Sample Book Review

The following is a book review that I wrote for North Dakota History and it should give you a rough idea of how to approach your Critical Book Review assignment. Note that the instructions you have for your review are a little different than the instructions I had.

Kenneth Stern's Loud Hawk: The United States versus the American Indian Movement is a very readable firsthand account of the longest pre-trial criminal case in U.S. History. Using United States v. Kenneth Moses Loud Hawk as his vehicle, Stern weaves a compelling narrative of the government's historical mistreatment of Native American peoples and its intensified harassment of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1970s. At its best, it is a chilling chronicle of governmental misconduct and vindictiveness. It is a passionately told tale that adds necessary perspectives for understanding AIM and the attitudes many Indian have about the government. Furthermore, Stern clearly recounts the complexities of the judicial process in an understandable manner and treats the reader to an insightful look at lawyer-client relationships and the difference between "learning about" and "practicing" law. Unfortunately, Stern's language is sometimes imprecise and the story occasionally flounders in a romantic and self-serving autobiographical sub-theme.

This extraordinary case began outside Ontario, Oregon in November 1975 when state police arrested Anna Mae Aquash, KaMook Bank, Kenny Loud Hawk, and Russ Redner. Although Leonard Peltier and Dennis Banks escaped from the scene in dramatic fashion, eventually all six face prosecution for possession of eight illegal weapons and seven cases of dynamite.

As an idealistic first-year law student, Stern quickly volunteered to help with the defense. What follows is Stern's well documented indictment of the government's unethical behavior in its thirteen-year effort to try the Indian defendents. This behavior includes destroying, manufacturing, and hiding evidence; spying on lawyers' meetings; intimidating supporters; supporting vigilantes; prejudicing potential jurors, and more. Although the case was dismissed in 1976, 1980, 1983, and 1986, the saga sadly contiunued until Dennis Banks accepted a plea bargain in 1988.

One cannot help marveling at Stern's devotion to his clients and his exhaustive defense preparations. Though Stern vigorously defends Indian civil and treaty rights, he preserves enough balance to recognize the foibles of his clients and avoids the temptation to descend into a shrill diatribe against the government.

Many readers may consider this work most useful as a supplement to Peter Matthiessen's more comprehensive volume, In The Spirit of Crazy Horse, but it can clearly stand on its own merit as an independent contribution. Loud Hawk will appeal to general readers and libraries will want to add it to their Native American collections.

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