Indigenous Continent: Book summary and reviews of Indigenous Continent by Pekka Hämäläinen

Indigenous Continent

The Epic Contest for North America

by Pekka Hämäläinen

Indigenous Continent by Pekka Hämäläinen X
Indigenous Continent by Pekka Hämäläinen
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Book Summary

A prize-winning scholar rewrites 400 years of American history from Indigenous perspectives, overturning the dominant origin story of the United States.

There is an old, deeply rooted story about America that goes like this: Columbus "discovers" a strange continent and brings back tales of untold riches. The European empires rush over, eager to stake out as much of this astonishing "New World" as possible. Though Indigenous peoples fight back, they cannot stop the onslaught. White imperialists are destined to rule the continent, and history is an irreversible march toward Indigenous destruction.

Yet as with other long-accepted origin stories, this one, too, turns out to be based in myth and distortion. In Indigenous Continent, acclaimed historian Pekka Hämäläinen presents a sweeping counternarrative that shatters the most basic assumptions about American history. Shifting our perspective away from Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, the Revolution, and other well-trodden episodes on the conventional timeline, he depicts a sovereign world of Native nations whose members, far from helpless victims of colonial violence, dominated the continent for centuries after the first European arrivals. From the Iroquois in the Northeast to the Comanches on the Plains, and from the Pueblos in the Southwest to the Cherokees in the Southeast, Native nations frequently decimated white newcomers in battle. Even as the white population exploded and colonists' land greed grew more extravagant, Indigenous peoples flourished due to sophisticated diplomacy and leadership structures.

By 1776, various colonial powers claimed nearly all of the continent, but Indigenous peoples still controlled it―as Hämäläinen points out, the maps in modern textbooks that paint much of North America in neat, color-coded blocks confuse outlandish imperial boasts for actual holdings. In fact, Native power peaked in the late nineteenth century, with the Lakota victory in 1876 at Little Big Horn, which was not an American blunder, but an all-too-expected outcome.

Hämäläinen ultimately contends that the very notion of "colonial America" is misleading, and that we should speak instead of an "Indigenous America" that was only slowly and unevenly becoming colonial. The evidence of Indigenous defiance is apparent today in the hundreds of Native nations that still dot the United States and Canada. Necessary reading for anyone who cares about America's past, present, and future, Indigenous Continent restores Native peoples to their rightful place at the very fulcrum of American history.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Oxford University scholar Hämäläinen delivers a sweeping and persuasive corrective to the notion that 'history itself is a linear process that moves irreversibly toward Indigenous destruction'...Revelations abound—from the rampant enslavement of Indigenous people by European settlers to the strategic advantages that smallpox and other diseases gave to some Native nations—as do immersive renderings of Native cultural traditions...This top-notch history casts the story of America in an astonishing new light." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[T]he author resurrects important yet often obscured history, creating a masterful narrative that demands close consideration. An essential work of Indigenous studies that calls for rethinking North American history generally." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[S]crupulously researched...The level of detail occasionally overwhelms, but Hämäläinen is adept at explaining. This is a book everyone could benefit from reading." - Library Journal (starred review)

"Indigenous Continent is a triumph. Pekka Hämäläinen has crafted a grand, sweeping narrative premised on a fundamental truth: American history is Indigenous history. To read this book is to see the past anew." - Elizabeth Fenn, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People

"In this strikingly original and sweeping account of the epic contest for North America, Pekka Hämäläinen challenges the foundational story of conquest that underpins U.S. history. That storyline, he argues, is based on outlandish imperial claims and unrealized declarations of mastery. In fact, Native peoples resisted everywhere and at every turn, and they continue to do so to this day. Persuasive and compelling, Indigenous Continent is a much-needed correction to centuries of colonial aggrandizing." - Claudio Saunt, author of the National Book Award finalist Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory

This information about Indigenous Continent was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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More Information

Pekka Hämäläinen is Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford University and the author of The Comanche Empire, winner of the Bancroft Prize, and Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power. He lives in Oxford, England.

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