The West: A Film by Stephen Ives and Presented by Ken Burns

Season 1
 (1,543)
8.41996NR
Packed with vivid imagery and personalities, The West reveals the triumph and tragedy of America's drive to become a continental nation.
Genres
DocumentarySpecial Interest
Subtitles
English [CC]
Audio languages
English

Included with PBS Documentaries on Amazon for $3.99/month after trial

Add to Watchlist
Add to
Watchlist
By ordering or viewing, you agree to our Terms. Sold by Amazon.com Services LLC.
Write review

  1. 1. The People
    September 15 1996
    1 h 22 min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    This series chronicles the saga of the American West, tracing the lives of a diverse cast of characters, from explorers, soldiers and Indian warriors to settlers, railroad builders and gaudy showmen, who share their stories in their own words, through diaries, letters and autobiographical accounts.
  2. 2. Empire Upon the Trails
    September 16 1996
    1 h 24 min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    In the early 1800's, no one knew who would control the seemingly infinite spaces of the West.
  3. 3. The Speck of the Future
    September 17 1996
    1 h 25 min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    In 1848, a sawmill worker named James Marshall reached down into the stream bed of the American River in California -- and came up with the future of the West in the palm of his hand. He had discovered gold.
  4. 4. Death Runs Riot
    September 18 1996
    1 h 24 min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    The West had always symbolized hope and new beginnings, but in the 1850s, as more American pioneers poured west to start over, they brought with them the nation's oldest, most divisive issue -- slavery.
  5. 5. The Grandest Enterprise Under God
    September 19 1996
    1 h 24 min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    After the Civil War reunited North and South, Americans set out with renewed energy and optimism to finally unite the nation, East and West.
  6. 6. Fight No More Forever
    September 22 1996
    1 h 25 min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    By the 1870s, only a few groups resisted the nation's push to conquer the West.
  7. 7. The Geography of Hope
    September 23 1996
    1 h 25 min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    The conquest of the West was nearly complete by the 1870s. In one remarkable decade, with Indians effectively confined to reservations, over four million new settlers arrived to stake their claim to the future.
  8. 8. Ghost Dance
    September 24 1996
    59min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    By the late 1880's, Americans were astounded by the changes they had brought to the West.
  9. 9. One Sky Above Us
    September 25 1996
    1 h 3 min
    ALL
    Subtitles
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    English
    Los Angeles steals its water supply, millions of Mexicans migrate north, and Hollywood begins to shape the West and the nation's image of it.

More details

Season year
1996
Network
PBS
Content advisory
Smokingnudityfoul languagesexual contentviolence
Purchase rights
Stream instantly Details
Format
Prime Video (streaming online video)
Devices
Available to watch on supported devices

Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

1543 global ratings

  1. 83% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 11% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 3% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 1% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 2% of reviews have 1 stars
Write a customer review
Sorted by:

Top reviews from the United States

FoolishFeathersReviewed in the United States on May 6, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
A well-rounded look at the formation of the West!
Verified purchase
First off I will be honest, I am coming from a biased view because I love history and I was willing to watch the whole series through (I am on my third watching, but with my daughter this time). If you do do not like documentaries or history or with detailed information that may disagree from the whitewashed version of history that I was taught in school, then this series is not for you. It may challenge what one knows and irritate at points, but if you go in with an open mind and just absorb what is shared, I believe you will like it on the whole. The cinematography is amazing in this series and it is stuffed full of the research and stories that has come to expect from Ken Burns and PBS. There is some criticism that it shows too much of the exploitations of varies people groups, but frankly, that is the story of America and I think it is well-balanced in that the put these things in context of the time, telling stories from both sides for a more well-balanced view of history.

The whole of the series can be summed up in one quote from about 7 minutes into the first episode: "The West is not any one thing. It is tremendous collection of stories of individual human beings who could at one point demonstrate the highest values of heroism and the lowest values of cowardice, of cruelty and nobility, and all the other things that go in to make great stories. Which is why the history of the West is one of the great stories of all time, but no intelligent person can look at it without feeling a mix of both pride and shame."(T.H. Watkins)
26 people found this helpful
AnonymousReviewed in the United States on May 21, 2016
4.0 out of 5 stars
Powerful and gripping
Verified purchase
Personally, I would give it 5 stars. My 11 year old gave it 5 stars. My 9 year old gave it 2 stars. So we averaged the scores and gave it 4 stars. I watched it by myself before the children watched it. I found it addictive. My 11 year old liked the way things were presented as a sequence building up to the major events (e.g. the Wounded Knee Massacre). I think a large part of the reason my children were able to sit through the whole 13.5 hrs of documentary is that we traveled around large parts of the US for a year and paid attention to historic and cultural sites. We visited many sites, monuments and museums related to Lewis and Clarke, Lakota, Nez Perce and several other nations and tribes. So, when the children watched the documentary, they were able to relate it to places they'd visited. Otherwise, I don't think it would have held their attention so much.
I watched it before my family and I traveled around the country on our long trip. It's been about 3 years since I watched it and now I'm going to watch it again. I do recall how shocking I found some of the events that occurred in the history of The West. The way the events are presented instilled a feeling of empathy within me for the nations and tribes displaced, affected or even wiped out by the expansion of whites westward across North America. It's a very powerful presentation. It also struck me how quickly things have happened in the USA.
I don't think there are many other documentarians who could hold my attention for 13.5 hours, and certainly not my children's attention. The only other one is Sir David Attenborough. Ken Burns' The West is a masterpiece.
31 people found this helpful
ignacio f.Reviewed in the United States on May 18, 2020
1.0 out of 5 stars
Extremely boring presentation. Peter Coyote's narration is way too indignant
Verified purchase
about the long-past sins of Spanish conquistadors and priests. He's hardly objective, as he was one of the original Diggers in San Francisco's radical world in the 1960s and took the name Coyote as a show of solidarity with his Native American spiritual "brothers" (or something). Thus we get to hear a lot of unmusical Navajo chanting behind scenes in which it really doesn't fit, or help. I found this as annoying as all the scat-singing indulged in by Wynton Marsalis during another Ken Burns documentary -- "Jazz."
4 people found this helpful
Sherilyn A HodgesReviewed in the United States on February 2, 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
The West the True Story Tha Good And The Bad
Verified purchase
Having a degree in history, I thought I knew a lot about our country. I found out watching this series that there was still more to learn. Amazingly beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time as you learn the good and bad sides of human nature. The photography is breathtaking at times and also puts faces to the heroes and villains of our country's past. We all enjoyed this series as a fantastic coming together of all the elements that created our nation and inspired our forefathers.
16 people found this helpful
Wild Horses FlyingReviewed in the United States on October 8, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
History counts
Verified purchase
I love it. It gives an invaluable perspective that's impossible, however good one's intentions, for the people who are living the moment and times to have or to see who and what is really going to influence things and make a difference. This perspective shows that while individual actions are not irrelevant - still they're probably not doing what we think they are, that the smallest thing can have the greatest effect and that there would appear to be some other invisible hand at play in our human doings. Boggling. Wonderful. And, it's very fair, revealing important factors, forces, people and issues that have been buried with time. I feel it gives, finally, a fair shake to all players -- whites, Indians, Spanish -- amen.
And it condenses this historical information that otherwise we'd have to read a million books to get -- without being superficial. I think this kind of information is so important for guiding how we live OUR moment(s) with better choices, wisdom and . . . humility.
One person found this helpful
RGCoomerReviewed in the United States on February 18, 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
Entertaining and Educational
Verified purchase
I personally loved this whole series for what it was, a story that the producer chose to tell. I found this offering entertaining and educational, and to which, stirred both guilt and pride as the producer's story expanded. This must be a testament to its quality. To say it is either accurate or not, riveting or not, sensational or not; without some basis seems rather telling of the person who was the reviewer. Do not be influenced by these reviews and watch this series.
2 people found this helpful
DanielleReviewed in the United States on April 3, 2021
2.0 out of 5 stars
Unfortunate Opening to the Series
Verified purchase
In the first 5 minutes of the first episode... the narrator is describing the different populations of people who populated "The West". He describes how the Spanish called it the North because they came up from Mexico, the Chinese and the Russians called it the east... but he says, it was the Americans who called it the west. He doesn't say Europeans, he says Americans. The Spanish are the Spanish. The Chinese are the Chinese. But those who headed west are Americans. Europeans are Americans, and everyone else is what they are.

I know this was made in 1996, and this type of rhetoric wasn't pushed back on as much then, but that's a big bummer that this is how the series opens. It puts a bad taste in my mouth and makes me not want to finish watching it. I really wish that producers wanted to bankroll someone other than just Ken Burns to make documentaries.
One person found this helpful
Bradley AndersonReviewed in the United States on March 23, 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
What is the Millenial Generation's "West" to explore?
Verified purchase
Ken Burns has never produced something less than inspiring. He is one of the least appreciated, most deserving historians of American history, even judged purely from the breadth of quality work he has produced. Whether ones claims his stories objective or not, the way he tells us of American Western history here is a story fully worth being told. He takes us on a research hunt into the events and hearts of our fathers who lived the great western transition. A few of the points that stuck out to me throughout the series was that of an excitement of exploring an unknown land from the second episode, and that history is something that cannot be placed in the binary 1s and 0s approach. It is more complicated than that. It is important to know so that real life logistics can be seen as uncertain for all who has lived them! The excitement of the western expansion infuses the human soul with wonder and innovation. So too does learning of its complexity. In knowing the complexity and cause/effect of our father's Western expansion, so too can we be more considerate in our own expansions. In the beginning, America was an experiment on whether people can expand their horizons and still coexist in harmony. Though this ideal did not have a road map along the way, it was inspiring to the world and is still being sought to this day. Physical and conceptual trial and error has always been the U.S.'s lot, a road not easy, but still traveled. This has created an intensely cohesive narrative that has been the drive of American patriotism since it's conception. After watching this series, I am left asking myself a question regarding our future as the rising millennials: What will be our expansion? What can be our "West" to create a cohesive human narrative? What can we view as a unifying symbol to further inspire our day?
9 people found this helpful
See all reviews