The Color of Lightning

Narrated by: Jack Garrett
Length: 13 hrs and 34 mins
4.4 out of 5 stars (294 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In 1863, the War Between the States creeps slowly yet inevitably toward its bloody conclusion - and eastern thoughts are already turning to different wars and enemies. Searching for a life and future, former Kentucky slave Britt Johnson is venturing west into unknown territory with his wife, Mary, and their three children - wary but undeterred by sobering tales of atrocities inflicted upon those who trespass against the Comanche and the Kiowa. Settling on the Texas plains, the Johnson family hopes to build on the dreams that carried them from the Confederate South to this new land of possibility - dreams that are abruptly shattered by a brutal Indian raid upon the settlement while Britt is away establishing a business. Returning to face the unthinkable - his friends and neighbors slain or captured, his eldest son dead, his beloved Mary severely damaged and enslaved, and his remaining children absorbed into an alien society that will never relinquish its hold on them - the heartsick freedman vows not to rest until his family is whole again.

Samuel Hammond follows a different road west. A Quaker whose fortune is destroyed by a capricious act of an inscrutable God, he has resigned himself to the role the Deity has chosen for him. As a new agent for the Office of Indian Affairs, it is Hammond's goal to ferret out corruption and win justice for the noble natives now in his charge. But the proud, stubborn people refuse to cease their raids, free their prisoners, and accept the farming implements and lifestyle the white man would foist upon them, adding fuel to smoldering tensions that threaten to turn a man of peace, faith, and reason onto a course of terrible retribution.

A soaring work of the imagination based on oral histories of the post - Civil War years in North Texas, Paulette Jiles's The Color of Lightning is at once an intimate look into the hearts and hopes of tragically flawed human beings and a courageous reexamination of a dark American ...

©2009 Paulette Jiles (P)2009 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about The Color of Lightning

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Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

Would you consider the audio edition of The Color of Lightning to be better than the print version?

Did not read the print. Learned to enjoy audio books when I drove an 18 wheeler. Still use them to multitask.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Britt Johnson. Oh to have someone love me that much/

Which character – as performed by Jack Garrett – was your favorite?

Britt Johnson.

Any additional comments?

Do not read at the dinner table.

13 people found this helpful

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A DIFFERENT "COWBOYS AND INDIANS WESTERN"


This is not a typical tale of cowboys and Indians, but a well written look at at the period of the great American expansion into the west. When major social shifts occur, a period of of time between the ending of one era and the start of the next is created. These periods of tension and unrest often raise hard questions about the changes intended to solve problems. Jiles raises some questions about the goals of the Civil War and of the country’s western expansion.

Her characters are well developed. Britt, a legally free Black man whose wife Mary and children are taken during a Commanche and Kiowa Indian raid and an Agent of the Indian Affairs Agency, Samuel, from an old Quaker family “Back East.”

When free “Coloreds,” Indians who are required to live on reservations, Comancheros from New Mexico and south of the Rio Grande, and mixed race people from the interbreeding among captives and captors of all races are thrown together in a time of unrest, strong ethnic, religious and political emotions, Jiles gives us a bit of the history of North Texas.

Samuel devoutly defends and tries to live his Quaker faith in non-violence. He refuses to wear a weapon or to allow military guards to accompany him on his visits to the reservations where he tries to bargain with the leaders for the return of the women and children they have abducted. The Indian view is: We never asked for reservation. We reject your “civilization.” Blacks and Whites are legally equals, but that will take over a century to become a reality.

The refusal to return captured women and children had its inevitable consequences. The book makes one wonder if what we think is best for us, is not necessarily best for others? When is non-violence not the solution? Why do people not care about your “legal” equality? What happens when your ideas about civilization are not mine? When does might make right? It is easy to highly recommend this book. It is an interesting listen.

10 people found this helpful

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Just wonderful

I should have known the author is a poet. She makes this wonderful Western story--based on true, skimpily remembered events--a lyrical picture of life, courage, confusion, and sorrow. Her descriptions of Texas topography and weather are vivid enough to make you want to back up and hear them again. And her treatment of black and white and Indian people is both just and informed by her understanding that there are problems that can't be solved, thoughts that can't be changed--and life that just must be lived in spite of all that

3 people found this helpful

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A Moment in Time, Preserved

Some of the best stories are those that capture and examine a moment in history, turning it over and over like an especially interesting fossil. This is one of them. The moment is 1863, when the Civil War is dragging to a close and all eyes are on Western expansion. In Texas, this means the convergence and conflict arising when whites, blacks, and Indians share the same space—not to mention buffalo, the cavalry, a bit of religion, and the Klan. Paulette Jiles’ research into oral histories of the period gives this opus the ring of authenticity—of course the Indians wouldn’t agree to become farmers!—and her descriptive prowess converts the vast rolling plains into unforgettable poetry. Her characters are fully formed and infinitely varied, yet all relatable and memorable. Add Jack Garrett’s skillful narration, and you get 13-1/2 hours that will haunt you long after it’s done.

2 people found this helpful

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Highest Review I've ever given.

Fascinating story. Narrator is natural sounding for multi-voices. Sentences often breathtaking. Historically accurate. Transporting entertainment.

2 people found this helpful

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Most excellent

Although I didn't like the narrator at first, he did grow on me. I learned a lot reading this book and I was especially grateful for how the author helped me to understand the conflict between Native Americans and the settlers of the old west. Even though the story was told primarily from the point of view of one black family, I was equally able to see the situation from the Indian point of view. This is a great story and a great read.

4 people found this helpful

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Wonderful, beautiful. Historical page turner.

I read "News of the World" first then had to read this one. Loved every bit of it and was sad it ended. It's based on a real historical character and I just love him. A real Western and a commentary on race relations in post-Civil War Texas between blacks, whites, and native Americans and the religious groups who tried to negotiate peace with the natives. It's about native Native American culture. There's a little bit of Girl Power sprinkled in.

1 person found this helpful

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Brutal and tragic

Historical fiction about frontier life. Gruesome details. Nobody wins. Hopeless. Not my cup of tea.

1 person found this helpful

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Broadens Knowledge of Settling of West

Read this twice through public libraries. Want to own my copy. Britt Johnson, the "colored" ex-slave was also mentioned in the gritty best seller, "Empire of the Summer Moon." In my humble opinion, this is Jiles best book. So many are uneducated about how blacks were involved in the settling of the West, because it is not taught in most schools in the United States. Hope you will be as delighted as I was.

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compelling main character

the book was compelling and explored a specific time and story with depth and a clear eyes geyt on history. britt Johnson was a real person and the kiowa and comanche in this book have specificity and depth rarely allowed in other stories that either vilify or sanctify the native experience while also voting the specific cultures of individual tribes. I could have lived without the quaker, but I loved every other detailed and vivid character in this story