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Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  738 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
In this brilliant biography T. J. Stiles offers a new understanding of the legendary outlaw Jesse James. Although he has often been portrayed as a Robin Hood of the old west, in this ground-breaking work Stiles places James within the context of the bloody conflicts of the Civil War to reveal a much more complicated and significant figure.

Raised in a fiercely pro-slavery
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ebook, 544 pages
Published October 27th 2010 by Vintage (first published July 1993)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jan-Maat
For me the great thing about this book was how the author explored Jesse James and in the changing political environment of his times. James will always be an unusual and peripheral figure yet he became, for a time, a symbolic figure in the creation of the "Lost Cause" idealisation of the Confederacy, this in turn part of a broader project to win the peace politically by those who had been defeated militarily in the civil war. Aside from being a fascinating story, with train robberies, there is ...more
Randy
May 30, 2008 Randy is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I'm about a third of the way through, and Chris Floyd's review steered me right:

"Last winter, I flew across the ocean back to Tennessee, after my oldest brother died. During this visit, I had with me a book I'd long meant to read but had never gotten around to. It was Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, by T.J. Stiles.

To call this work a "biography" risks misrepresenting the depth and scope of the illumination it provides. It is a masterpiece of historical reconstruction. By the time I had
...more
T.j. Stiles
Dec 11, 2008 T.j. Stiles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wrote this book.
Jeff Crompton
Dec 03, 2011 Jeff Crompton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My four-star rating is a compromise between what I objectively think of the quality of this book and how much enjoyment I had in reading it. Stiles has written an impeccably researched, thorough, detailed biography of James; as such it deserves five stars. But it was a hard read for me. Jesse James, however enduring his place remains in popular culture, was a particularly brutal person. The vast majority of those he killed were unarmed, and during his days as a bushwhacker in Civil War Missouri, ...more
Curtis Butturff
Nov 08, 2010 Curtis Butturff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well written book that takes a look at the James and Younger Brothers in the context of the politics of their times. Largely debunks the idea that JJ was some sort of folk hero or Robin Hood rather suggesting he usurped those ideas to further his own interests. In point of fact Jesse James, Cole Younger, and lot of other people who were held up as Confederate heros forced into a life of crime by persecution were nothing less than cold blooded murderers. On more than one occasion they point bla ...more
Wendy
I'm learning a lot about the complexities of the Civil War: the South, the Reconstruction, Bush-whackers, and how Jesse James fit in. The author says that if Jesse James were alive today, he'd be considered a "terrorist." Interesting thought, huh?
Tom
Mar 29, 2017 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Author Stiles blows away the folk myth that Jesse James was a Robin Hood populist hero. Stiles puts the outlaw's story in the political context of his times - post Civil War - and place - violence ridden Missouri. James was a political terrorist of his time, and many themes Stiles discusses are recurrent in the violence of Ruby Ridge and right-wing militia groups.
Theo Logos
With `Jesse James Last Rebel of the Civil War', J. T. Stiles has given us a most insightful, penetrating, and serious study not just of that outlaw, but more importantly, of the place and times that produced him, and which are necessary for an understanding of who and what he was. Stiles book is as much a study of the social/political/economic history of Missouri from 1845 through 1882 as it is a biography of James. Indeed, Jesse James is not even a principal actor in the book through its first ...more
Evan Barrett
May 22, 2011 Evan Barrett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I remember as kid hearing some vague story and/or attitude about Jesse James, however never took the time to try and understand it. The synopsis of this book makes much of Stiles debunking the myth of Jesse James as a western hero, and Stiles does plenty to satisfy that claim. The strange thing is that I never understood James as a western hero, partially because of my ignorance of either the details of his story or his apparent status as a "wild west" figure, but also because I knew he was from ...more
Christopher Sturcke
In his book Jesse James: Last Rebel, Stiles spins a tale of revenge, cold-blooded murder, and politics. He does what historians are supposed to do: prove their thesis by compiling the supporting evidence and weaving it together in a logical argument capable of persuading others. Stiles thesis is that Jesse James, a bitter unreconstructed secessionist, was actually a product of the old Confederacy and therefore should not be grouped with the gunmen of the Wild West. James was a bushwacker in Civi ...more
Kendrick Blackwood
I made it through, though it was close at a couple points. I picked it up expecting a non-fiction, action adventure story about the James Gang and their exploits in and around the Kansas City area. What I got was an in-depth exploration of the socio-economic situation in Missouri during the Civil War era. That situation created the lost generation that was Jesse James'. (It did have troubling parallels to modern times and the disenfranchisement forced upon many of today's youth. The inability to ...more
David Buccola
Jan 02, 2015 David Buccola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jesse James is one of those figures who I grew up as a small child thinking of is in heroic terms. I know almost nothing about him but the idea was that he was some sort of Robin Hood figure back in the wild wild West days. so this book was a fascinating read into the life of the man that many of us have heard about it a few of us know. Stripped of his Robin Hood mythology, Jesse James comes across more as a modern terrorist. The author does a great job of leaving the narrative of Jesse James th ...more
Steve
Jul 18, 2009 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history & biography of James and his times, and way more complicated than just a train & bank robber story. Missouri was the Bosnia/Serbia of its day, with countless murders and atrocities among the warring factions (and there were at least three groups) who absolutely hated each other. And the big Hate continued, especially for James, well after the Civil War ended. Great follow-up book to the recent Pitt movie. Also check out the novel by Ron Hansen on Jesse James.
Bob
Aug 17, 2008 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Jesse James as a member of a death squad? This book gives us a totally new look at an old American legend. T.J. Stiles shows us a Jesse James who was not only a product of some very intensely political times, but also the product of a "media-machine" in the form of an ex-Confederate journalist by the name of John Newman Edwards, who had a lot to do with the creation of the "Jesse James" image.
L.C. Fiore
May 23, 2017 L.C. Fiore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really incredible history of the social and political environment that gave rise to Jesse James. Missouri was crazy during Reconstruction, and you just don't get this dirty history of the U.S. in your history classes growing up. Also, Jesse James controlled the media in a way that would be familiar to anyone who follows the news today. It's a good thing he never had Twitter.
Bill Tress
Stiles is an excellent writer. He surrounds his subject, in this case Jesse James, with the political climate in the country, in the south and in particular in Missouri. This made the book extremely interesting to me; Stiles puts James in the context of the times to a small degree, explains why he is a a cold blooded killer.
This book convenienced me that the civil war did not end at the Appomattox Court House and that the was is still being fought today. The same racial issues exist today as the
...more
Mark
Jun 05, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Jesse James: The Last Rebel of the Civil War” by T.J. Stiles is an incredibly informational and insightful biography based on the life of Jesse James, and the effect the Civil War had on him. The novel starts off by describing Jesse James’ early life and childhood. The book goes into great detail about Jesses’ life and parents. It describes how James’ father died in the California gold mines in 1850 which resulted and in James growing up without a father. The book thoroughly describes how James ...more
Steven Peterson
Sep 13, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating work on Jesse James. It is not so much a standard biography as a "political history" of James. And that makes this an interesting read. The question animating this book is (page4): "Why should one set of criminals be so much more memorable than another?" The answer (page 6): " [Jesse James:] was a major force in the attempt to create a Confederate identity for Missouri, a political and cultural offensive waged by the defeated rebels to undo the triumph of the Radical Republ ...more
Jack Cvancara
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shellys♥ Journal
This is not just a book about Jesse James. While James' life provides the framework for this book, it is really about the Civil War and how the conflict played out in the state of Missouri, both before, during, after and beyond the war. There is a lot of detail in here, which is why it took me so long to read it. I wanted to wrap my brain around exactly what was going on, never having studied Missouri and it's political positions before. The fist part of the book seemed to drag on as Stiles laid ...more
Timothy L.
Dec 24, 2013 Timothy L. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am enjoying this book immensely. Jesse James in the minds of most folks I think is a legend and more mythical than a real person understood within his context as someone like George Washington or Johnny Cash is on a common level. This book reaches into past before Jesse James emerges as the general understanding most people have of him. This account lays the ground work that made his world, invented his context and shaped the way he saw existence amidst the tumultuous times in which he lived.. ...more
Elise Miller
T. J. Stiles places the reader squarely in the young state of Missouri, describing its land and towns, rivers and commerce, and people and their divisions, before during and following the Civil War. That scene-setting is why I read the book – as research for my upcoming novel about Jewish settlers in postwar mid-western states. Stiles writes in a lively and clear style, stringing together tale after tale about the James family, who were educated and successful farmer-entrepreneurs, slaveholders, ...more
Caroline
Jesse James is one of those historical figures I've never known very much about; he was an outlaw in the years after the Civil War, and he's a famous figure in American history and popular culture. He was shot by one of his own followers. And Brad Pitt played him in the movie. That's about the sum total of my knowledge.

What I found most interesting in reading this book is how much of a product of his time Jesse James was. He grew up in the years before the war, in a state that could really have
...more
Pat Wahler
Feb 18, 2017 Pat Wahler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Meticulously researched, this book gives new insights into Jesse James and how he became one of the most notorious figures of the late 19th century. I recently completed an historical novel about his wife, Zee, and this book was an invaluable tool in my writing process.
Heather
This biography follows the story of Jesse James from the time that his parents arrived in Missouri to his death, putting his life in the context of the social and political environment of western Missouri during and after the Civil War. Jesse James is often portrayed as a sort of hero, but here it appears that he was quite the opposite: a cold-blooded killer. The author makes a good case for viewing Jesse as a political terrorist rather than a legendary Wild-West outlaw. Stiles has done very ext ...more
Bryn Dunham
Jan 04, 2011 Bryn Dunham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books, history
This is a terrific book about not just the famous outlaw, but the era in which he lived. Popular culture has romanticized him and his banditry, but upon reading this we learn that the truth is far less heroic and very much more violent. This is a great narrative of post-Civil War Missouri where grudges and bitter partisan sentiments remained long after peace was made at Appomattox, and where rebels refused to accept the war's outcome. Missouri gets little attention during the Civil War because l ...more
Dennis Goshorn
Apr 13, 2008 Dennis Goshorn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good book, but you really have to be interested in that era to enjoy it. It is full of details on Missouri and how the state was a micro of what was happening in the nation. The saying on presidential elections is "as Missouri goes, so goes the nation." I guess that was true even in Jesse's day.

Jesse James is stripped of his "Robin Hood" image in this book. Here we see Jesse warts and all. He was egotistical, mean and very political. He understood PR before it called PR--he defended h
...more
Garth Mailman
Aug 02, 2014 Garth Mailman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a naive Canadian this book opened my mind to the antebellum experience and the implications of America's experience with slavery. Just as hundreds of draft dodgers later crossed into Canada thousands of black former slaves arrived here in the previous century but until reading this book the implications of slave ownership had never occurred to me. Nor had the idea that Southern Baptists were in part defined by their acceptance of slavery. Jesse James was a cult figure because he preyed on the ...more
Diane Heath
I gave thia 5 stars because of the subject matter (Reconstruction in Missouri) more than because of the writing etc. There are times when the book slows down and one is tempted to skim over some of the background. Jesse James is a well known name but apparently the majority of people know him as an outlaw who robbed banks and trains. They might know the phrase "The dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard and laid poor Jesse in his grave". This biography places Jesse James in his historical conte ...more
Tim
Oct 16, 2011 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stiles' hefty biography of Jesse James puts the legendary "Western" outlaw into the proper context, specifically the divided Missouri of the Civil War and its aftermath. Apprenticed as a Confederate bushwhacker in the waning days of the Civil War, James casually committed partisan violence and returned to that violence again and again, offering political reasons for it at times. It is a bleak book - for the details it relates of neighbor against neighbor violence in Missouri and the violence aga ...more
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