Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Naomi Klein - Doppelganger: A trip into the mirror world

Naomi Klein came to prominence as a journalist and author during the anti-capitalist movement of the early 2000s. Her book No Logo almost becoming a bible for the movement itself! After that she made her mark as an author of explicitly anti-capitalist books about the environmental crisis. Shock Doctrine told the story of how capitalism uses disaster to maximise profits and drive forward neoliberalism. This Changes Everything was one of the first, mainstream, books to link capitalism and the climate crisis. Within this Klein was also an activist, speaking and organising, within movements. 

So it might surprise some to find out that Naomi Klein has a doppelganger, who now holds diametrically opposed beliefs. In 1990, Naomi Wolf published The Beauty Myth, a feminist study of beauty, capitalism and patriarchy. But today Wolf is mostly known for her contrary and right wing positions on everything from guns to coronavirus conspiracies. Formerly a feminist icon of the mainstream media, Wolf is now beloved of the right, including figures like Steve Bannon.

Klein opens by showing how the two Naomi's were commonly mistaken for each other. She gives a number of examples, some humerous and trival, the others deeply concerning and insulting, where she is mistaken for Naomi Wolf. There's much to be said about why this happens and its not just about the same forename - I suggest it is in part because there are so few female spokespersons in the media. But this aside, Klein explores what has happened to her doppleganger to take such a shocking and stunning trajectory. It involves, as the book's subtitle says, a trip to the "mirror world", a place where conspiracy, scapegoating and distorted pictures of reality dominant - and where the real cause of societies' problems - capitalism - is let off the hook.

Klein's books about capitalism, disaster and climate change are frightening. But I actually think that Doppelganger is truely scary and discomforting for leftwing activists to read. Because what it shows is how the failure of the left to relate to wider working class concerns in the United States has opened the door to some very reactionary people and even a figure like Naomi Wolf can become part of that. 

What is most illuminating is Klein's exploration of right-wing policies, and how she shows they get a hold precisely because they speak to real concerns and are often rooted in real problems. Take the question of vaccine conspiracy:
The words she [Wolf] was saying were essentially fantasy. But emotionally, to the many people now listening to her, they clearly felt true. And the reason they felt true is that we are indeed living through a revolution in surveillance tech, and state and corporate actors have indeed seized outrageous powers to monitor us, often in collaboration and coordination with one another. Moreover, as a culture, we have barely begun to reckon with the transformational nature of this shift.
It is not enough, Klein argues, to mock the right or laugh at the ignorance on display, one has to go further. And this requires building real movements that speak to, and address concerns, while tackling misinformation and errors. The rug must be pulled out from beneath the right. Klein describes the sort of massmovement that is needed, but points out it "does not yet exist", and "it is inside this vacuum that my doppelganger is currently wreaking havoc". Wolf, "not only validates those latent tech fears but also, along with her new partner Steve Bannon, has something progressives lack: a plan for what to do about it, or at least a facsimile of one".

Some might quibble about the nature of the movement that is needed. This is to miss the point. Klein describes being heavily involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign. I wouldn't agree with that strategy, but Klein is honest enough to acknowledge the limitations of a movement based on a specific election. The important thing is that she wants much more than that.

This, I think, really comes through when Klein writes about Palestine. She makes this a central part of the argument because it shows how the right is organising, and the particular trajectory of Wolf who broke from her Synagogue to oppose an attack by Israel on Palestine, bravely stood in solidarity with the victims, but then moved away to the right. Klein argues that it is on the question of Israel and Palestine "where so many forces we have encountered on this winding journey converge and collide."

Not least with the issue of antisemitism. Klein opens this discussion by relating how her mother blamed the confusion between her and Wolf on antisemitism - "They see you both as a type". There's no doubt this is true, but Klein doesn't keep this discussion in the realms of the relationship between her and her doppleganger. She uses it to explore how and why marginalised groups are oppressed and how they resist. Her discussion on what happened to Jewish people and how they responded is powerful (and incidently mirrors some of the discussion in a new book I reviewed here recently on The Radical Jewish Tradition). Klein ties this to more contemporary racism, antisemitism and rightwing ideas. QAnon, for instance, whose antisemitic arguements are "cursing and combining and morphing in our culture". 

Why is this important? Because it is in this "mirror world" where conspiracies "detract attention from the billionaires who fund the networks of misinformation and away from the economic policies - deregultation, privatisation ,austerity - that have stratgied wealth so cataclysmically in the neoliberal era." The mashing together of antisemitism, with a resurgent right, neoliberal economics and a left that is inadequate to the task has created a situation where the likes of Wolf can rapidly evolve into significant figures, abandoning principles and raising dangerous arguements.

What then is needed? Here I was excited that Klein looked back to a period when socialist politics was counterposed to right-wing movements and was powerful enough to win, at least temporarily. She looks at the Revolutionary era after World War One, and in particular the radical Jewish socialists of the next few decades that tried to find a way forward that took on antisemitism and created a new set of ideas to appeal to working class people. Among the figures and groups she mentions, Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg, the Bund, Walter Benjamin and so on, she identifies a set of ideas that rose and fell with the fortunes of the Russian Revolution. It was in the aftermath of this failure that Zionism became the only answer to the "Jewish Question" and embedded the idea that antisemitism could not be defeated by "getting at its roots" and instead by "holding a gun to its head." Building on this analogy Klein says:
Partitioning and performing and projecting are no longer working. The borders and walls don't protect us from rising temperatures or surging viruses or raging wars. And the walls around ourselves and our kids won't old, either. Because we are porous and connected, as so many doppelganger stories have attempted to teach us. So there has to be another way. Another portal, to another story of us.
One key figure in this is Abram Leon who wrote deeply on questions of socialist politics and antisemitism while in hiding from the Nazis and then died in a concentration camp. Leon is a major inspiration for Klein and she tells his story and his politics movingly. Developing Leon's ideas further she discusses how antisemitism is not an automatic set of ideas constantly existing in society, but rather it is a racism that rises and falls, can be understood, countered and stopped. It arises from a partiulcar set of politics, and needs another set of politics to defeat it. These are the ideas of the left, and particularly the Marxist left, that Klein argues remain so important.

As an example, Klein tells an interesting story from Canada. It's a story of two trucker convoys. One of outraged and angry drivers disgusted at the latest evidence of the genocide inflicted on the First Nations people by the Canadian state in the aftermath of the discovery of mass graves of indigenous people. The second was also angry - but this time in protest at lockdowns, vaccine passports and filled with patriotism and right wing politics. "One was progress, the other a white-lash." Klein makes the point however that "some truckers participated in both convoys". They were dopplegangers in them. The point is that there is not a comfortable binary, but there is also the potential to win people away from reaction and toward progress. But it takes work.

This story then is one where the left builds movements that can form alternative polls of attraction and can draw people in, who feel alienated, cut off, forgotten and who experience poverty, housing crisis, pay freezes and all the rest of neoliberal capital's impacts. In the process of building those movements and coalitions, we have the chance to break people from reaction. As Klein says, quoting John Berger, this is because protest and demonstration (and class struggle) "people come to realise that they are not merely individuals... but that they belong to a class. Belonging to that class ceases to imply a common fate and implies a common opportunity". 

This excellent book begins with a personal story - Klein's shock at having a "doppleganger" whose politics are moving rapidly away from hers. It evolves into an account of how capitalism has created the context, in the midst of multiple crises, for millions of people to be dragged into reactionary politics. Klein's exploration of these crises - from Palestine to the environment - demonstrates the need, and potential - for revolutionary politics that can win significant, and lasting, change. From the personal to the revolutionary. But, most importantly, this book is an appeal for activists to engage and fight to make that real, and not abandon those who are being sucked into a mirror world. It is, perhaps, Naomi Klein's greatest - and scariest - book.

Related Reviews

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Pekka Hämäläinen - Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power

In the introduction to this outstanding new history of the Lakota Native American people, Pekka Hämäläinen makes the point that the Lakota are often defined by the events of a single day - June 25 187 when Lakota Souix, Cheyenne and Arapaho forces destroyed Custer's command at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. But this is problematic because it tends to ignore the rich and varied history of the Lakota both before and after that war.

Using extensive Native American sources as well as contemporary White accounts, Hämäläinen explores the long history of the Lakota, beginning when they were an "obscure tribe of hunters and gatherers at the edge of a bustling new world", through the varied conflicts and changes that led to them becoming a power on the American plains. At each stage, the Lakota demonstrate a remarkable capacity for change and adaption. Because of the images of the "Indian Wars", and especially Little Big Horn, we tend to think of them as brilliant cavalry troops, but this was only one particular point. Before they got horses (which was surprisingly late compared to other indigenous tribes) they were limited in hunting and travelling. Their were more sedentary, and like other Native Americans, often farmed for some of their food.

But they were defined by their relationship to other tribes and the European colonists. Hämäläinen gives a real sense of how the colonial wars between France and England, and later America and the European powers that remained on the American confict, shaped Lakota history. In fact, war and disease was a driving force behind the shift that saw the Lakota move into the Plains to their west, driven by the Iroquois who reacted to devastation of their population by striking out westward to capture slaves. This shift opened up the Plains, and the Lakota became part of a burgeoning trading network that saw them, and other tribes, collecting furs and hides for sale to Europeans, in exchange for food, weapons and other materials. It was a significant transformation, as this passage from Hämäläinen indicates:

By the late 1840s almost all Lakotas had made the western plains their home, visiting the Mnisose [Missouri River] only peridodically to bring their robes to steamboat stops for downriver shipment. Only Two Kettles, a small oyáte of some five hundred people, remained attached to the river. They made quick forays nto the West, but did not enage in large-scale raiding, and were known as superior hunters and tactful traders who were 'extremely fond of getting well paid for their skins'. Their semi-permanent villages near Fort Pierre were the last substantial Lakota bridgehead on the Missouri, which had lost its centrality in the Lakota universe.

The reader gets a real sense of how changing the indigenous world was, and how much they had become attached to a global economic system of trade. This transformed Lakota ideas and their social organisation, and created real tensions within their society - not least about how to relate to European power. But there is also no doubt from Hämäläinen's history that the Lakota, and other tribes were part of that great game between the colonial powers - a military and economic force that one side or the other tried to use in turn, while it also fought hard for its own interests.

Lakota power is a phrase used frequently by Hämäläinen and it is worth reminding ourselves that the Lakota were at one point, a significant national power on the North American continent. They were able, on several occasions to stop westward colonialisation, and certainly won significant gains from the American government. Indeed when their representatives negotiated with the American government they did so very much as equals.

As Hämäläinen emphasises, the Lakota's war with the US "was a shattering experience, but it did not define them as a people or their place in history". His book celebrates these "superbly flexible people" fighting for their place in a world increasingly squeezed by genocidal settlement. He continues:

Perhaps most strikingly, they emerge as supreme warriors who routinely eschewed violence, relying on diplomacy, persuasion and sheer charm to secure what they needed - only to revert to naked force if necessary. When the overconfident Custer rode into the Bighorn vally on that June day, they had already faced a thousand imperial challenges. They knew exactly what to do with him.

This is why the Lakota had to be destroyed. The Little Bighorn was their greatest moment, but it was also the beginning of their defeat. US settler colonialism could no longer keep up the pretext of living together and finding space. The punishment was explicitly genocidal, as seen at Wounded Knee, where Hotchkiss guns annihilated hundreds of Lakota.

But this was not the end, and nor did it stop the resistance, even as it transformed it. Hämäläinen continues with the history of the Lakota people in the 20th century, marked by racism and extreme oppression and economic punishment, but also by resistance. From Wounded Knee and the American Indian Movement in the 1970s to the battles over the Dakota Pipeline, the struggle continues. Hämäläinen concludes that the Lakota will prevail - "They will always find a place in the world because they know how to be fully in it, adapting to its shape while remaking it, again and again, after their own image."

Pekka Hämäläinen is an outstanding history. It never robs the Lakota of their agency, placing them in the heart of their own history - casting them not as victims, but as part of a rapidly evolving historical situation that could have gone in any one of different ways. It is noteworthy that the author uses indigenous language and spelling wherever he can, and writes from the point of view of the Lakota themselves. If you've read, like I have, countless histories of the Little Bighorn battle, then Hämäläinen's account based on indigenous sources, frames things very differently. If I have one criticism it is that I don't think the author really understands the term "imperialism" and tends to throw it about as a catch all term to describe American expansionism. For anyone interested in resistance to settler colonialism, and how that shaped and transformed the land and people on the North American continent, this is a must read.

Related Reviews

Estes - Our History is the Future
Cronon - Changes in the Land

Cozzens - The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West
Tully - Crooked Deals and Broken Treaties
Philbrick - The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Seishi Yokomizo - Death on Gokumon Island

Seishi Yokomizo's Death on Gokumon Island is the second outing for his famous detective Kosuke Kindaichi (though oddly in the English translations its the fourth book published). Kosuke is returning from his military service during World War Two in the Japanese army when his friend Chimata Kito dies on the repatriation ship. Chimata entrusts Kosuke to return to bring the news to his wealthy family on Gokumon Island, and with his final breath warns Chimata that his sisters will be murdered unless Kindaichi can stop it.

Arriving on the island, the horrific news shocks the family, and the detective is quickly introduced to the complex social and economic relationships centred on the fishing industry of which the Kito's are heads. Rather fascinatingly there's an excellent explanation of the Labour Theory of Value among fishers here, as Kosuke learns how families like the Kito's get their wealth from other people's labour. Gokumon island itself is a strange place, linked to a long history of piracy, and isolated from the mainland. There's a repeated implication that everyone on the island is different, and strange things are expected.

One by one, the three women are murdered. Kosuke proves unable to stop the sequence, indeed at one point he's suspected of the crime. The bizarre murderes, a series of red herrings and the strange behaviour of many of the inhabitants make it tough for Kosuke to find the killer. But, it should be said, this is not a crime novel were readers will work it out for themselves. The clues aren't all there, and I felt it a little contrived.

Yokomizo was clearly building a brand with his second book. There are plenty of call backs to the first book, The Honjin Murders, and at least one recurring character. It gives the reader a comfortable reassurance, and while the book is not as strong there's still much here about Japanese society, the aftermath of World War Two and a fascinatingly complex series of crimes to solve. The dishevelled, scruffy and dandruff covered Kosuke Kindaichi is certainly a worthy detective to follow into all the sequels. 

Related Reviews

Yokomizo - The Honjin Murders
Yokomizo - The Inugami Curse

Donny Gluckstein & Janey Stone - The Radical Jewish Tradition: Revolutionaries, resistance fighters & firebrands

The introduction to Donny Gluckstein and Janey Stone's important new book locates the work exactly in contemporary debates. They make the point that there are two views of Jewish history, the "lachrymose" one (yes, I had to look it up too, it means 'sad or mournful') and one that celebrates the struggles and contributions of Jewish people to the fight for liberation and freedom. In the first, Gluckstein and Stoney argue, "Jews supposedly went to the gas chanbers like lambs to the slaughter", but it is the second that the authors are concerned with here. It is, they write,
an alternative view of modern Jewish history and an alternative solution to perpetual victimhood. We depict Jews not as victims, or a group apart, but as people who have repeatdly fought their oppression, and often in solidarity with other social groups.
The continue:
The lachrymose conception of Jewish history requires suppression of the stories of those partisans and revolutioanies, resistance fighters and firebrands because such stories suggest that Jews have it within their own power to respond to oppression and that others will in fact support them.
Why does this matter? I authors of The Radical Jewish Tradition must have begun writing their work long before the Israeli State began their current assault on Palestine. Nonetheless they write that the "lachrymose conception" of Jewish history is important to the Israeli state, because:
The persecution and expulsion of the existing local Palestininan population, the suppression of democracy in the interest of maintinain the state, the militarisation of society and the declaine of civil society because of the increasing domination of religious zealots - all these issues are subordinated to the idea that in no other way can Jews escape the historical existence of antisemitism and cease to be victims.
The above quotes come from the first two pages of the introduction, and the rest of the book can be see as refuting the arguements made by the Israeli state in this regard. The book is a refreshing and inspiring story of those Jewish radicals who fought antisemitism, racism, oppression and exploitation. Whose ideas and actions shaped the radical movements that we have today, and whose legacy remains important to everyone, not just Jews, who want to fight for a better world. 

Gluckstein and Storey's opening chapters look at what they call the "shaping of modern Jewry" showing how the pogroms and persecutions of the fedual and medieval periods fed into ideas and racism after the arrival of capitalism. The authors write:
The Jewish Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote that 'the family was a network stretching across countries and oceans... shifting between coutnries was a normal part of life'. This feature had once set Jews apart and reinforced their community ties. Now integration into many different countries created a new relationship. Radical Jews brought a sense of living class internationalism to those they interacted with at a local level.
Jewish people moved around the world - to escape persecution or to find new lives for themselves - and when they arrived they fitted into a capitalist world that integrated racism and exploitation. This forced the majority of Jews to become part of the anti-capitalist resistance, and in turn begged the question of how they related to non-Jewish activists, and how non-Jewish workers, trade unionists and radicals related to them. The authors discuss what happened by looking at some key moments in world, and Jewish, history - life under the Tsarist regime and the Russian Revolution, the life of East European Jews in Poland, the experience of working class struggle over jobs, wages and against fascism in East London as well as similar struggles in the United States. Two chapters look at the struggles of Jews and non-Jews in Germany in the run up to the Nazi victory and resistance to the the Holocaust. These two are perhaps the most important, directly challenging the idea that Jewish people were "meek" in the face of the Nazis, and demonstrating the exact opposite. Writing about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943, the authors say:
Defiance pre-dated the advent of the ghetto. We saw how, during the 1930s, the fight against the rising ride of antisemitism had involved Jews and non-Jews in mass struggle. This occurred in many cities and towns throughout Poland but was centred on Warsaw. The alliances that were foged at that time continued through the Nazi occupation and underlay much of the network of help and support that the ghetto inhabitants received. The population who rose up in April 1943 had been mobilising on the streets only a few years earlier in 1938. The memory must still have been there.
In the last two chapters the authors' return to the question of Palestine. Here they make the point that experience of the Holocaust has meant that many of those who fought for radical solutions to antisemitism, became part of a state that systemtically oppressed other groups in the Middle East. Left Zionism in particular "spread ideological confusion" becoming a justification for further horror:
It was a tragedy that those once inspired by the ideas of the left could become part to the forcible displacement of the Palestinian majority from their homes and country. This was the final nail in the coffin of the remarkable phenomenon of mass Jewish radicalism.
Can this tradition be rescued? The authors suggest that yes, it can. But that requires the building of mass movements of solidarity that work on the common interest of working people to fight oppression and exploitation. They say:
We have shown who historically has engaged in the fight against antisemitism. Based in the working class it was left-wing Jews and their non-Jewish comrades who defended the Jewish community against pogroms and won emancipation in Russia. The Revolution created the opportunity on an international scale to end capitalism and its divide and rule policies which bring misery to the oppressed everywhere... Despite attempts to ignore, or deny it, the progressive role of the left, and the working -class basis for it, endures.
Antisemitism, like other forms of racism and oppression benefits no-one but the ruling class. The rich tradition of Jewish radical theory and activism will inspire us to renew and rebuild those links. It is this that can free the oppressed everywhere and build a world of equality and diversity. Donny Gluckstein and Janey Stone's book is a major contribution to this fight. I urge everyone to read it.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Clark C. Spence - Montana: A History

The States and the Nation series was a collection of books commissioned to mark the bicentennial of the United States. There were 51 in total, one for each state plus one for the District of Columbia. They were intended to be a lasting account of the states, but not comprehensive, rather a "summing up" of the history. Clark C. Spence's account of Monata is very much a summing up. Readers will find a decent overview of events - from the first furtrappers and settlers, through the era of homesteading and ranching, on to the period of mining and the modern day - up to the bicentennial at least.

But it is very much a "summing up", and the tone of the book (and indeed it's content) is very much that of its time. For instance, there is nothing here about the pre-state history. The book begins with Lewis and Clark's expedition. While they aren't depicted as entering into an empty land, the Native American societies that had existed in this part of North America for thousands of years are given no history at all. Indeed, this undermines any real attempt to understand what happened next as US settler colonialism exploited and destroyed the indigenous population and natural resources.

The book is dated in other ways. Consider this line on the Lewis and Clark expedition about the Native American woman who travelled with them: "Every schoolgirl thrills to the name of Sacagawea, the Shoshone lass, a mere slip of a girl of seventeen who carried her infant son, Pomp, on her back to the Pacific and return, and who made real contributions, though often her role is unduly magnified." I suppose we should be grateful that Spence even named this woman, before dismissing her as being of real interest only to schoolgirls. Doubly patronising.

The book is on stronger ground with later events. The reader gets a real sense of Montana as a place exploited for its resources, land and beauty, shaped by a series of changing economic interests - firstly the fur trade, then ranching and homesteading and finally mineral extraction. While these changing economic circumstances are summarised well, the consequences for people - indigenous and white - are often all to brief. There is a chapter on "Control of the Indians" gives a sense of the way that racist government policies destroyed entire peoples but it is inadequate. The chapter's title perhaps gives a clue to the approach taken. The author's desire to appear neutral undermines any attempt to draw conclusions. Notably The Battle of the Little Big Horn - Montana's seminal moment in the Indian Wars, only gets a brief sentence. There is a slightly longer treatment for the trade unionists, socialists and miners of Montana, especially during the Copper Wars and the First World War when figures like Frank Little made brave radical stands against war and exploitation. 

Modern readers will perhaps find the description of the arc of history, most interesting. Particuarly the way that agriculture and mining shaped the wider politics of the state. The influence of the mining capitalists on state politics is fascinting, as is the story of the 20th century which saw enormous poverty and hunger through the state. Tourists will be interested to read how much of the infrastructure (and indeed landscape) of the state park system came out of unemployment projects in the 1930s which built bridges and roads and planted thousands of trees. But the succession of politicians described from the post-WWII period is tiresome for a modern reader, though no doubt essential in 1978. 

All in all this is very much a summary, and a dated one. Readers looking for a comprehensive and modern history of Montana will inevitably find this because of the lack of alternatives. We'll have to find more info elsewhere - especially because the all to brief accounts and references hint at some fascinating detail.

Related Reviews

Carlisle - Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America
Lause - The Great Cowboy Strike: Bullets, Ballots & Class Conflicts in the American West
Hunter - Glencoe and the Indians
St. Clair & Frank - The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink

Monday, March 11, 2024

A.B. Guthrie, Jr - The Big Sky

The Big Sky is part of a loose trilogy of books that A.B.Guthrie wrote about the opening up of the American West by European colonists and descendents. It follows the adventures of Boone Caudill, who runs away from his violent and abusive father at the age of 17 and makes his way to the frontier where he becomes a trapper. Attracted by the romaticism and the adventure, Caudill goes through a baptism of fire as he quickly loses prized possessions to a thief and is let down by the law, at the same time as meeting the man, Jim Deakins, who would become his best friend.

The book is episodic, we next hear of Boone on a trip upstream to get furs and return a Native American girl, Teal Eye, to her tribe. A few brief sentences fill in the gaps between these chapters, allowing Guthrie to skip time and space, and avoid tedious stories of travelling. It makes the novel a little discombulating, but things hold together. Boone arrives on the frontier at a moment of change. The bison and beaver are becoming hard to find, the Native Americans are restless with the encroaching hunters and pressure is on from more permanent colonists who want to farm, not to hunt in the landscape.

Boone's teacher in this is the much more experienced Dick Summers, who leaves to take up farming in the East. Summers is a key character in one of the other books in the trilogy, widely travelled, experienced and hopelessly in love with the wild landscape. Is a poignant moment as he takes a last look around before heading back East to farm. Boone follows this pattern, becoming a loner, unable to cope with other people and visiting civilisation once a year to trade, drink and buy sex. His despair at the changing landscape is only matched by what his friends see as his desperate search for Teal Eye, last having seen her as a girl and wanting to make her his wife.

Here is one of the parts of the book that really jarred with me (the other is the repeated use of the N word). Boone is in love with Teal Eye, and the book sets this up from the moment he sets eyes on her. She's repeatedly described as a beautiful eleven or twelve year old earlier in Boone's life. By the time he finds her later, she is a woman. But Boone's obsession is thus deeply unpleasant and uncomfortable for the reader. Women in The Big Sky are very much cardboard cutouts, to be used by men for sex, or making home. This is exemplified by his relationship with Teal Eye, who as his wife (Boone lives with the Native American tribe) barely has anything to do other than cook and sleep with him. Later Boone abandons her, and rapes another (European) woman when he briefly returns home. In fact, by buying his marriage to Teal Eye - we're in no doubt that women are a commodity to Boone.

I have no doubt that Guthrie was trying to portray a particular moment in time, and a set of attitudes towards women and Native Americans. But the result is actually to remove the humanity of both Native Americans and most of the women (white and indigenous). A better writer could have told the same story, and made it much more rounded. I just got the impression Guthrie didn't care - he was more interested in the landscape.

There are some interesting set pieces. The chapters when Boone and Jim, and some travelling companions who want to open up a faster way to the West over the mountains to make more money, are trapped through the winter are well done. They give a sense of the horror and danger at the frontier.

But Boone for all the description of frontier life, hunting and the racous nature of the White outposts in Native American land, this rests on brutal violence and mass death. The Big Sky gives us a sense of some of this, but it wasn't the great classic I was expecting.