Reading guide for Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis

By Timothy Egan

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Oct 2012,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2013,
    384 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Edward Curtis used a painstaking process to create his photographs, bringing heavy glassnegatives to even the roughest terrain and hand coloring many of his prints. What do histechniques say about his approach to humanity and to art? What would he think of our digitalcameras and desire to instantly share snapshots with the world?
  2. How did Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher change your understanding of Native American history? Did you have a particularly compelling moment, as J. P. Morgan did upon seeing Mosa— Mohave, in which you saw America's past in a different way?
  3. Curtis made a fortune from his studio, but his commitment to the North American Indian project made him destitute. What intangible rewards was he gaining from the project? Is there a cause that you would be willing to support full-time without a salary?
  4. Photographs were only one aspect of Curtis's anthropology; it was just as important to him to make a written record of tribal rituals and language with impeccable accuracy. Other than his technical skills, what traits made Curtis the ideal person to create such a visionary record of America's first peoples? What advantages did he have over his more educated colleagues?
  5. How did you react to the way Seattle's white residents treated Angeline, by turns vilifying andrevering her? How did political leaders like Teddy Roosevelt manage to embrace progressive causes, such as land conservation and breaking up corporate monopolies, while remaining lukewarm about the plight of Native Americans? Where did your ancestors stand on the issue?
  6. The book captures the widely varied landscapes Curtis photographed on his expeditions, from the mesas of the Southwest to the tundra of Alaska. How were the Indians he encountered an extension of their homelands? What did they teach him about the spirit of the natural world?
  7. Discuss the disputed events at Little Bighorn and the account provided by Curtis's guides. How did Curtis see his role as a historian? What truths was he able to document with his cameras?
  8. What inspired men like John Muir and Edmond Meany to venture to mountaintops? What was the importance of their work, especially as cities and railroads began to encroach on the wilderness of the Northwest? How did their motivation compare to their Indian guides'?
  9. How did you feel about Clara Curtis throughout the book? Would you have been able to remain supportive of Edward's project? Why do you suppose the couple's children were more sympathetic toward Edward?
  10. Discuss the lives of Alexander Upshaw and Belle da Costa Greene, two central figures in Curtis's life who assimilated to white America. What was expected of them in order to be successful in the "white world"? How was their experience different from Curtis's as he tried to gain acceptance among the tribes he photographed?
  11. In the closing passage of the chapter "Twilight," Egan writes, "...not a single person in those books was a stranger to him. "What was at the root of Curtis's connection to the Indians? What drove him to feel such empathy?
  12. Discuss the financial power brokers of the time period. What are the implications of J. P. Morgan's ability to single-handedly prevent an economic panic and the fact that there wasn't yet an income tax in America? How was Curtis's work affected by his heavy reliance on private investors? Could his work have been different if he undertook it today, when he might qualify for grants from the government or nonprofits? Would it still have made him destitute, or is celebrity a guarantee of wealth today?
  13. How does Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher enrich the history you discovered in Timothy Egan's previous books? What makes his perspective on the human experience unique?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Mariner Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...
  • Book Jacket: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Shotgun Lovesongs
    by Nickolas Butler
    Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, follows five life-long friends, now in their mid-...
  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  170The Weight of Blood:
    Laura McHugh
  2.  254Cartwheel:
    Jennifer duBois

All Discussions

Who Said...

The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.