This Pulitzer Prize-winning history pieces together new discoveries in archaeology, anthropology, geology, climatology, epidemiology, and nutritional science to create a picture of the Plains Indian people, who—despite their busy towns along the upper Missouri River being for centuries central to the North American universe—have been largely forgotten.
Relying on fragmentary documentary records, discoveries by archaeologists, imaginative detective work, evidence uncovered by anthropologists, geologists, climatologists and nutritional scientists, plus paintings and drawings by frontier artists George Catlin, Karl Bodmer and others, Fenn pieces together a rich and remarkably detailed history of this nearly forgotten tribe ... [a] wonderfully interesting book that should finally help the Mandans claim their rightful place in history.
It is a book of fragments ... Somehow the fragments cohere into a more compelling portrait than a more linear brush, and a less personally visible artist, could have painted ... Ms. Fenn's mosaic brilliantly overcomes the shortcomings of her written and archaeological sources. Yet these also limit her ability to penetrate Mandan motives and beliefs, and when she moves beyond ecological matters, Encounters at the Heart of the World can be less satisfying ... Ms. Fenn simply seems far more at home discussing droughts, maize, horses, rodents and microbes than things less easily touched and handled ... Readers who follow her toward, but never quite into, the heart of the Mandans' world will be richer for the journey.
Fenn vividly illustrates how the Mandan managed to thrive until the end of the 18th century and then explains how disease, rats, and American westward expansion led them to near total societal and population collapse over approximately 50 years ... This is the finest study on the Mandan available and is a must-read for those interested in Native American studies or American history.