I love reading about history, especially histories with unique perspectives! Traditional histories omit so much, and what we know has been carefully shaped by what schools usually teach and promote. The myths these texts create often overshadow the realities.
“An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” is a book that dispels many of the myths surrounding indigenous people, such as the myth that the “New World” was sparsely populated at the time of first contact by Europeans or that their cultures were unsophisticated. The indigenous populations were actually much denser than European societies at the time, and they were “supportable because the people had created a relatively disease-free paradise. There certainly were diseases and health problems, but the practice of herbal medicine and even surgery and dentistry, and most importantly both hygienic and ritual bathing, kept diseases at bay. “
We tend to ignore the centuries-long genocidal campaign of the indigenous peoples by US settlers even while we deliberate on genocides perpetrated by others. Here, the author shows that many famous authors, such as Walt Whitman and James Fenimore Cooper, helped champion and advocate for drastic policies and helped shape the national narrative related to native populations. Even thinking of indigenous people as a monolithic culture is a myth, as there were hundreds of distinct nations.
I was particularly fascinated by this book because my own family has an oral history of Cherokee ancestors who tried to hide their heritage by claiming to be “Black Dutch.” They fled the Carolinas for Texas during Andrew Jackson’s campaign after the Civil War. They hid so well in fact that part of our heritage is all but lost.
“An Indigenous Peoples’ History” is a very thought-provoking and well-documented book that connects Europeans’ first contact with native populations to modern conflicts of “settler colonialism” by, as the author puts it, “a thin red line.” She asks us to face the reality of the past, “…not to make an accusation but rather to face historical reality, without which consideration not much in US history makes sense, unless indigenous peoples are erased.”
For other recent books that offer history with a unique perspective, you can try some of these titles.
- “Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a
Great American Land Grab” by Steve Inskeep
- “Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped the Sixties” by Kevin M. Schultz
- “One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon” by Tim Weiner
- “The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius the XI and the Rise of
Fascism in Europe” by David I. Kertzer
- “Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868” by Cokie Roberts
- “Dead Wake; The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson