In 1970 Dee Brown turned in his manuscript of ''Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee'', to his publisher. Brown had written a number of books before but were tepidly received by the American public.
As impressed as they were, Brown's editors didn't expect Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, to fare any better then his earlier books. An initial print run was set modestly at below 10,000 copies.
Then something odd happened, some unforeseen kismet, some magical alignment in the culture. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee touched a raw nerve and became a surprise best seller. It was a magnificent book - forcefully written, exhaustively researched, clarion in its tone of moral outrage. But more then that , it came along at the precise moment when the public was ready to receive the full plangency of its message. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee landed on America's doorstep in the anguished midst of the Vietnam War, shortly after the revelations of the My Lai massacre had plunged the nation into gnawing self-doubt. Here was a book filled with hundreds of My Lais, a book that explored the dark roots of American arrogance while dealing a near-deathblow to our fondest folk myth of winning the West.
The book proved to be nothing less than a publishing phenomenon. As one historian later put it, Bury My Heart at Wounded Kneewas ''not so much a book, but an event''. It went on to sell nearly five million copies and has been translated into over a dozen languages. But the book's triumphant stats alone don't begin to suggest the high-voltage shock it gave - and continues to give - the national identity. With this book, Dee Brown threw a switch, and suddenly all the emotional valences of America's creation story had been reversed.
In 2000, just a few years before he died at the age of ninty-four, Brown said, ''I know a few academics who would like to drive a stake through the heart of Wounded Knee.
But the joke was on the critics. The book has outlasted its critics and held up over two full generations now, proving just as resonant and powerful today - as we burrow ever deeper into another disastrous foreign war - as it was in 1970.
Dee Brown walked on in 2002.
This is a excerpt from the forward to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Hampton Sides. Santa Fe New Mexico, January 25, 2007