HistoryWriter, February 4, 2013 (view all comments by HistoryWriter)
There are several stories woven into one great book. First is the young celebrity photographer, Edward Curtis, who becomes obsessed with a project to document all of the western tribes of native Americans before they are gone. After spending over two decades spending months at a time living in the field in pursuit of knowing his subjects and getting thousands of photographs, he finally completes his masterpiece. However the twenty volume set is so expensive that they are produced in limited quantities and only acquired by a few libraries and universities, and the occasional wealthy patron. Curtis was not paid for his work. He was actually ruined by the project. The price to Curtis for his obsession was the loss of his family, his business, and his reputation in his social class that was so important to upper class people in that era. The other stories brought to light in the book concern America's treatment of the native Americans (more palatable than "Bury My Heart), and a good review of the social customs and attitudes of the rich during the early part of the twentieth century.
I enjoy Egan's writing style. The book moves along at a pace that will keep your interest. I had not known a great deal about Edward Curtis, but I appreciated learning about his work that I now recognize in many books about native Americans and early works on outdoor subjects. I do look at the story of Edward Curtis' life as a cautionary tale, well told by Timothy Egan. Excellent read.
tamaflip, January 6, 2013 (view all comments by tamaflip)
I'm sadly deficient is Native American history, but that did not detract even an ounce from the wonderfulness of Egan's latest book. I could not put it down--I do not say that lightly. It's one of the best books I've read in the past 5 years.
catfish, January 5, 2013 (view all comments by catfish)
A fascinating look at the life of photographer Edward Curtis and his quest to capture the vanishing way of life of the American Indian at the turn of the century. The book captures the essence of Curtis's photographs-- his treatment of the American Indian and their disappearing culture with respect,honesty,empathy and great beauty --- and his desire to capture these images for all time.
lwad61, January 2, 2013 (view all comments by lwad61)
A beautiful, sorrowful book about the passing of Native American tribal life and of the man who lost his family and his fortune documenting what remained of Indian ways.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Egan (The Worst Hard Time) turns his attention to one of Seattle's most remarkable — yet all but forgotten — residents. In the late 19th century, Edward Curtis was the era's reigning portrait photographer, so well respected that President Theodore Roosevelt chose him to photograph his daughter's wedding. Yet in 1900, at the height of his fame, Curtis gave it up to pursue what would become his life's work — 'a plan to photograph all the intact Native American tribes left in North America' before their ways of life disappeared. This idea received the backing of J.P. Morgan and culminated in a critically acclaimed 20-volume set, The North American Indian, which took Curtis 30 years to complete and left him divorced and destitute. Unfailingly sympathetic to his subject, Egan shadows Curtis as he travels from Roosevelt's summer home at Sagamore Hill to the mesas and canyons of the Southwest tribes and to the rain forests of the Coastal Indians and the isolated tundra on Nunivak Island. Egan portrays the dwindling tribes, their sacred rites (such as the Hopi snake dance), customs, and daily lives, and captures a larger-than-life cast. With a reporter's eye for detail, Egan delivers a gracefully written biography and adventure story. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic,
"In this hauntingly beautiful book, Egan brings Curtis to life as vividly and with as much depth, heart and understanding as Curtis himself put into his timeless portraits. This is a story for the ages."
by S.C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon,
"Short Nights is not only the marvelous and rollicking account of life of one of America's extraordinary photographers. It is also a book about the extreme personal cost of outsized ambition. Edward Curtis undertook one of the most epic cultural projects in American history — photographing and documenting the vanishing ways of life of some eighty American Indian tribes. It cost him almost everything he once was. And still he persisted, turning out some of the greatest photographic and ethnological work ever done. Egan has found yet another great subject, and has crafted yet another great narrative around it."
"Edward Curtis's hauntingly beautiful photographs have graced gallery walls and coffee tables for generations
by Booklist, starred review,
"Ace popular historian Egan makes Curtis' story frequently suspenseful, always gripping, and monumentally heroic."
by Shelf Awareness,
"[Short Nights] mesmerizes — it's instructive, entertaining and a joy to read....When it comes to superlative historical writing, this is as good as it gets....Dazzling."
by Washington Post,
"A vivid exploration of one man's lifelong obsession with an idea....Egan's spirited biography might just bring [Curtis] the recognition that eluded him in life."
by San Francisco Chronicle,
"A darn good yarn. Egan is a muscular storyteller and his book is a rollicking page-turner with a colorfully drawn hero."
by Cleveland Plain Dealer,
"An astonishing story, worth knowing and well told."
by Wall Street Journal,
"Egan fills his chronicle with bright turns of phrase and radiant descriptions, making both places and people come alive....A sweeping tale about two vanishing ways of life."
by USA Today,
"Egan writes this fascinating biography with a compelling and occasionally creative narrative that challenges the age-old ratio of a picture's worth to a thousand words. Egan somehow makes both more valuable."
by Christian Science Monitor,
"[Egan] artfully frames a stunning portrait of Edward Curtis that captures every patina of his glory, brilliance, and pathos. [Egan] writes with passion and grace."
by Star Tribune,
"The author gracefully transforms the past into vivid scenes that employ all five senses."
by Boston Globe,
"Egan brings liveliness and a wealth of detail to his biography of the legendary American photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis...a riveting biography of an American original."
by Los Angeles Times,
"Insightful and entertaining...Egan's excellent book stands as a fitting tribute to an American original who fought for a people with his camera and his art."
by Dallas Morning News,
"[A] captivating tribute to a treasured American and the treasures he created."
by Kirkus, starred review,
"Lucent prose illuminates a man obscured for years in history's shadows."
The story of Edward Curtis, a charming rogue with a grade school education who became the Annie Leibovitz of his time, and the creation of his masterwork, a photographic record of the entire North American Indian nation — a project that cost him his celebrity, his prosperity, and ultimately his life, but transformed Native history for the modern era when it was rediscovered in a Boston basement in the 1970s.
How a lone mans epic obsession led to one of Americas greatest cultural treasures: Prize-winning writer Timothy Egan tells the riveting, cinematic story behind the most famous photographs in Native American history — and the driven, brilliant man who made them.
Edward Curtis was dashing, charismatic, a passionate mountaineer, a famous photographer — the Annie Leibovitz of his time. And he was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his great idea: He would try to capture on film the Native American nation before it disappeared. At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, Egans book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis's iconic photographs, following him throughout Indian country from desert to rainforest as he struggled to document the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. Even with the backing of Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan, it took tremendous perseverance — six years alone to convince the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony. The undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. He would die penniless and unknown in Hollywood just a few years after publishing the last of his twenty volumes. But the charming rogue with the grade-school education had fulfilled his promise — his great adventure succeeded in creating one of America's most stunning cultural achievements.
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