Encounters at the Heart of the World Summary and Reviews

Encounters at the Heart of the World

A History of the Mandan People

by Elizabeth A. Fenn

Encounters at the Heart of the World by Elizabeth A. Fenn X
Encounters at the Heart of the World by Elizabeth A. Fenn
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Book Summary

A book that radically changes our understanding of North America before and after the arrival of Europeans.

Encounters at the Heart of the World concerns the Mandan Indians, iconic Plains people whose teeming, busy towns on the upper Missouri River were for centuries at the center of the North American universe. We know of them mostly because Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804–1805 with them, but why don't we know more? Who were they really? In this extraordinary book, Elizabeth A. Fenn retrieves their history by piecing together important new discoveries in archaeology, anthropology, geology, climatology, epidemiology, and nutritional science. Her boldly original interpretation of these diverse research findings offers us a new perspective on early American history, a new interpretation of the American past.

By 1500, more than twelve thousand Mandans were established on the northern Plains, and their commercial prowess, agricultural skills, and reputation for hospitality became famous. Recent archaeological discoveries show how they thrived, and then how they collapsed. The damage wrought by imported diseases like smallpox and the havoc caused by the arrival of horses and steamboats were tragic for the Mandans, yet, as Fenn makes clear, their sense of themselves as a people with distinctive traditions endured.

A riveting account of Mandan history, landscapes, and people, Fenn's narrative is enriched and enlivened not only by science and research but by her own encounters at the heart of the world.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2015

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Simultaneously scholarly and highly readable, Fenn's contribution enriches our understanding of not just Mandan history, but the history and culture of the preservation northern Plains as well." - Booklist

"Starred Review. In addition to her comprehensive narrative, Fenn intersperses throughout the narrative many helpful maps and poignant drawings by George Catlin and others. An excellent contribution to the truth telling ofthe American Indian story." - Kirkus

"Riveting.... Fenn brings to life and celebrates the customs and practices of the Mandans, while bemoaning the fate of this little-known North American tribe." - Publishers Weekly

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Author Information

Elizabeth A. Fenn

Elizabeth A. Fenn is an associate professor at the University of Colorado–Boulder, where she holds the Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Chair in Western American History. She is the coauthor of Natives and Newcomers and the author of the award-winning Pox Americana. She lives in Longmont, Colorado.

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