Kit Carson expert to speak

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By Kelly LeVan

The author of two bestselling books will discuss his latest work of nonfiction this week as part of Mesa Public Library's Authors Speak Series.

Hampton Sides, author of the bestselling books Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder, among other works of narrative nonfiction, will read at 7 p.m. Thursday in the library's upstairs rotunda.

"I always hated Westerns, Sides said in an interview Wednesday. I thought the whole genre was pretty much washed out."

Then he began reading about Kit Carson and he didn't stop for four years.

By 2006, he had written a Western of his own "Blood and Thunder," which tells the history of the American West and its many heroes and villains, featuring the elusive, tantalizing Carson.

Although he considers himself as much an expert on Carson as possible, the historical figure remains surrounded by questions, Sides said, and it's hard to feel like you really know him.

The mysteries that drew Sides to study Carson have now piqued the interest of his readers.

In addition to making the New York Times Bestsellers List, Time magazine named "Blood and Thunder" one of its 10 best books of 2006, and the book was voted the best history title of year by both the History Book Club and the Western Writers Association.

Also, PBS interviewed Sides for an episode of "The American Experience," set to air next month, and DreamWorks Pictures has adapted the book to a screenplay.

"Kit Carson used to be in the movies all the time," Sides said. "He was a folk hero, distorted and turned into a caricature. But there hasn't been anything popular on him since the 1950s Maybe Hollywood periodically revisits these kinds of people."

Despite his success with Western nonfiction, it would be inaccurate to describe Sides as a Western author. His "Ghost Soldiers" followed a group of POWs in the Philippines during WWII, and he's currently working on a book set in the American South.

"Whatever the setting, I'm into character-driven history," Sides said. "It's much more interesting to read books where people are doing things than about disembodied ideas."

Sides enjoyed a great deal of success with his former books as well. "Ghost Soliders" sold more than a million copies and has been translated into a dozen foreign languages. It won the 2002 PEN USA West award for non-fiction and the 2002 Discover Award from Barnes & Noble, and was the basis of the Miramax film, "The Great Raid."

Sides, the current editor-at-large for Outside magazine, was nominated for National Magazine Awards for feature writing in 2003 and 2004. His stories have appeared in Esquire, The New Yorker, Mens Journal and Preservation, as well as on National Public Radio.

Sides is also the author of Americana (Anchor-Vintage), a collection of his magazine reporting; Stomping Grounds (William Morrow), a book about American subcultures; and Why Moths Hate Thomas Edison And Other Urgent Inquiries Into the Odd Nature of Nature (WW Norton/Outside Books), a collection of natural science columns.

His work has been anthologized in The Best Science and Nature Writing, (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), The Outside 25: Classic Tales and New Voices from the Frontiers of Adventure (W.W. Norton, 2002), and Wild Stories: The Best of Men's Journal (Three Rivers Press, 2003).

A graduate of Yale with a B.A. in history, Sides lives in Santa Fe with his wife Anne and their three boys.