describes their society extremely well (much like the Apaches except for the roles of the horse and bison.) Their warrior society was able to undertake raids over 1,000 miles from the heart of Comancheria into Mexico, and even the Lipan Apaches were forced to migrate to escape annihilation. The author points out that the Comanches were fortunate in their timing in that they were able to build their empire in an area not particularly coveted by the Mexicans or Americans until a hundred years later. But his model of an expansionist Indian nation is in direct opposition to the paternalistic tomes normally emanating from academia, although it also fits to a large degree with the history of other aggressive tribes such as the Aztecs, Pohatans, Iroquois and Sioux (Lakota.)

This work is an easy read and stuffed full of facts not normally found in books on the Comanches, or for that matter, on any Indian tribe. All to often, the Indians are simply the enemy and described from the viewpoint of the settler or Army officer, or if the work is coming from academia, it's a discourse on victimhood and how the Indians were mistreated, cheated, and faced with genocide. This book shows them to be real human beings, warts and all, aggressive and defensive, merciful and cruel. There is much to learn here, and if the reader re-assesses his opinions and attitudes towards American Indians as a result, it is all to the good.

If the reader is interested in American history, buy and read this book. Its importance goes far beyond the Comanches.

A less-than-brief review by Frank McLynn in the Literary Review (it escapes me why the LR would ask a Brit to review a book by a Finn on America -- although he did write Villa & Zapate and Wagons West) (Google "Frank McLynn on the Commanche Empire) will give you a pretty good idea of the book's detail content, but be forewarned that some of McLynn's comments are wrong. The Comanches did not war against the Fox Indians and McLynn apparently does not understand the author's math in regards to the bison herd. 6.5 bison per person per year yields 260,000 animals taken if the Comanche and allied population is 40,000, not 20,000. His remarks about the required academic jargon for peer acceptance are correct however -- the author should have avoided the garbage so loved in the ivory towers in a book slated for wide dissemination. For me, the appearance of academic jargon at various times was this book's only flaw.
101 of 121 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Revision for revisions sake? Oct. 10 2009
By Boll Weevil - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First, I would draw your attention to two excellent reviews of this book, one in the May 29, 2008 /NYRB/ by Larry McMurtry and the other in the Dec. 2008 /American Historical Review/ by Gerald Betty. I think McMurtry's review sums it up best: This book contains many valuable insights into Comanche history, particularly during the 18th century, but fails to sustain its central argument that the Comanches were an empire. Hamalainen does not adequately define "empire," which is problematic if one is asserting that the Comanches were one.

Some suggest the assertion that American Indians had power in colonial America is a novel and significant revision. I'm not so sure. Haven't scholars already constructed and dismantled the "imperial" Iroquois? Didn't George Hyde demonstrate half a century ago that the horse prompted a whole new set of power relations on the Plains between not only Indians and Europeans but also initially between different Indian groups? One is left to wonder where to draw the distinction between revision and "reinvention." The question isn't whether Indians had power; it's identifying in what instances they did or did not, and then accounting for the dynamism in power relations. In the end, the enduring persuasiveness I've found in Richard White's /Middle Ground/ and James Brooks' /Captives and Cousins/ is their ability to illustrate a mulivalent world in which power is variable across time and space and its various forms (political, economic, and cultural) aren't always congruent. White and Brooks capture this dynamism and complexity in a manner that recent revisionists such as Hamalainen don't. If power (who has it and who doesn't, etc.) is to be the center of the debate, then scholars need to be more explicit in delineating its various forms and explaining how it works over time.

This is a clearly written and well researched book, but I'm not sure its broad interpretive strokes really are so much innovative as they are fresh. If this topic interest you, I would recommend Gary Anderson's /The Indian Southwest/ and Brian DeLay's excellent if long /War of a Thousand Deserts/.