...a strikingly empathetic nonfiction narrative by the poet Anthony McCann. The book is that rare beast these days — a chronicle of and a meditation on an intensely politicized affair that delves beneath merely partisan concerns to touch its subject’s absurd and tragic heart. As such, it’s a work of almost foolish courage, given the overwhelming rancor of our current social moment — not because it refuses to takes sides, but because the book sides with the people as a whole, with us, the puny, errant, bedeviled playthings of the all-American colossus ... McCann is unsparing in his critique, in his mockery even, of Bundy’s rhetoric, but he also regards him as a figure of considerable charisma — a sort of leathery Bill Clinton or militant Will Rogers ... McCann is too literate and too farseeing to lay the blame...on any one party or ideology, but toward the end of his agonized narrative, after blood has been spilled in a temporary catharsis, he offers a bitter elegy for Ammon and Cliven’s desert uprising, as ridiculous, shameful and selfish as it was. Their nemesis, in McCann’s final analysis, was not the federal government at all, but the financial forces that have leveled small-scale American agriculture in general.
Shadowlands,...offers fascinating insights and poses interesting questions ... McCann conducted extensive interviews with locals, area American Indians and, of course, Bundyites; each offered perspectives on the occupation. In fact, McCann interviewed everyone except federal law enforcement ... McCann seems to believe there is some merit to the Patriot movement, that the state has too much power. He also asks what constitutes a proper protest. Is it OK to block traffic and create chaos in a city, as the Black Lives Matter movement has? If yes — and McCann seems to think so — is that different from what the Bundyites did? Not giving the government an opportunity to respond makes the book appear unbalanced. McCann’s theses are further undercut by statements that make him look as out of touch as the Sovereign Citizens ... You may not agree with everything McCann says — and there were times he really ticked me off — but he does offer a valuable glimpse at a group of often overlooked people contributing to the great divide in American life.
Poet McCann...makes a momentous nonfiction debut ... The core subject is nothing less than the nature of American identity and the concept of freedom. Admirably, McCann’s ethos is not that of a neutral bystander but of a truth seeker. He thinks through viewpoints with depth and empathy, but he also takes stands and calls out the problematic ... Contradictions, hypocrisies, and sanitized history were at the forefront of a standoff that cost at least one man his life. This heavily researched and thoughtful book, written with detail and care, asks big questions of readers and the country
McCann’s approach is at times bewilderingly dense and literary. While he does an admirable job teasing out and examining the various cultural mythologies and personal fantasies that constitute the worldviews of the occupiers...McCann often veers off into sometimes extraneous, sometimes downright strange philosophizing ... Moments like these might have been better left threaded within McCann’s own struggle to make sense of this story. But this is also part of the compelling character of McCann’s project. Readers are witness to his process. Shadowlands is in no small way a documentation of a curious poet learning about, observing, and stretching to make sense of his subject ... effects an entertaining, sweeping tone, developing cinematically as a colorful latticework of characters are introduced, documented, and pored over. There is no shortage of fascination in this story ... Of the many angles McCann takes over the course of Shadowlands, perhaps the most compelling is when he flirts with a visual culture approach to the story, via almost bizarrely in-depth descriptions of these YouTube videos ... Ultimately, McCann seems to say, over the course of 400 or so pages, essentially: 'This is complicated.'
McCann, further removed in time, fully nests the takeover in 2016. What emerges is not a 'deplorable'-haunted prologue to the general election of that year but 'an illuminating bit of ordnance' that lights up its ructions ... Shadowlands offers occupation leader Ammon Bundy and his acolytes little exculpation. They might have conceived of their act of 'insurrection' as a blow for Jeffersonian democracy, overthrowing tyrannical authority toward restoring the land to 'the people'— presumptively white ranchers. But McCann is alive to its unseemliness: 'disenfranchised white men ... mining for feelings of sovereignty and personal power by restaging white settlement on Native land' ... But Shadowlands accords its subjects their innate dignity rather than treating them as types or props in an argument. Bundy resembles, of all people, empath Bill Clinton in his disarming emotional affect and ability to imbue otherwise-dry ideas with solemnity and gravitas, McCann notes
...a riveting in-depth investigation ... [McCann] portrays his characters vividly, Ammon in particular ... He provides context on the underlying motivations of the protesters...in an increasingly diverse America, and the broader history ... McCann’s arresting and brilliant firsthand account is required reading for anyone interested in the ideological gap between the American Left and Right.
...Pensive, provocative account ... [a] well-written, occasionally ponderous examination ... The author takes pains to understand the ideas underlying the occupation ... In the end, McCann suggests, it was all just another lost cause but one not entirely without merit.
Students of modern environmentalism, federalism and its discontents, and extremist politics alike will find McCann’s on-the-ground reportage to be of great value.