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Author Topic: Canadian history book recommendations
Black_Lotus
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posted 17 December 2005 04:13 PM      Profile for Black_Lotus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I was wondering if anyone knows of some good alternative history books about Canada. Something along the lines of Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States"; i.e. a history which goes against the mainstrem/yay John A Macdonald! stuff.

Thanks.


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skdadl
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posted 17 December 2005 04:26 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Black_Lotus, that's an interesting question.

At a popular level, there is the companion volume to the CBC TV series of a couple of years ago, Canada: A People's History, which is very well done for a popular treatment.

At a more advanced (and more politicized) level, there are many more rigorously alternative studies of particular topics in Canadian history, but I'm not sure anyone has done the full narrative as an alternative history.


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Cueball
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posted 17 December 2005 09:35 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It is not exactly about Canada, but Canada deatures prominently: Warpaths by John Keagan. It is an analysis of the geographic realities that defined powere relationships both in pre and post colonial North America.

Ever wanted to know what strategic realities made it possible, and also important for Britain to hang on to Canada while losing the USA to the colonials?

This book answers this question.


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Contrarian
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posted 17 December 2005 10:02 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think it's in Warpaths, if that has a chapter about the battle at Little Big Horn, that Keegan makes some idiotic remarks about how terribly selfish the plains Indians were; here's all these European countries with growing populations needing more space, and the Indians didn't want to share. This shows his deep ignorance about plains Indian cultures, which valued generosity and sharing very highly; and his ignorance of the history of European settlement in North America; as in: 1) Indians share some land; 2) Europeans take the rest and kill or drive away the Indians; 3) repeat from start.

So Keegan may be good at military history, but watch out for his imperialistic assumptions.


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Américain Égalitaire
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posted 17 December 2005 10:55 PM      Profile for Américain Égalitaire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
Black_Lotus, that's an interesting question.

At a popular level, there is the companion volume to the CBC TV series of a couple of years ago, Canada: A People's History, which is very well done for a popular treatment.


I will have to look for this. In my bookstore we have but one shelf labeled "Canada." It has some historical works "Farewell the Peaceable Kingdom" is one and Andrew Malcolm's The Canadians another and Granatstein's "Yankee Go Home." There seems to be a rightward pro-American tilt to the books we have on Canada.

I've scanned them and they seem to be ponderously written. I like gossipy history so I picked up "The Collins Dictionary of Canadian History" by David J. Bercuson and the aforementioned Mr. Granatstein. (1988).

I find it a great bedside read and I got it for $3.98!


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siren
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posted 17 December 2005 11:23 PM      Profile for siren     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Cueball:

Ever wanted to know what strategic realities made it possible, and also important for Britain to hang on to Canada while losing the USA to the colonials?

This book answers this question.


Yer such a tease, Cueball. I bet you're unbearable to live with through the holidays, right up to the big day when the wrapping paper is finally torn off the gifts.


From: Of course we could have world peace! But where would be the profit in that? | Registered: Nov 2004  |  IP: Logged
nister
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posted 17 December 2005 11:30 PM      Profile for nister     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Another TV anthology: "Chiefs", about Joseph Brant, Tecumseh, et al. Aired a few years back, on TVO. 4 stars, no question.
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Cueball
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posted 18 December 2005 12:27 AM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Contrarian:
I think it's in Warpaths, if that has a chapter about the battle at Little Big Horn, that Keegan makes some idiotic remarks about how terribly selfish the plains Indians were; here's all these European countries with growing populations needing more space, and the Indians didn't want to share. This shows his deep ignorance about plains Indian cultures, which valued generosity and sharing very highly; and his ignorance of the history of European settlement in North America; as in: 1) Indians share some land; 2) Europeans take the rest and kill or drive away the Indians; 3) repeat from start.

So Keegan may be good at military history, but watch out for his imperialistic assumptions.



I agree that Keagan is a pretty gung ho Ameriphile. He is totally up front about that. The introduction of the book goes on at length about the passion he felt for American GI's as they came to England to "save" England during the war when he was a boy. I personally found this pathetic.

However, I think it is very likely that the plains Indians did not want to "share" their land with anyone else, in particular white settlers. To state such is merely to state the facts. I would even agree that it would be right for them to not want to share their land with the agressive Europeans.

I think it is possible that you have inserted your own moral pejoratives into your analysis. Pointing out that the plains Indians did not want to "share" does not equals moral disapproval. He does however have some quaint notions about how "great" America is, but such does not extend to the chief protagonist of his blow by blow of Little Big Horn, Col Custer.

This is a thrilling, cohesive, and intelligent archealogical investigation of the actual battles ground and is probably the most thorough and convincing hypothetical reconstruction of the battle ever written. A remarkable piece considering that about the only concrete evidence remaining from the battle of Little Horn is a note reading "Bring more packs."

Famous last words indeed.

I think there is a highly romanticized impression of the cultures of native North Americans as universally quasi-pacifist non-imperial societies. Some were quite agressive, the Kwakiutal, in what is today called British Colombia and the also the Apache were notoriously imperialistic themselves, raiding and pillaging surounding peoples, the Haida in BC, and the Tarahumarah (Raramuri) in Northern Mexico being among the respective victims.

In Keagan's analysis of Litle Big Horn it is quite clear that he is being derrisive of Col. Custers inate sense of cultural superiority, Custer being convinced of the idea that the European mode of arms, wherein small troops of well drilled soldiers routinely routed march larger formation of less organized warriors, (as much through intimidation as through actual martial superiority) was little more than boisterous vanity, when faced with determined and unified opposition.

As I remember it, he points directly to this arrogance as the chief agent of Custer's military and personal demise at Little Big Horn.

Keagan also makes it quite clear that plains Indians were tired of being victimized by the US cavalry and the settlers they "protected." And made the decision to stop running an fight en masse and with determination. In other words, that they had decided against "sharing." It seemed to me that Keagan's conclusion seemed to be more or less as follows: had the original inhabitants of North America pursued a more unified and determined strategy you and I would likely not be living here.

I think the events at Little Big Horn indicate rather in favour of the idea that the Sioux were not excited about the idea of "sharing."

However, that is simply what I got from it, and I will look at it again.

[ 18 December 2005: Message edited by: Cueball ]


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Makwa
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posted 18 December 2005 12:43 AM      Profile for Makwa   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Cueball:
However, I think it is very likely that the plains Indians did not want to "share" their land with anyone else, in particular white settlers. To state such is merely to state the facts. I would even agree that it would be right for them to not want to share their land with the agressive Europeans.
You also should consider that the concept of 'sharing' land did not merely mean making room for a handful of white (pun intended) picket fences. For the plains people, land use included a large roving area for bison hunting, which was almost their entire economy and food source with important cultural and religious significance. For my ancestors, the encroachment of the Europeans meant the widespread massacre of this critical resource and the decimation of a significant element of religious life.

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Contrarian
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posted 18 December 2005 01:22 AM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Cueball, my summary above is based on what I recalled from reading the book maybe nine years ago. His writing does include moral pejoratives, which I thought then and still think was outrageous, which is why I remember only that particular bit.

I don't have time now to read the whole chapter of Forts on the Plains; on pages 270-271, he very much admires the Indians as warriors, but considers horse peoples through the history of the Old World to have been "the enemies of true civilisation". He writes that when plains Indians acquired gun culture and horse culture at the end of the 1700s "a warrior way of life was born which was to impede and distort the Manifest Destiny of Europeans to possess the continent for nearly a hundred years." I would like to think he is being ironic here, but it doesn't look like it.

The part I remembered came at the end of the chapter, page 313, where he says there is much tragedy in the treatment of Indians to the east:

quote:
...Yet the pretensions of the Plains Indians to exclusive rights over the heartland of the continent cannot, it seems to me, stand. Their claim, the claim of less than a million people, to possess territories capable of supporting not only millions more directly settled, but of still more millions outside America waiting to be fed by those territories' product, is the claim not of oppressed primitives but of the selfish rich. The Plains Indians were indeed primitives; but their primitivism was of the "hard" not "soft" variety. Here were not shy, self-effacing marginalists, like the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, the Semai of the Philippine jungles, or the pygmies of the African rainforests, but proud, warrior nomads, who had taken from the Europeans what they coveted as a means to support their way of life, the horse and the gun, and then refused Europeans any share of the land which horse and gun equipped them the better to exploit...
This is such a warped view of what was happening that I cannot really begin to deal with it. It's basically the argument that farmers can use the land more efficiently than hunters, so they have a right to take the land away. [Shall I risk Godwin's Law and refer to "lebensraum"?]

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Left Turn
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posted 18 December 2005 01:29 AM      Profile for Left Turn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here's three that I can think of offhand:

The Black Book of English Canada

Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority

Canadian Bolsheviks: The Early Years of the Communist Party of Canada

[ 18 December 2005: Message edited by: Left Turn ]


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Cueball
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posted 18 December 2005 01:42 AM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well there you have it. I guess you are right. Thanks.

I remember being appalled myself at Keagan's weird infatuation of the USA, but I guess I just ignored it. I don't even think I finished the introduction, as it was to reminiscent of my first love letters.

But then also, is Keagan completely wrong in the assertion that this modernizing drive toward "civilization" is an ancient process, and can we assert that if left alone for say another 10,000 years, those very same civilizing dynamics would not have asserted themselves, "naturally" in North America I can't say I approve of the process, but it is not untrue to point to the existance of the process almost universally.

It seems very much that such a process was begining with the Mayan and the Incan civilization just before it was interupted by the intrusion of the Spanish and the Portuguese.

Also, in some of its better points, such as that account of Little Big Horn, it is quite clear that Keagan suggests that Custer's preposterous sense of cultural superiority was focal in his downfall. This indicates to me that Keagan is not proposing anything close to racially inspired prejudice but the "modernist" prejudice of "progress" over hunter gather society.

I would like to point out that this is not a prejudice that is exclusive to capitalism, but also one shared by "civilizing" socialists, as we can discover by reading here.

Aside from these failings the book is still a really interesting reconstruction of the strategic realities of European power politics and its relationship to the geography of North America.

That is to say that I did not feel that I understood what the battle of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham was really about strategically, until I read this book.

[ 18 December 2005: Message edited by: Cueball ]


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Contrarian
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posted 18 December 2005 01:51 AM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The other book of his that I read was a general history of war I think, and he did talk a lot about horse peoples as cavalry. He writes well on military history and is worth reading; you just need to keep in mind that he does take sides and is rooting for his idea of civilisation.

One point he made was that in the Old World horse people developed as cavalry over centuries; but the Plains Indians did it very quickly, and he is impressed; but he more or less says he's not sorry they lost in the end.


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Cueball
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posted 18 December 2005 02:13 AM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I always end up having political problems with Keagan. I remember "A History of War" the book you are likely reffering to ends up in some weird political demagoguery as well.

But I remember also, how he established this whole idea of culture as military technology, and I thought that went some interesting places.

For instance looking at how the particular geographic realities of ancient Greece were formative in the creation of a culture that produced soldiers that stood and fought to the bitter end on the battlefield, as opposed to the soldiers of the Persian armies that sought avoid absolute risk in combat, and how this amounted to a supreme adevantage.

Again the well drilled infantry vs. the swarming horsemen.

Of course since then I have somewhat changed my view the Persian wars, and am begining to favour the view that the Persians won on the battlefiedls always (except at Salamis) but simply were at the end of their strategic political rope, the Greeks being a somewhat unimportant border people of no real importance to Persian society they simply withdrew the costly armies of conquest. Is it that the Persian incurssion into Greece were more punative and preventative than imperial?

Do we tend to engrandise the the achievements of the ideological founders of democracy perhaps a little too much?


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Makwa
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posted 18 December 2005 02:20 AM      Profile for Makwa   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Cueball:
But then also, is Keagan completely wrong in the assertion that this modernizing drive toward "civilization" is an ancient process, and can we assert that if left alone for say another 10,000 years, those very same civilizing dynamics would not have asserted themselves, "naturally" in North America I can't say I approve of the process, but it is not untrue to point to the existance of the process almost universally.
Yes, he's wrong, and no, it's not universal. Most of the FN and Inuit people have resisted centralization for 10s of thousands of years, as have many African people like the Kung!San until colonization. Centralization, heirarchy, dominance and control along with technological innovation, are antithetical to many FN belief systems, as I understand them (coming from a Plains Cree perspective). "Civilization" only seems universal as it has a tendency to wipe out 'non-civilized' cultures. Trade had occured for centuries with the people of the south, and no desire to emulate state systems or technology outside of trade arose during that period.

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Cueball
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posted 18 December 2005 02:48 AM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I see this last point clearly. And it is a bit of a conundrum for me, given that the predisposition toward imperialism tends to prove its own point, as is the case here, more or less.

As for the apparent stability of the tradition of the indiginous NA peoples.

The process of "advancement," for the sake of a better word, seems rather slow (apparent stablility) and then speeds up geometerically so we can see such societies existing for thousands of years benignly, and then going into phases of rapid agrarian advancement, and then urbanization and centralization (e.g. Americas: Hopi, Aztec and Mayan) or even sudden catastrophic (for everyone else at least) imperialist expansion -- here I am thinking of the sudden rise of the Mongols.

And I think they also held fairly wholistic ethical ideas about unity with their world and each other, but were suddenly triggered somehow so that they became the largest empire the world has ever known.

So I am thinking that the longevity and stability of the traditional societal mode, doesn't necessarily indicate stasis, but actually seems to be part of the patern of slow gestation, and then more rapid changes.

I think that is possible.


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skdadl
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posted 18 December 2005 08:26 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Relevant to the discussion about pre-Colombian North American civilizations:

There is a fascinating review article by William H. McNeill in the NY Review of Books of 1 December of a new book by Charles C. Mann called 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (Knopf). The review is unfortunately not available in full online (unless you buy a week's access), and I am not competent to assess either Mann's or McNeill's (somewhat differing) points of view, but I would be curious to hear from those more knowledgeable.

Mann apparently presents a fairly radical perspective on the extent to which the Americas were marked by "civilization" before contact; McNeill is somewhat more reserved. There seems to be evidence, eg, that even the Amazon rain forest is a creation of human cultivation - that was the sort of detail that astounded me. And the debates about migration definitely seem headed in the direction of multiple arrivals in different places, not the old single-land-bridge thesis. (But what do I know?)

I would also be interested to hear from the pros their opinions of Ronald Wright's Stolen Continents, which is a book that turned my head around but may now be somewhat out of date (1992), given what McNeill and Mann seem to be saying about archaeological discoveries. Mind you, Wright was working entirely with recorded sources, the FN's own written records at the time of contact, which never go out of date.


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thwap
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posted 18 December 2005 09:47 AM      Profile for thwap        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Movements of Political Protest in Canada by S.D. Clark is an oldy but a goody. (It's an exploration of the "Frontier Thesis" in a Canadian context.) It's from the 1940s but pretty good. If the link works you'll get the whole book online.

Murphy and Perin's A Concise History of Christianity in Canada (1996) is a great book.

Alan Greer's books on the Rebellion of 1837 are good.

And a nice, easy read is Desmond Morton's Working People.

There's a good book on W. L. Mackenzie that re-establishes how truly heroic he was as the last voice for democratic reform in Upper Canada before 1837, in the face of constant elite-Orange assualts and an actual attempt on his life in Hamilton, (probably arranged by Hamilton notable, Sir Allan MacNab), but i can't recall it right now. Very recent, woman historian. It's gonna bug me.


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kingblake
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posted 18 December 2005 12:03 PM      Profile for kingblake     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'd second Des Morton's Working People and also add a pretty nice and straight-forward pick, Alvin Finkel's Canada after 1945. Not incredibly groundbreaking, but solidly researched, left-wing, and easy to read - not unlike Zinn.

ps. Left Turn: those are like the *lamest* picks ever!


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Contrarian
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posted 18 December 2005 12:09 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
There are various text-book histories of Canada, that would be used for first year university classes in Canadian history; one set that I have read, Origins and Destinies by R. Douglas Francis, Richard Jones and Donald B. Smith, is out in multiple editions. It's well-balanced and about as inclusive as such a textbook can be, discussing what was going on in different parts of the country, with aboriginal peoples, with political movements, etc.

For Black-Lotus' original request, try

quote:
Gustavus Myers, A History of Canadian Wealth. Now a century old, but a muckraking socialist classic, as is the Liversedge mentioned above.
I found skdadl's mention of it above on this old babble thread about political books.

And here's some information about the book. I have it, but haven't actually read it yet.

[ 18 December 2005: Message edited by: Contrarian ]


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skdadl
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posted 18 December 2005 12:26 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Contrarian, I noticed in my googling yesterday that R.T. Naylor has published a history of Canadian business that I am guessing, given what I know of Naylor's other work, is something of an update of Myers. Alternative history is definitely Naylor's turf.

Semi-irrelevant detail: He is the brother of David Naylor, new prezzie of U of T (himself an MD and epidemiologist, also most charming person).


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Boarsbreath
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posted 19 December 2005 11:56 PM      Profile for Boarsbreath   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
One of the finest books I've ever read (one of those you make a point of re-reading periodically) is
The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815
by Richard White -
This was a fascinating time & place, mainly because the social & political units we know were not yet in place. The Europeans are still groups of Frenchmen, English, and proto-Americans becoming Americans; the FNs are in flux, developing like the Iroquois Confederacy, rising then dissolving like the Huron, and there's such a sense of the possible. It's not frustratingly simplistic, like most else on these topics. And it sure as hell ain't boring, like the texts (of the 70s) I was schooled on.

BTW Google also produced this:
Warpaths: Invasions of North America
by Ian K Steele
...I'm a big John Keegan fan, for his early books despite his apparent senility these days (as evidenced by a book on the Iraq war), and I was sure surprised to see references to a book of his on North America. Is it possible this Steele was misappropriated by someone's memory...?


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Cueball
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posted 20 December 2005 02:19 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I am thinking of writing a book abou the history of Canadian Anarchism and it would be great if people who have any ideas about how to go about this project, contacts etc, could PM me. I have done some preliminary work, already.
From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 20 December 2005 02:28 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Boarsbreath:
...BTW Google also produced this:
Warpaths: Invasions of North America
by Ian K Steele
...I'm a big John Keegan fan, for his early books despite his apparent senility these days (as evidenced by a book on the Iraq war), and I was sure surprised to see references to a book of his on North America. Is it possible this Steele was misappropriated by someone's memory...?


No. I have the Keegan book which I quoted from above.

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