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Harley-Davidson bikers . . . Grand Canyon river rats. . . Mormon archaeologists. . . Spelling bee prodigies... For more than fifteen years, best-selling author and historian Hampton Sides has traveled widely across the continent exploring the America that lurks just behind the scrim of our mainstream culture. Reporting forOutside,The New Yorker, and NPR, among other national media, the award-winning journalist has established a reputation not only as a wry observer of the contemporary American scene but also as one of our more inventive and versatile practitioners of narrative non-fiction. In these two dozen pieces, collected here for the first time, Sides gives us a fresh, alluring, and at times startling America brimming with fascinating subcultures and bizarre characters who could live nowhere else. Following Sides, we crash the redwood retreat of an apparent cabal of fabulously powerful military-industrialists, drop in on the Indy 500 of bass fishing, and join a giant techno-rave at the lip of the Grand Canyon. We meet a diverse gallery of American visionaries-- from the impossibly perky founder of Tupperware to Indian radical Russell Means to skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. We retrace the route of the historic Bataan Death March with veterans from Sides' acclaimed WWII epic,Ghost Soldiers. Sides also examines the nation that has emerged from the ashes of September 11, recounting the harrowing journeys of three World Trade Center survivors and deciding at the last possible minute not to "embed" on the Iraqi front-lines with the U. S. Marines. Americanagives us a sparkling mosaic of our country today, in all its wild and poignant charm. Experience the many faces of America with Hampton Sides as he: AMERICAN ORIGINALS . . . drops in on the charmed life of skateboarding icon Tony Hawk; studies counter-terrorism at the G. Gordon Liddy spy school; goes Hollywood with American Indian Movement radical-turned-movie-star Russell Means; steps out of the closet with Mel White, religious right ghostwriter-turned-gay activist; mushes the Iditarod Trail with Alaska legend Joe Redington. AMERICAN EDENS . . . runs the rapids during a man-made flood in the Grand Canyon; crashes the redwood retreat of California's elite Bohemian Club; debriefs the "bio-nauts" as they emerge from captivity in the Biosphere; dives into America's greatest swimming hole; gets ecstatic with the Zippies at their secret all-night techno-rave. AMERICAN RIDES . . . ponders silver bubbles at the annual Airstream RV convention; revs it up at the Harley-Davidson rally in Sturgis, South Dakota; sails the Chesapeake with snooty owners of a rare antique sailboat known as the log canoe; roams the streets with D. C. 's hard-core band of bike couriers. AMERICAN BY BIRTH, SOUTHERN BY THE GRACE OF . . . . . . speaks in tongues with black Pentecostalists of the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ; fishes for lunkers at the Bassmasters Classic; goes underground with the world's greatest cave rescuer; unravels the mystery of a notorious teen murder in rural Mississippi. AMERICANS ABROAD . . . crosses the Sahara Desert with American endurance runners at the infernal Marathon des Sables; bushwhacks through MesoAmerica with Mormon archaeologists in search of lost tribes of Israel; visits a high school friend who's become an Uzi-toting Zionist pioneer in the West Bank; walks the route of the Bataan Death March with characters fromGhost Soldiers. AMERICAN OBSESSIONS . . . cranks it up with high-end stereophiles at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas; gets bowled over by 5,000 squealing salesladies at the annual Tupperware convention; plumbs the mysteries of the "schwa" at the National Spelling Bee; scrapes at the stucco of the neurotic architectural t
Praise for Blood and Thunder: "Kit Carson's role in the conquest of the Navajo during and after the Civil War remains one of the most dramatic and significant episodes in the history of the American West. Hampton Sides portrays Carson in the larger context of the conquest of the entire West, including his frequent and often lethal encounters with hostile Native Americans. Unusually, Sides gives full voice to Indian leaders themselves about their trials and tribulations in their dealings with the whites. Here is a national hero on the level of Daniel Boone, presented with all of his flaws and virtues, in the context of American people's belief that it was their Manifest Destiny to occupy the entire West." --Howard Lamar, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University and editor of The New Encyclopedia of the American West. "The story of the American West has seldom been told with such intimacy and immediacy. Legendary figures like Kit Carson leap to life and history moves at a pulse-pounding pace--sweeping the reader along with it. Hampton Sides is a terrific storyteller." --Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt. "Hampton Sides doesn't just write a book, he transports the reader to another time and place. With his keen sense of drama and his crackling writing style, this master storyteller has bequeathed us a majestic history of the Old West." --James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys. "Blood and Thunder is a big-hearted book whose subject is as expansive as they come. Hampton Sides tackles it with naked pleasure and narrative cunning: In his telling, the vast saga of America's westward push has a logical center. The dusty town of Santa Fe becomes the nexus around which swirl the fortunes and strategies of a mixed set of serious overachievers, from Kit Carson, the original mountain man, to James K. Polk, the enigmatic president whose achievements, in the dreaded name of Manifest Destiny, were almost biblical in scope. Sides is alive to the exuberance and alert to the tragedy of the taking of the West." --Russell Shorto, author of Island at the Center of the World. "For a huge percentage of us immigrant Americans (those whose ancestors arrived after 1492), Hampton Sides fills a gaping hole in our knowledge of American history--a vivid account of how 'The New Men' swept away the thriving civilizations of the Native Americans in their conquest of the West." --Tony Hillerman. A Magnificent History of How the West Was Really Won--a Sweeping Tale of Shame and Glory. In the fall of 1846 the venerable Navajo warrior Narbona, greatest of his people's chieftains, looked down upon the small town of Santa Fe, the stronghold of the Mexican settlers he had been fighting his whole long life. He had come to see if the rumors were true--if an army of blue-suited soldiers had swept in from the East and utterly defeated his ancestral enemies. As Narbona gazed down on the battlements and cannons of a mighty fort the invaders had built, he realized his foes had been vanquished--but what did the arrival of these "New Men" portend for the Navajo? Narbona could not have known that "The Army of the West," in the midst of the longest march in American military history, was merely the vanguard of an inexorable tide fueled by a self-righteous ideology now known as "Manifest Destiny."
On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected U.S. troops slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty rugged miles to rescue 513 POWs languishing in a hellish camp, among them the last survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March. A recent prison massacre by Japanese soldiers elsewhere in the Philippines made the stakes impossibly high and left little time to plan the complex operation.In Ghost Soldiers Hampton Sides vividly re-creates this daring raid, offering a minute-by-minute narration that unfolds alongside intimate portraits of the prisoners and their lives in the camp. Sides shows how the POWs banded together to survive, defying the Japanese authorities even as they endured starvation, tropical diseases, and torture. Harrowing, poignant, and inspiring, Ghost Soldiers is the mesmerizing story of a remarkable mission. It is also a testament to the human spirit, an account of enormous bravery and self-sacrifice amid the most trying conditions.From the Trade Paperback edition.e raid and his chronicle of the prisoners' wrenching experiences are masterful. But Ghost Soldiers is far more than a thrilling battle saga. Hampton Sides explores the mystery of human behavior under extreme duress--the resilience of the prisoners, who defied the Japanese authorities even as they endured starvation, tropical diseases, and unspeakable tortures; the violent cultural clashes with Japanese guards and soldiers steeped in the warrior ethic of Bushido; the remarkable heroism of the Rangers and Filipino guerrillas; the complex motivations of the U.S. high command, some of whom could justly be charged with abandoning the men of Bataan in 1942; and the nearly suicidal bravado of several spies, including priests and a cabaret owner, who risked their lives to help the prisoners during their long ordeal.At once a gripping depiction of men at war and a compelling story of redemption, Ghost Soldiers joins such landmark books as Flags of Our Fathers, The Greatest Generation, The Rape of Nanking, and D-Day in preserving the legacy of World War II for future generations.
From the acclaimed bestselling author of Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder, a taut, intense narrative about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the largest manhunt in American history. On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man--whose real name was James Earl Ray--drifted through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace's racist presidential campaign. On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage men were crushed to death in their hydraulic truck, provoking the exclusively African American workforce to go on strike. Hoping to resuscitate his faltering crusade, King joined the sanitation workers' cause, but their march down Beale Street, the historic avenue of the blues, turned violent. Humiliated, King fatefully vowed to return to Memphis in April. With relentless storytelling drive, Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey. Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King's funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassin's flight and the sixty-five-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England--a massive manhunt ironically led by Hoover's FBI. Magnificent in scope, drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished material, this nonfiction thriller illuminates one of the darkest hours in American life--an example of how history is so often a matter of the petty bringing down the great.
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