Sacagawea's Nickname cover
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Publication date:
May 15, 2004
New York Review Books

Now in paperback

What was achieved and destroyed, what was made up and forgotten in the American West as the continent was mapped, the natives were displaced, and exploits were transformed into legends? In this acclaimed collection, Larry McMurtry profiles explorers and martyrs, hucksters and scholars—figures in the West’s enduring yet ever-shifting mixture of myth and reality.

In these twelve pieces, McMurtry explores John Wesley Powell’s journey on the Colorado, the dispossession of the Five Civilized Tribes, the fascination the Zuni held over a parade of unscrupulous anthropologists, and—in the bicentennial of their journey —the journals of Lewis and Clark, “our only really American epic.”


McMurtry doesn’t debunk the mythic West; he honors it. This is a profound and frequently funny book.— The New Yorker

In this enthralling collection of essays, all originally published in The New York Review of Books, McMurtry touches on a broad variety of topics. With both compassion and brilliant critical insight, he illustrates how the best intentions of “friends of the Indians” promoted disastrous policies in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. This treasure will inform and stir the emotions of both Western enthusiasts and general readers.— Booklist

Sacagawea’s Nickname reminds us of McMurtry’s considerable strengths as a prose writer: sharp and often very funny powers of observation, a provocative presentation of self that is alternately self-deprecating and arrogant, and most of all, a prodigious bookman’s belief in the spell of the written word that emanates off every page….He comes across in these pages as fully engaged and invigorated.— The Texas Observer

This volume will appeal to a wide range of Western enthusiasts and those interested in good literature, whatever the region. McMurtry’s insights are always penetrating, but his tribute to the poet-novelist Janet Lewis deserves careful reading. He studies her as an author over time and lays bare the unflinching honesty and subtlety he brought to both her poetry and her fiction and the tragic themes she explored. Sacagawea’s Nickname is provocative in some parts, humorous in others, but always rewarding concerning those writers who have helped to shape our views of a region central to America’s definition of itself.— Great Plains Quarterly