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During the last years of his life, Smith concentrated on composing a history of Native Americans after the first European contact. This manuscript was discovered unpublished after his death. Using his wonderful technique of narrative, discovering in the events of each period the thematic overview of that period, he again turns to contemporaneous documents to provide the structure and substance of his story. From Jamestown to Wounded Knee, the story of these Native peoples from coast to coast is explored, granting these oppressed and nearly destroyed people a chance to tell their own broad story. We know of no other similar attempt, and this book will surely caution and intrigue readers as they are offered a new slant on a very old subject.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-01-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Upon his death Smith (1917–1995) left an unpublished manuscript on the history of Native Americans, consisting largely of relevant chapters from the eight volumes of his "People's History of the United States." Considering how much the field of Native American history has advanced in the two decades since, one wonders why this manuscript has been published now. Not only does Smith claim that a work such as his is needed because environmentalists and adherents of the "man's movement" idealize Native American ways, but his writing style lacks nuance and is rife with clichés. The narrative makes little attempt to distinguish between the highly varied cultures of Native Americans, or even those of European settlers, who are described as marked by their "Protestant ‘work ethic.'" Smith devotes little attention to Native American social, cultural, or religious life, focusing almost exclusively on the political and military spheres and giving readers a strong sense that Indians were constantly reacting to whites' endeavors rather than taking any initiative of their own. Such a work, with its repeated invocations of the "infatuation of the counterculture with tribal life," would have seemed old-fashioned when it was written. Today it reads as almost laughably simplistic and lacking in intellectual sophistication, and only diminishes Smith's historiographical prestige. (Nov.)