Cover: Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America, from Harvard University PressCover: Thundersticks in HARDCOVER


Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America

Product Details


$29.95 • £26.95 • €27.95

ISBN 9780674737471

Publication Date: 10/10/2016


400 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

28 halftones, 1 map

Belknap Press


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A good measure of a work of history is whether it changes the way we understand its subject. By that measure, David J. Silverman succeeds admirably in Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America… In Silverman’s sober, sprawling account, America is a nation built on slaves and guns.—Thomas E. Ricks, The New York Times Book Review

Written in an accessible and at times swashbuckling style, the book is in many ways a retelling of the U.S.’ Indian Wars from the 17th to the 19th centuries, with a twist. It cracks the mystery of how Colonial-era Native American tribes came to master a continent-spanning, gun-running network in smoothbore flintlock muskets, often decades in advance of European settlement.—Casey Sanchez, The Los Angeles Times

Given that indigenous life across the continent was profoundly reshaped by guns and gunpowder—two things no Native society had the capacity to produce—it is remarkable that we had to wait until 2016 for a book that marries sophisticated indigenous history with a focus on the transformative effects of firearms over the long term. David J. Silverman’s Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America is worth the wait… The force of this book is in the details… Thundersticks is nonetheless the indispensable new work on an important and understudied topic. More than that, it presents an eloquent and penetrating new synthesis of Native American history before the reservation era.—Brian DeLay, American Historical Review

Focusing on the military and political changes stemming from the spread of firearms in North America, this is a well-informed, clearly argued account of the significance of access to these guns… Silverman’s book is a significant contribution to a field that is important for American studies, for military history and work on western expansionism.—Jeremy Black, History Today

David J. Silverman has accomplished the rarest of feats; he has breathed new life into a very familiar topic among scholars—conflict in Native North America… No other author has elucidated quite so clearly how guns changed the lives, cultures, and futures of American Indians… Thundersticks is a marvelous accomplishment. Silverman’s work is accessible for nonscholars while at the same time essential reading for historians of Native America, the United States, the Atlantic World, and more. This is how history should be written.—Jason Herbert, Western Historical Review

Thundersticks powerfully extends the study of guns into early America and links such histories with the evolution of North America’s continental past. Silverman has offered a vital corrective to the historiography of firearms as well as to temporal and spatial frameworks that elide the enduring cycles of violence that have remade Native America.—Ned Blackhawk, William and Mary Quarterly

Silverman tells this sad and bloody story with verve, making this an essential work for scholars of colonial encounters.Publishers Weekly

Silverman’s compelling rediscovery of the ‘gun frontier,’ imaginatively conceived and deeply researched, is must reading. For nearly two centuries, indigenous peoples everywhere in North America waged devastating arms races with each other, enabled by, but seldom under the control of, Euro-Americans eager to sell their lethal wares in defiance of laws and their nations’ interests.—Daniel K. Richter, author of Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts

After reading Thundersticks, no one will ever be able to question that guns were fundamental to colonialism and that American Indians wanted them, used them with ferocity, and that they changed Native life forever. Silverman makes it all so obvious in his utterly convincing and transformative book. He has literally rewritten American history.—Robbie Ethridge, author of From Chicaza to Chickasaw: The European Invasion and the Transformation of the Mississippian World, 1540–1715

Tracking the impact of firearms across different eras and areas as Native peoples incorporated them into their arsenals, economies, foreign policies, and cultures, David Silverman shows how guns shaped the colonial and indigenous history of the continent. No one has done anything quite like this before. A major achievement.—Colin G. Calloway, author of The Victory with No Name: The Native American Defeat of the First American Army

Silverman’s command of a vast literature and his attention to evidence will put to rest any remaining doubts about the Indian preference for guns over the bow and arrow.—Gregory Evans Dowd, author of Groundless: Rumors, Legends, and Hoaxes on the Early American Frontier

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