IN THE HANDS OF THE GREAT SPIRIT: The 20,000-Year History of American Indians

Jake Page, Author . Free Press $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-684-85576-9

This superlative popular history of American Indian peoples distills two generations of scholarship into a rare combination of readability and reliability. For former Smithsonian and Natural History editor Page, who is also a prolific mystery novelist and editor, it is a magnum opus. The early chapters establish, with compelling detail that draws on Indian oral history, that the origins of North America's first inhabitants were varied (including relatives of the Japanese Ainu), and that they were numerous, mostly agricultural, organized as civil societies, and living in mystical harmony neither with nature nor with one another. The book's second half details how European diseases, notably smallpox, arrived before most of the guns or large-scale colonies, with appalling consequences for the cohesion and survival of many tribes. What followed was fighting among tribes (such as the fate of the Pawnee at the hands of mounted rivals like the Sioux), deliberate genocide and sometimes well-intentioned but almost always badly executed government policies that left entire peoples in ruin. There are reprieves from tales of destruction: the Pueblo staged a successful revolt against the Spanish in 1680, while the Iroquois and Cherokee created synthetic cultures that tried to adapt to changing circumstances. The book ends with the discovery of Kennewick Man (Ainu kin), the Red Power movement and the profitable and controversial casino ownership by tribes like the Pequot. A smooth, engaged narrative a useful bibliographic essay, make this a book that fills an enormous gap in the popular historical literature, written with a great feel for the many contexts it addresses. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/03/2003
Release date: 03/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-684-85577-6
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