The first comprehensive history of the Lakota Indians and their profound role in shaping America’s history Named One of the New York Times Critics’ Top Books of 2019 • Named One of the 10 Best History Books of 2019 by Smithsonian Magazine • Winner of the MPIBA Reading the West Book Award for narrative nonfiction “All nations deserve to have their stories told with this degree of attentiveness.”—Parul Sehgal, New York Times "A briliant, bold, gripping history."—Simon Sebag Montefiore, London Evening Standard, Best Books of 2019 Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull are iconic figures in the American imagination, but in this groundbreaking book they emerge as something different: the architects of Lakota America, an expansive and enduring Indigenous regime that commanded human fates in the North American interior for generations. In this first complete account of the Lakota Indians Pekka Hämäläinen traces their rich and often surprising history from the early sixteenth to the early twenty‑first century. He explores the Lakotas’ roots as marginal hunter‑gatherers and reveals how they reinvented themselves twice: first as a river people who dominated the Missouri Valley, America’s great commercial artery, and then—in what was America’s first sweeping westward expansion—as a horse people who ruled supreme on the vast high plains.
Deeply researched and engagingly written, this history places the Lakotas at the center of American history, and the results are revelatory.
About the Author
Pekka Hämäläinen is the Rhodes Professor of American History and Fellow of St. Catherine’s College at Oxford University. He has served as the principal investigator of a five‑year project on nomadic empires in world history, funded by the European Research Council. His previous book, The Comanche Empire, won the Bancroft Prize in 2009.
“Impressive. . . . Lakota America takes us from the 16th century to the present, with painstaking, carefully marshaled detail, but its real feat is in threading how the Lakota philosophy and vision of the world guided their reinventions and their dealings with colonial powers. . . . Hämäläinen has the novelist’s relish for the strange, pungent detail . . . [in this ] accomplished, and subtle, study.”—Parul Sehgal, New York Times
“A comprehensive history of the tribe”—The Economist
Named One of the New York Times Critics’ Top Books of 2019
"A briliant, bold, gripping history."—Simon Sebag Montefiore, London Evening Standard, Best Books of 2019
"Turned many of the stories I thought I knew about our nation inside out."—Cornelia Channing, Paris Review, Favorite Books of 2019
“I recommend Pekka Hämäläinen’s Lakota America, which is my favorite non-fiction book of this year.”—Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg Opinion
Named One of the 10 Best History Books of 2019 by Smithsonian Magazine
“Astonishing in its scope. . . . It is rare to find such a work, a deft narrative so comprehensive that also includes lots of original research.”—Jon M. Sweeney, America
Hämäläinen “recounts his story with unusual verve. . . . Many histories of the United States still depict Lakotas as ‘props’ or ignore them altogether. Hämäläinen’s work gestures toward a new map of power in North America's past, where indigenous polities and politics were as important as non-indigenous ones—until suddenly they were not.”—Christine Mathias, Dissent
“Hämäläinen surpasses most of the legions of authors who have delved into the people popularly known as the Sioux, and his work will appeal to serious readers, who will find this a must addition to their libraries.”—John Langellier, True West
"[A] magisterial book. Relying on newly available ‘winter counts’—pictographs drawn in spirals on buffalo hides, cloth, muslin, and paper to recount a year’s activities—Hämäläinen successfully makes the Lakota people unfamiliar to readers, disabusing us of the imagery inherited from popular culture depictions and painting a more nuanced picture. In short, he shows that the Lakota people have long been brilliant warriors, diplomats, and survivors.”—Tony Jones, Christian Century
“Lakota America will undoubtedly become the standard work on early Lakota history and, more broadly, provide crucial context for understanding key events in the history of the American West. . . . It will stimulate rich conversation in upper-level and graduate seminars, and will long stand as essential reading for historians of Indigenous North America and the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century West.”—John M. Coward, American Indian Quarterly
"An important addition to the fields of North American imperial, Indigenous, and even environmental histories. . . . A fine piece of historical writing, of use to virtually any scholar of the American past."—Stephen Hausmann, The Annals of Iowa
"Comprehensive—its writing vivid, with rare clarity and power. . . This is a wonderful, engaging, and sometimes tragic book.”—Choice
“[A] profound history of the Lakota people. . . . Hämäläinen’s book emphasizes that to understand American history it is vital to understand Lakota—and, by extension, Native American—history. . . . Lakota America joins, and in many respects leads, a growing body of work centered on single-tribe histories through which we can see, for the first time, the wild making of America.”—David Treuer, New York Review of Books
“Magnificent. . . . Lakota America should be regarded as an introduction to all future studies of the plains ‘Indian Wars.’ It should be read by every student of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, everyone who wishes to make sense of the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crisis. . . . It should be read by everyone interested in the history of colonialism and post-colonialism, everyone who seeks to understand the Custer debacle at the Little Bighorn or the Massacre at Wounded Knee. It should be required reading in the high schools of the Dakotas and Montana. Above all, it should be read by people who want to know more about the extraordinary and resilient Lakota Nation that continues to flex its culture and power at the heart of the North American continent.”—Clay S. Jenkinson, Governing
"[A] monumental achievement that will bend and shape the historiographical landscape."—David Grua, American Historical Review
“Lakota America succeeds in its ambitious project and is full of well-written, sometimes even beautiful, prose and contains clear, useful maps and images throughout that make the book accessible to both general readers and specialists alike.”—Lauren Brand, Canadian Journal of History
“[T]his book is an achievement. It is deeply researched and beautifully written.”—Jennifer Graber, American Religion
Shortlisted for the Mark Lynton History Prize, sponsored by the Columbia School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation.
Winner of the Western Heritage Book Award for Nonfiction, sponsored by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
Winner of the Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize, sponsored by the Center for Great Plains Studies
Winner of the 2020 Spur Award, sponsored by the Western Writers of America
Finalist in the PROSE Awards North American and U.S. History category, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers
“Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse live in history as great warriors. Hämäläinen’s brilliant exploration of the history and culture of the people that produced these two men is destined to become a classic.”—Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard University
“Deeply researched, epic in scale, interpretatively adventurous, and ambitious, Lakota America will influence historians for years.”—Richard White, Stanford University
“Like the Lakotas he studies, Pekka Hämäläinen is a shapeshifter. He is nuanced, nimble, and wise, with an uncanny capacity for reinvention as new understandings come to light. The result is stunning. To read Lakota America is to rethink American history itself.”—Elizabeth Fenn, University of Colorado Boulder
“Lakota America is beautifully researched, persuasively argued, and justifiably audacious in its reach and implications. It is both a landmark in American Indian history and a provocative rethinking of North American history generally.”—Elliott West, University of Arkansas