Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone

George Black. St. Martin’s, $35 (576p) ISBN 978-0-312-38319-0
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Black (The Trout Pool Paradox) takes the reader on a momentous and bloody ride through the terrain of the unconquered West. Black warns readers against “presentism”—“the danger of relying on contemporary values to pass moral judgments on people of a different time.” Divided into five sections and beginning with the familiar expedition of Lewis and Clark, the book spans nearly the entire 19th century. Lewis and Clark were “uninvited guests in an unknown land, and any tribe they encountered were assumed hostile until proven otherwise,” while the Indians were “driven by fear or superstition to avoid the upper Yellowstone.” Of course, the dangerous myth surrounding Yellowstone accelerated the explorers’ desire to conquer it. As the book continues, the government enters with paleontologists, entomologists, botanists, and mineralogists, among others. Black’s clear and concise prose offers some humorous moments; names from a Montana population record include Whiskey Bill, Bummer Dan, Old Phil the Man Eater, and Geo. Hillerman, “The Great American Pie-Biter.” Though his book is highly readable, Black must remind the reader of all the players using a dramatis personae that is almost as daunting as the wild landscape itself. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Lehrer and Carlson Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/12/2011
Release date: 03/13/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 548 pages - 978-1-250-02320-9
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