I read S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon as part of a book club. The titular empire in this work of history is Comanche empire. Gwynne says it was the Comanches that determined when the West opened up to white settlers. For decades and decades, no one could get around them.
About half-way through our club meeting, someone asked a question that’s good to ask about any book: What is this book about?
Empire’s cover features Comanche leader Quanah Parker, and Parker’s name is in the book’s subtitle, but the book is not really about him. He’s kind of like the Gorbachev of the Comanches Empire – he was there at the end. To me, that’s what this book is about: The end of things.
The end of buffalo, the end of open spaces, the end of many ways of life, the end of failed nations (several First Nations, The Republic of Texas, The Confederate States of America, etc.), the end of the dreams of a lot of people.
If we buy into Neil Postman’s technopoly idea, then in our culture (as a whole) we see newer as better. We’re compelled to go with what’s new. Things are always beginning. It’s our manifest destiny; it’s progress. I think Gwynne’s book reminds us that things have to end if we’re to ever have beginnings, and this book bears witness to that.
A lot of despicable things happen in this book, but somehow I found it hard to put down. It was a compelling read. And, like many history books, a reminder that what seems commonplace to us now may seem despicable and/or unforgivable in the (near) future.