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In Whose Ruins: Power, Possession, and the Landscapes of American Empire

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In this “first-rate work of historical research and storytelling” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), four sites of American history are revealed as places where truth was written over by oppressive fiction—with profound repercussions for politics past and present. Popular narratives of American history conceal as much as they reveal, presenting a national identity based on h In this “first-rate work of historical research and storytelling” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), four sites of American history are revealed as places where truth was written over by oppressive fiction—with profound repercussions for politics past and present. Popular narratives of American history conceal as much as they reveal, presenting a national identity based on harvesting treasures that lay in wait for European colonization. In Whose Ruins tells another story: winding through the US landscape, from Native American earthworks in West Virginia to the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, this history is a tour of sites that were mined for an empire’s power. Showing the hidden costs of ruthless economic growth—particularly to Indigenous people—this book illuminates the myth-making intimately tied to place. From the ground up, the project of settlement, expansion, and extraction became entwined with the spiritual values of those who hoped to gain from it. Every nation tells some stories and suppresses others, and In Whose Ruins illustrates the way American myths have overwritten Indigenous histories, binding us into an unsustainable future. Historian Alicia Puglionesi? “makes a perfect guide through the strange myths, characters, and environments that best reflect the insidious exploitation inseparable from American dominion” (Chicago Review of Books). She illuminates the story of the Grave Creek Stone, “discovered” in an ancient Indigenous burial mound; oil wells drilled in the corner of western Pennsylvania once known as Petrolia; ancient petroglyphs that once adorned rock faces on the Susquehanna River, dynamited into pieces to make way for a hydroelectric dam; and the effects of the US nuclear program in the Southwest, which contaminated vast regions in the name of eternal wealth and security through atomic power, a promise that rang hollow for the surrounding Native, Hispanic, and white communities. It also inspired nationwide resistance, uniting diverse groups behind a different vision of the future—one not driven by greed and haunted by ruin. This deeply researched work traces the roots of American fantasies and fears in a national tradition of selective forgetting. Connecting the power of myths with the extraction of power from the land itself reveals the truths that have been left out and is “a stimulating look at the erasure and endurance of Native American culture” (Publishers Weekly).


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In this “first-rate work of historical research and storytelling” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), four sites of American history are revealed as places where truth was written over by oppressive fiction—with profound repercussions for politics past and present. Popular narratives of American history conceal as much as they reveal, presenting a national identity based on h In this “first-rate work of historical research and storytelling” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), four sites of American history are revealed as places where truth was written over by oppressive fiction—with profound repercussions for politics past and present. Popular narratives of American history conceal as much as they reveal, presenting a national identity based on harvesting treasures that lay in wait for European colonization. In Whose Ruins tells another story: winding through the US landscape, from Native American earthworks in West Virginia to the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, this history is a tour of sites that were mined for an empire’s power. Showing the hidden costs of ruthless economic growth—particularly to Indigenous people—this book illuminates the myth-making intimately tied to place. From the ground up, the project of settlement, expansion, and extraction became entwined with the spiritual values of those who hoped to gain from it. Every nation tells some stories and suppresses others, and In Whose Ruins illustrates the way American myths have overwritten Indigenous histories, binding us into an unsustainable future. Historian Alicia Puglionesi? “makes a perfect guide through the strange myths, characters, and environments that best reflect the insidious exploitation inseparable from American dominion” (Chicago Review of Books). She illuminates the story of the Grave Creek Stone, “discovered” in an ancient Indigenous burial mound; oil wells drilled in the corner of western Pennsylvania once known as Petrolia; ancient petroglyphs that once adorned rock faces on the Susquehanna River, dynamited into pieces to make way for a hydroelectric dam; and the effects of the US nuclear program in the Southwest, which contaminated vast regions in the name of eternal wealth and security through atomic power, a promise that rang hollow for the surrounding Native, Hispanic, and white communities. It also inspired nationwide resistance, uniting diverse groups behind a different vision of the future—one not driven by greed and haunted by ruin. This deeply researched work traces the roots of American fantasies and fears in a national tradition of selective forgetting. Connecting the power of myths with the extraction of power from the land itself reveals the truths that have been left out and is “a stimulating look at the erasure and endurance of Native American culture” (Publishers Weekly).

44 review for In Whose Ruins: Power, Possession, and the Landscapes of American Empire

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kimba Tichenor

    Highly recommend. A timely popular examination of memory and landscape in which four sites of American history are investigated to show how the past has been constructed and instrumentalized to promote American capitalist imperialism. Specifically, the author traces how in the pursuit of profit white settlers appropriated, selectively remembered, and reinterpreted the indigenous past to justify the removal of native Americans from their land and the extraction of valuable resources from the land Highly recommend. A timely popular examination of memory and landscape in which four sites of American history are investigated to show how the past has been constructed and instrumentalized to promote American capitalist imperialism. Specifically, the author traces how in the pursuit of profit white settlers appropriated, selectively remembered, and reinterpreted the indigenous past to justify the removal of native Americans from their land and the extraction of valuable resources from the land. But these settler-narratives and narratives of racial capitalism, in which a myth of a lost white race loomed large, the author shows, did not die with the closing of the frontier. Long after the West was tamed, the notion of a mythic white race remained central to white supremacist conspiracy theory and “often appears in mainstream cable television shows whose audiences would rather speculate about extraterrestrials and Vikings than accept the Indigenous origins of the country’s ancient monuments. Even more concerning is how contemporary American culture continues to produce variations on this early myth to “justify the ever-deepening exploitation of land and people, against all rational evidence that this is a path of death.” The author hopes that by exposing the “hard histories” behind the myth that the topographies of domination that were built upon these myths can be shattered. But as the author also recognizes, truth-telling in this country is often met with anger. When in 2017, the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue of General Robert E. Lee and rename the park where the statue was located, white nationalists responded by holding a march in which some chanted Nazi slogans. The violence reached its peak when James Alex Field rammed his car into a crowd of counter protesters. Those who continue to object to the removal of such monuments recast the Civil War as a contest over states’ rights rather than the institution of slavery. Moreover, they perceive the removal of such monuments as an existential threat to their way of life. The zero-sum logic that informs such thinking has its roots in the settler-colonial and racial capitalism narratives detailed by the author. Yet, the likelihood that one book can overcome the power structures reinforced by this narrative is slim. Still the current situation—an out-of-control pandemic, catastrophic weather events, a politically polarized populace, and a teetering economy—accentuate the timeliness of the author’s message. For until we come to terms with the myths that inform American capitalist ideologies, the siege mentality that galvanized voters in 2016, blocked efforts at developing sustainability solutions to climate change, and fueled conspiratorial fantasies will continue to flourish with dangerous results. I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Myra

    I could go as high as 3.5 stars. Some very interesting insight into some lesser-known instances where white imperialism destroyed native lands in the guise of "civilizing" them or "benefitting" people. I grew up a stone's throw from Drake Well/Oil City/Petrolia in PA (and have the best picture of my sister ever on her visit there!!!), but I 100% don't remember there being any mention in their materials (this would have been in the 70s or maybe early 80s when I last visited) of how the whites jus I could go as high as 3.5 stars. Some very interesting insight into some lesser-known instances where white imperialism destroyed native lands in the guise of "civilizing" them or "benefitting" people. I grew up a stone's throw from Drake Well/Oil City/Petrolia in PA (and have the best picture of my sister ever on her visit there!!!), but I 100% don't remember there being any mention in their materials (this would have been in the 70s or maybe early 80s when I last visited) of how the whites just took over native land for their own profit. Sadly, I did find this section of the book fairly dull reading. I think the Susquehanna River section was probably the most interesting. Definitely worth a read, but don't expect to be mesmerized.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    Not an easy read, but an important one

  4. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lillian

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Klee

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  8. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

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    J.W.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karlo

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris Chord

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    Layla Johnston

  13. 4 out of 5

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    Veronica

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    Julia Prater

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    Matthew

  17. 5 out of 5

    Len Coombs

  18. 4 out of 5

    alex guns

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    Laura

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    Alex Helm

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    Gally

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pablo Silva

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    Ania

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nebulosus

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Keljo

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kirby

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kara

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    Holly Kroh

  30. 4 out of 5

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    Kimberley

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    Brittany Overton

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    Kimberly

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    viktoria

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    Mark

  40. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Hall

  41. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  42. 4 out of 5

    Human

  43. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  44. 5 out of 5

    Xan Lasko

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