500 NATIONS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS. Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. Alfred A Knopf, NY: 1994. 468 pages, oversize, maps., illustrations, source notes, index, picture sourcenotes. $35 paperback0-679-42930-1.
The genesis of this book was an 8-hour CBS TV documentary, produced by Kevin Costner and others. Considerable research was done to locate old pictures, engravings, photos and museum-poiece Native artworks. Unlike the Turner book there was no focus on the works of Indian artists, no works of art by modern native fine artists are used and none were commissioned for the project. Natives were involved in the project only as subjects of video interviews. The book contains little marginalia -- a mugshot, and a short quote -- from those (almost all men) involved. Indeed, Native women do not exist in this book.
Josephy followed the video script in writing this book. The writing is smoothly professional and wholly lifeless and uninspired. It is interesting to compare the text with his The Indian Heritage of America published in 1968. The earlier text is livelier, clearer, better organized, more interesting to read, and the whole panorama makes more sense. This current book is peppered by illustrations Most of which only remotely relate to the accomnpanying text, unlike the Turner book). Josephy's 1968 hardcover history had far fewer and those were gathered in a few sections, rather than laid out elaborately on each page.
On the whole, 500 Nations is an Ok illustrated history, with most of its illustrations being paintings and engravings by white men, or Native museum pi3ces divorced from the culture and unrelated to the text. It is quite beautiful, but the Turner history is far better both in organization, in writing, and in its determined attempt to find and use artwork by Native artists -- not only cultural museum pieces but fine arts paintings by Native artists of the 20th century. In the Turner book, all the pcitures genuinely relate to the text. Some were commissioned from native artists specifically for the Turner project. Native writers and consultants were thoroughly involved at many stages; they were not merely interview subjects.
The square shape of this thick book is a design mistake. It is difficult to hold and read, more so than oversized rectangles. If a school (or individual) has enough money to purchase both this and the Turner book,, fine, but if there is enough for only one of this type, get the Turner. A CDROM has been made (from the video foir both PC's and Macs.. See review in AV-section. Reviewed by Paula Giese
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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: Monday, October 28, 1996 - 4:06:52 AM