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Selling Your Father's Bones: The Epic Fate of the American West [Hardcover]

Brian Schofield
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 July 2008
Part historical narrative, part travelogue through the wilds of the West and part environmental polemic, 'Selling Your Father's Bones' is a thrilling journey through the history and wilderness of the stunning area of landscape that is Continental USA. In the summer of 1877, around seven hundred members of the Nez Perce Native American tribe set out on one of the most remarkable journeys in the history of the American West, a 1,700-mile exodus through the mountains, forests, badlands and prairies of modern-day Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. They had been forced from their homes by the great wave of settlement that crashed over the West as the American nation was born. Led by their charismatic chiefs, the Nez Perce used their unerring knowledge of the landscapes they passed through to survive six battles and many more skirmishes with the pursuing United States Army, as they raced, with women, children and village elders in their care, towards the safety of the Canadian border.But all Chief Joseph, the young pastoral leader of the exodus, wanted was to return home - to his beloved Wallowa valley, which his dying father had ordered him never to abandon: 'Never sell the bones of your father and your mother. ' Now, Brian Schofield retraces the steps of that epic exodus, to tell the full dramatic story of the Nez Perce's fight for survival - and to examine the forces that drove them to take flight. The white settlement of the West had been largely motivated by patriotic fervour and religious zeal, a faith that the American continent had been laid out by God to fuel the creation of a mighty empire. But as he travels through the lands that the Nez Perce knew so well, Schofield reveals that the great project of the Western Empire has gone badly awry, as the mythology of the settlers opened the door to ecological vandalism, unthinking corporations and negligent leadership, which have lest scarred landscapes, battered communities and toxic environments.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress (7 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007242921
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007242924
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 15 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,075,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brian Schofield's travel writing and journalism have appeared in The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, GQ, The New Statesman and Condé Nast Traveller. In 2003 he won the Visit USA award for best British travel writer covering North America. His first book, Selling Your Father's Bones, was published in Britain, France and the USA, and was shortlisted for the 2008 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for the best work of literature by a United Kingdom or Commonwealth author under thirty-five. He teaches History and English at Hurstpierpoint College, Sussex, and lives with his wife, Harriet, and their two sons, Theo and Thomas.

Praise for Brian Schofield's writing:

'His research has a modern, passionate eye for personal stories,' Bronwen Maddox, THE TIMES BOOKS OF THE YEAR

'He listens carefully to Native voices and emphasises their resilience then and now,' THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

'A quiet fury burns through his careful prose,' Giles Whitell, THE TIMES

Product Description


‘Brian Schofield’s heart-rending account is interwoven with contemporary scenes from his researches, in a second-hand van, in the hardscrabble ex-lumber towns of 21st-century Idaho. A quiet fury burns through his careful prose, not least in his exquisite footnotes.’ The Times

‘Schofield’s book, which is admirably ambitious in scope, could well turn out to be a classic.’ Geographical Magazine

‘Schofield…listens respectfully to Native voices and emphasizes their resilience then and now.’ TLS

The notion of homeland is powerfully extended throughout this painstakingly researched book, with it's many possible meanings explored for those who were displaced and those who displaced them.' Claire Coughlan


`Schofield...listens respectfully to Native voices and emphasizes their resilience then and now.' --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How the west was stolen and then some 8 Aug 2008
By David J. Kelly VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book examines the familiar story of the settling of the American West that we all grew up with thanks to John Ford, John Wayne and the rest. The author takes this story from the point of view of the Nez Perce tribe of Idaho. One of the main themes of the book is the historical flight of 700 Nez Perce men, women and children from the United States army following their refusal to abide by a treaty signed by other Nez Perce bands in 1877. Their passage across Oregon, Idaho and Montana is interwoven with a travelogue along their route where the author describes the effects of 130 years of European colonisation on the Native American peoples and on the environment of the north western United States.

I enjoyed this book, it told me two stories I was not familiar with. The desperate flight of the Nez Perce as they tried to escape the mendacity of the United States government in thrall to the settlers and their big business backers is told well. The Europeans do not come out of the book well while the sympathy lies with the Nez Perce who only wanted to live in their traditional lands in peace.

The second story is of what happened to the Nez Perce and their lands after they were forced on to reservations. Here the settlers are now the victims of big business which wants to exploit the water, salmon, timber and minerals seemingly so inexhaustible in these mountains. This tale makes sad reading and here there is more sympathy for the descendants of the pioneers. Schofield also looks at the fate of the various groups of Nez Perce who still battle with high unemployment, alcoholism and domestic abuse.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Make this your summer read 23 July 2008
Brian Schofield has written this book in a way that can't fail to capture your imagination, challenge your thinking and provide you with a very good read.

My knowledge of the Native Americans was limited and the subject matter wouldn't have been my first choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It brings the story of the Native Americans to life and I warmed to some characters and hated others - and what more can you want from a book than that it really involves you. I found it a fascinating and very readable book, that I think would appeal to a very wide audience.

The author's technique of moving between the past and his recent visits to the Nez Perce is very effective. It gives a different angle to their story and helps you see how the past and present intertwine. It challenges us to think about what we do to other people and our environment, but never lectures and proves to be entertaining as well!

An excellent first book, Schofield has an emminently readable style and I look forward to his next book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clumsily written 13 Jan 2010
I enjoyed this book overall and the essential elements being related were very interesting, however the tone of the book and the overall structure were clumsy and immature. Schofield could not decide on whether this was an historical account or a chummy telling-it-how-it-really-was with crude name calling thrown in among well researched material.

I have no problem with Schofield expressing strong emotion on this very emotive subject, but this book could have done with a lot more editing.

Worth reading if you are really interested in the subject, or it is an entirely new area for you, but if you have enjoyed similar (better) versions of native American history, don't bother.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Heartbreaking History... 22 Aug 2008
By Margaret Gallagher VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
An enormous amount of research has gone into this beautiful book, and the story it tells is heartbreaking. It is, along with the horrendous things that were done in Australia to the aboriginal population, and in South America to the native population, etc., etc.,... yet another tragic story of the destruction of a culture and the wholesale abuse and slaughter of thousands of people - by white Europeans. All in the name of overwhelming greed, a very mistaken sense of cultural and spiritual superiority - and plain bloody-mindedness - that, sadly, is still very eveident today.
An excellent read - highly recommended.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work 16 July 2008
By simonpeggfan VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I can only agree with other reviews that note this is such an outstanding first book.

The research is excellent, following the tale of an exodus of a Native American tribe forced from their homes by immigration as settlements drove across the West.

The tribe are beautifully captured, as real people with real lives - and real concerns. The author brings the tale to life.

It truly is, as described, an epic tale - and so terribly sad, but such genocide will always be so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Sam Woodward TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an affecting record of a very dark chapter in human history, being a harrowing account of a monstrous culture clash. Native Americans were forced off their land by Europeans who came over & decided that they owned the place. Their story is one of constant exploitation at the hands of the US government & big businesses. The exploitation did not even stop when they got to their reservation & in a format reminiscent of MAUS, Schofield describes the modern-day lives of their ancestors - a drudge of high unemployment, poverty & alcoholism.

Here, then, is a history not written by the victors; a necessary lesson to ensure we do not repeat it. As harrowing & depressing as the subject-matter is, this account is very well written & - surprisingly - quite a page-turner. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars wild west
chronicles the flight of 700 nez perce from the on rushing white settlers it ties in the affect of later forestry,cattle,ranching and mining on the countryside and its peoples... Read more
Published 4 months ago by m. dosa
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
A brilliant tale told from 'the other side' of the Native American struggle, intensely readable and gripping. Very highly recommended.
Published on 20 Jan 2011 by Og Oggilby
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read...but requires a bit more editing!
I'm a bit of a stick-in-the-mud with grammar, word repetition, punctuation, and the likes. I notice little errors. This can spoil my enjoyment of books - more fool me. Read more
Published on 5 Jun 2010 by Mark Rees-Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars More Interesting Than It Might Seem
Last year, I read a biography of the Lewis and Clark expedition: it was very dry and was more of an historical lecture than an entertaining read. Read more
Published on 16 April 2010 by MisterKeith
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent account of a dark charper of history
For me the book took a bit of time to get going, but it was well worth it. Though as some other reviews have alerady noted, I found the switching back and forth from the past to... Read more
Published on 20 Nov 2009 by Tim62
5.0 out of 5 stars American History at it's finest
Brilliant, well written book that gave a clear & empathetic account of the development of the country from a native American and ecological perspective. Read more
Published on 17 Oct 2009 by Solo Walker
3.0 out of 5 stars Undecided
I don't know why, but I just could not get into this book. It was a subject that interested me, or has done in the past, and should be a fascinating story and it's apparent from... Read more
Published on 17 April 2009 by Johnnybluetime
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but a little dull
This book represents, I suspect, almost a cathartic experience for non-native Americans. In a worthy and through way it depicts the appalling experience native americans faced when... Read more
Published on 13 April 2009 by Dr. Paul Ell
5.0 out of 5 stars A relevant history
When I was young, I hated history. It was all about dates and events in the past. I couldn't see how history could be relevant to something much more interesting; the future. Read more
Published on 27 Dec 2008 by M. Bhangal
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and informative
I am very interested in the history of the USA and I found this to be an informative, fascinating and well-written account of one of the nation's defining struggles. Read more
Published on 3 Dec 2008 by Teejay
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