Read Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth A. Fenn Online


Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for HistoryEncounters 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 wereWinner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for HistoryEncounters 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 these Native American people 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....

Title : Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780374535117
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 480 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People Reviews

  • Teri
    2019-04-08 19:16

    Encounters at the Heart of the World is a detailed history of the Mandan people from the Missouri river valley area of North Dakota. This is a tribe that was once a large, thriving people that over time was nearly decimated. They battled natural elements, disease and rodents brought by European traders, and battled area tribes, losing 90% or so of their population. Today they are remembered and their descendants have begun to reignite the customs and ceremonies once celebrated by the Mandan people.Very interesting look into a tribe that I had not previously heard (or remembered) of. Fenn does an excellent job of providing details about everyday life and the issues the Mandan faced.

  • Katy
    2019-04-20 15:28

    This is an excellent book and Fenn's research is amazing. The writing (or perhaps jus the subject matter) can be uneven at times, and the ending seems a bit rushed. -- but with the smallpox epidemic I can see why. Worthy of its Pulitzer Prize

  • Dan
    2019-04-14 15:17

    Encounters in the Heart of the New World covers the known history of the Mandan tribe from first European contact until the mid 19th century. The Mandan lived in villages comprised of impressive earth lodges in present day North Dakota along tributaries of the upper Missouri. They are believed to be distantly related to the Sioux tribes or at least the roots of their language suggest so. Tragically the Mandan people were decimated by 1837 (from a population of several thousand to only 100 people) due to drought and an outbreak of smallpox. Their population had been dwindling but the tragic events of 1837 were the coup de grace. Since so few Mandan survived most of the known history is from journals of fur trappers, many explorers such as David Thompson and Lewis and Clark and George Catlin the Indian ethnographer. The Mandan were traders. Although they had their share of conflicts with the Arikara there were no battles with the U.S. military. The region was not even settled by Europeans until many decades after the Mandan population and their tragic decline. I would consider this book to be good scholarship but a dry read. Very few personal stories are told since the emphasis is on the Mandan tribe and to a lesser extent the Arikara and Hidatsa. The author made very little effort to describe the natural landscape or the flora and fauna of the region other than to relay instances of the very cold winters and the notable droughts that occurred. This lack of description is a pet peeve of mine with some history books. When describing a people I want to understand their surrounding environment and how they interacted with it and at a minimum be able to visualize it. I visited the Knife River National Historic Site in 2017. I found the exhibits on the Mandan and Hidatsa at the visitors center and the ranger talks to be more informative than this book. With that said, this book did methodically cover the chronology of the Mandan in this 200 years of recorded history and does contribute to the cannon of Native American history.

  • Julia Hendon
    2019-04-04 13:29

    An impressive feat of research and writing that makes the most of a scattered and diverse set of sources to produce a fascinating history of the Mandan people through the early 1800s. Renowned throughout the Missouri River watershed as traders and farmers, host to Lewis and Clark, and willing to extend cordial relations to all comers as long as they kept the peace, the Mandan were powerful players in the complex social framework of the region. Fenn emphasizes how they saw themselves as at the center of their world, not on a remote frontier as perceived by the French. British, and Americans. She works hard to bring out the Mandan perspective as they tried to come to terms with the changing world around them.

  • Chris
    2019-04-02 20:27

    This is one of those books where you understand why it won a prize.Odds are you've heard of the Mandan people, even if you are not aware of them. Lewis and Clark met them; it's where Sacajawea and her husband joined the group.Wein's book is a, as she calls it, a mosaic. It is not a linear history, but more of a cultural history. It's fascinating and the parts about the Native Americans and disease are particularly hard to read. The book is not only about the interactions between various Native American groups but also about first encounters. If you have read the works of Mann, check this out.

  • Keith
    2019-04-22 21:18

    Packed full of information, to the point that it is probably of little interest to the general reader. Still, a valuable window into the lives of the western Indians. Perhaps this could be read in conjunction with the much more engaging Empire of the Summer Moon, about the very different but partially contemporaneous Comanches.

  • Blair
    2019-04-17 14:11

    History is clearly written by the victors, and this lesson was clear even before this book was written - for how many of us had heard of the Mandans this great native tribe that was the engine of agriculture and commerce at the centre of North America? We know of the Sioux, Apache, Blackfoot and Crow - largely through many "Westerns" (movies) - but because the Mandan were largely farmers and traders, and their lives was not "sexy", they never make it to the "big screen" and hence into our imaginations.That said, Elizabeth Fenn brillantly weaves the remaining threads of Mandan history to tell a story of the great culture that played a Central role in North America's history. I was impressed with their society and the way they bought and sold everything from physical goods to know-how and intellectual property. They were big time capitalists! Fenn's work is clearly worth of the awards it is now receiving. Finally and as a portent to all of us, the Mandans were great, but ultimately overcome by "Guns, germs and steel" to quote the title of Jared Diamond's great book. Neigbouring tribes with horses and Western weapons put pressure on their lifestyle, germs (Smallpox, Wooping cough, Cholera and pests (rats) ultimately wiped out 90% of their people, and ultimately the steel of the West caused their anihilation. This book is a tragic story and an important lesson for us all. Our civilization is strong, but unless we can adapt to a changing world include climate challenges and clashes of civilizations, we too will be in trouble.

  • Tom
    2019-04-14 19:19

    Having lived in rural Kansas, I like reading books about the plains Indians. This book was about the Mandans who lived in South Dakota, and their rituals were very similar to other tribes of the midwest. Fenn gives a good description of the history of the Mandans, and their tragic demise with the encroachment of the white race.

  • Kate
    2019-03-26 20:31

    Yes, it won the 2015 Pulitzer for history and it paints a valuable anthropological picture of the Mandans, but it was much too long and included too much detail in the chronological telling. Using a thematic approach would have made the book much more readable.

  • Reid Holkesvik
    2019-04-10 14:08

    I live in South Dakota and my uncle grew up in Bismarck ND and did amateur archaeology there at Mandan sites. I never really new what the story of the Mandans was, who they were, how they came to help Lewis and Clark, and how they pretty much disappeared from history within a few decades. This book takes a mountain, well, a large hill, of scattered historical documents and sources and has turned it into clear narrative which tells what happened. Along the way we meet successful and clever Mandans, Europeans a long way from home either for trade (which always made sense to the Mandans) or just to see and document in words and pictures a fascinating and rapidly changing world. How things changed, what caused that change, from shifting trade patterns to measles, whooping cough and smallpox to Norway rats. Advantages of raiding nomadic tribes like the Lakota, who, for example, didn't have to worry about rats because they had no food stores, are shown without a political or moral agenda. For the most part, this is not a story of good versus evil, noble savage versus corrupting whites, but it explains in a convincing way why things changed so quickly after centuries of relative stability. I learned a lot, and highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about this time.

  • Roger
    2019-04-12 16:10

    I gave this book three stars because I did learn some things about the Mandan, but overall I found the book too Eurocentric and a weak attempt at truly understanding the Mandan. It was a book about the Mandan culture through a European lens of diseases and epidemics and needed more of a Native American view. There was too much focus on the author’s background of writing about smallpox epidemics in America and it carried over far too much in this book. Overall the book lacked continuity and needed more focus on the oral history of the Mandan (if it exists). I think that if the reader has a background in Native American cultures this book will add pieces to ones knowledge, but if you don't have this background try another book because you will be frustrated (if you want to understand the Mandan culture.)

  • Maggie Reed
    2019-04-06 21:14

    Believe it or not, this is another book that is overfilled with footnotes. Still, it was fantastic research on the Mandans,Hidatsas, Arikaras, Yankton Sioux, and a little bit on the Crees, Blackfeet, Crow and a few others. I learned a great deal about the northern end of the Louisiana Purchase, its history before French "ownership", and the eventual acquisition by the US. You just have to read it. It's not hard to read, and I'd be writing another book just based on my description. :) Elizabeth did it much better than I!

  • David
    2019-04-19 16:28

    An interesting and deeply sad bit of history and some impressive research, though I was put off by the structure--almost every page is a new section--and the author's insertion of her somewhat dull travels. (Example: in one two-page section she bikes down a road, and at the end somebody tells her she passed a bison jump without realizing it. She thinks about going back, but doesn't.) I'm surprised this won a Pulitzer, but then again I'm not qualified to judge what academic contribution it may have made.

  • Diogenes
    2019-04-20 18:03

    In my e-book Oyster version, the story itself ends at the 60% mark. There are 195 digital pages of end notes. Remarkable. A superb work of true scholarship. Little wonder Dr. Fenn earned a Pulitzer this year (2015).

  • Jo Stafford
    2019-03-25 20:29

    I first read about the Mandan people in a book about Lewis and Clark and I wanted to learn more about them. Fenn's engrossing book fit the bill perfectly for me. It's well-structured, meticulously researched, written in an accessible and lively style, lavishly illustrated, and very informative.

  • Aaron
    2019-04-06 18:19

    I was most impressed with Elizabeth Fenn's straightforward, objective telling of this history. In every category, from spiritual to militarial to cultural, Fenn treated the views and actions with respect and told them unbiasedly. I rarely felt she was inputting her own opinion/view into the matter, and that is how a historical author should write. I want to know what happened, not how you view what happened. After giving some statement, she did not follow it up with a comma and then a short snide or supercillious remark (as many authors are wont to do). This was the facet of Encounters at the Heart of the World that I was most pleased about.Also, I believe Elizabeth did a wonderful job piecing together the history of the Mandan people. It must have been a difficult task as the primary sources are scant, hard to come by, and difficult to interpret. Add to that that when sources do exist from a trader or explorer they have a nasty habit of exaggerating, ommitting, or glossing over many of the details. Thus, it was good work on Fenn's part to vet and piece together the sources.The demise of the Mandan people was in many ways sudden and of course very sad. They had been a mainstay of the upper Missouri region for hundreds of years until they were ultimately conquered by, not by another tribe, not by invading Europeans, they were not even driven out of their homelands by the encroaching spread of America, but they were conquered by disease, namely smallpox. They survived one epidemic of smallpox in 1781, which while it killed many Mandans, they were able to recuperate and regain strength. Over the next 40 years they were beset by other new and foreign diseases such as whooping cough and cholera. But then in the early 1830s they were hit by another wave of smallpox which killed an estimated 7/8ths of the Mandan people. It was a shockingly swift and heartbreaking decimation of the Mandans. In just one year they were reduced to a shadow of their former self, no longer large enough to even occupy their own villages but rather they had to ally themselves with the Arikaras and live in a village with them. On last note, it was fun to read this book as the homeland of the Mandan people is almost literally in my backyard. It was neat to read about places close by and familar to me in North Dakota.

  • Sherry
    2019-04-02 18:29

    What a loss it is to the world that the Mandan were brought so low. They were a great people. It makes me glad to know that present-day Mandans carry on the traditions to the best of their ability. This book made me cry.

  • Deb
    2019-04-16 21:20

    SOOO interesting. I am convinced that not many of us know or understand the history of American Indians before European arrival. The story of the Mandans was completely fascinating.... so much I did not know: the Mandans were the corn agriculturists and they traded for most of their meat from the nomad tribes that were the hunters. Serious and planned trading! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the trading among American Indians! We tend to not use our recognized leadership and business adjectives (trustworthy, determined, creative, influential, charismatic, successful, bullish) for the American Indian...but they could have actually taught the Europeans about trading and the nuances of 'making the deal.' Also, the northern plains Indians regularly traded for items from the southwest...again, the trading was extensive.Of course, I knew about the effects of European diseases, but I did not realize the effect of the rat that came with the steamboats; rats "obliterated the horticultural bounty that had created stability for the Mandans for centuries." The effect of European traders on the established Indian patterns that had existed for centuries was profound...especially the negative aspects of competition it engendered. One effect was vastly more warring among the tribes.Also, the steam engine severely changed life for the Mandans because the traders could easily by-pass their villages and move on to the US established trading forts. And, the ships brought new diseases, cholera and smallpox. Everything was forever changed.This book keeps just the right pace to take the reader through the complete transition from the successful centuries of the Mandan people to domination by the Europeans. Fenn, the author, is a great writer!

  • Alicia
    2019-04-24 18:08

    Fantastic book. The writing was great. The maps, pictures, and art were a great addition to the history of the Mandan. I wish she would have continued to the 21st Century the way she developed the years prior, however, I am sure that it is difficult after the tribe was nearly wiped off the face of this earth by smallpox virus brought by a riverboat... Elizabeth Fenn did a wonderful job writing this book. There are book marks all over my book that I have enjoyed sharing. The other night as my husband and I were sharing some of our produce with our neighbors and taking a look at the rather large pumpkin we have growing. Our neighbor asked if we were singing to our garden. While I thought this a little off, I responded with, yeah maybe, my husband is always roaming around singing. But after reading this book, I understand as my neighbor is from the three affiliated tribes and carries the tradition of knowing his ancestors sang to their crops to help them grow. :)

  • Susan
    2019-04-10 14:26

    The Mandans were a culturally sophisticated tribe with a social structure organized around agriculture. Since their homeland was in North Dakota, they were isolated from colonialism longer that many of the plains tribes. The book is very well researched but has gaps, making a reader wish that the sources included fieldnotes from some 19th century ethnographer. I did appreciate the inclusion of the author’s experience of the Mandan territory. The book is also a caution about the process of data interpretation. The author emphasizes the power of women using words such as “control” and “domain.” The data, however, clearly reveal that all the tribe’s manual labor was relegated to women. For individual women, it is likely that drudgery rather than power was the norm.

  •  wade
    2019-04-09 14:07

    A detailed and well researched study on the Mandan native American tribe who once thrived in what today is South Dakota. This book graphically portrays the typical struggle that many tribes had to go through once they made contact with European white men. At first there is mutual optimism that these groups will both benefit - especially due to trade. There is much unique data the author unearths regarding tribal customs including ceremonies many involving a great degree of sexual content. Although this is a minor tribe among hundreds it is blueprint for what happened to native Americans post European contact.

  • Amy
    2019-04-24 16:28

    Dr. Fenn did a wonderful job covering the daily life and culture of the Mandan--clothing, spiritual life, agriculture, etc. This was a well-written history for the most part, though her occasional intrusions of her experiences while researching struck me as odd and there were a few redundancies late in the book. Overall it is an excellent book for those who are interested in American Indian history and want to know how one tribe lived and thrived for hundreds of years before white contact decimated their population. Thankfully, smallpox did not have the final say and the book ends on an emotional episode in modern Mandan history.

  • Kevin
    2019-04-16 16:23

    Living and working in the Dakotas, I developed an interest in Native America culture on the Great Plains. This is a nice overview of North Dakota's Mandan people, one of the few agricultural tribes on the plains. This book covers their history before, during, and after the westward expansion of European settlement. Not as comprehensive as I wanted it to be but well researched. Because of the combination of no written history and waves upon waves of smallpox decimating their population, thus effecting their ability to efficiently carry on oral traditions, a lot of their story is gone. That being said, an interesting read (but with gaps).

  • Maryclaire Zampogna
    2019-03-30 15:16

    This is a very informative book for the history lovers, on the lives of the Mandan Indians of North Dakota. The author describes the life styles, their homes and their food and the importance of each, to the future people coming west. Lewis and Clark and other explores from Canada spent time with the Indians learning their ways and customs. The author explores how whooping cough, small pox and sexually transmitted diseases spread through to the Mandan and others in the Plains along with blankets and trade items.

  • Andra Watkins
    2019-04-09 20:29

    3.5 of 5 starsI wanted to like this book more than I did. I gave it 4 stars because the author did extensive research, trekked through some hostile country on a bicycle, and bonded with the Mandan people. While she tried to recreate them, there's so much we can't know. It's the juncture where history becomes supposition and fantasy, and it frustrates me to see historians make leaps when they can't dig up concrete evidence to support their stories. Fenn worked to connect the dots, and for that I applaud her.

  • Andrew
    2019-03-26 20:27

    This is a book I never would have picked up, had it not won a Pulitzer Prize. Having said that, though, I must say that I really enjoyed this book, as it described a people, a culture, and a world I knew virtually nothing about. Fenn's writing is very good, and her perspective is multifaceted as she traces the long, slow, decline of the Mandan people of North Dakota. She describes a tragedy that unfolds in slow motion as we read about daily life in central North Dakota in the 17th and 18th centuries. A fascinating story of a resilient people.

  • Bryan
    2019-03-31 13:27

    A fascinating and unvarnished look at the Mandans and related tribes in North and South Dakota. Fenn has done meticulous research for this book, and although sometimes the information content is a bit dense, it is still quite an enjoyable read. It is also a sad book, as the Mandans are one of the tribes that were nearly decimated from a combination of new diseases, small pox being the most prominent, but also including whooping cough, measles and cholera. By the middle of the 19th century they were a straggling band of survivors living in a single village.

  • Ivan
    2019-03-29 20:14

    FIRST LINE REVIEW: "The climate of North Dakota hardly ranks among North America's most hospitable." Oh, I know how true that is! But despite the climate, this fascinating book chronicles the history of one of the most hospitable of all Native American tribes...the Mandans. I knew nothing about them prior to reading this recent Pulitizer winner, but I'm so glad that I now better understand this "lost" people. Brilliantly researched and lovingly told, this is an important book about our first Americans.

  • Alberto Lucini
    2019-04-24 16:09

    This is more of a research paper than a story. It is excellent for those looking to conduct detailed studies of native Americans. Otherwise it is too laborious. The story line also seems to jump around and is hard to follow. The book could be condensed to half its length to be more readable. Other then their sexual culture and rituals, I didn't find the Mandans to be that interesting. They seem to be on the periphery of other, more interesting historical occurrences. The book is rather forgettable. I wouldn't recommend it.

  • Claudia Mundell
    2019-04-05 16:12

    This was an excellent book full of research and a mountain of information. I could not soak it all up in one reading. I had some mistaken ideas of the Mandan people and this book set me straight somewhat but also gave rise to more questions. They were hospitable people who greeted Lewis and Clark...they suffered tragically from the small pox. Read this to not just learn of the Mandans but for an overview of how people live, move, change relationships with other groups, alter the earth by their existence, their decisions, their actions.