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The Shootist

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  843 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
By the author of The Homesman, now a major motion pictureThe Shootist is John Bernard Books, a gunfighter at the turn of the twentieth century who must confront the greatest Shootist of all: Death. Most men would end their days in bed or take their own lives, but a gunfighter has a third option, one that Books decides to exercise. He may choose his own executioner.
As word
Paperback, 248 pages
Published October 1st 2011 by Bison Books (first published 1975)
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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryTrue Grit by Charles PortisBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
Best Westerns
111th out of 753 books — 985 voters
The Lonesome Dove Series by Larry McMurtryLittle House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls WilderMy Ántonia by Willa CatherLittle Big Man by Thomas BergerTrue Grit by Charles Portis
Book Riot's 100 Must-Read Books About The West
23rd out of 97 books — 8 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,261)
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Richard Vialet
John Bernard Books has found out he has terminal prostate cancer.

Books is an aging but notorious gunman, who is known across the frontier for being dangerously quick on the draw, for loving women, and for killing over thirty men. So it comes to his dismay that he is destined to die an undignified and unremarkable death, taken down by a disease in his crotch. He doesn't have long to live and pretty soon news of his condition spreads around town. But J.B. Books is determined to die with some sembl
Wayne Barrett
Jan 12, 2016 Wayne Barrett rated it really liked it

The date is 1901, the turn of the century and John Bernard Books is one of the last of the great gunmen. Being one of the deadliest shootists of the old west, Books succeeded in outliving most, if not all, of the other notorious gunslingers. But at the age of 51 he finally met his match, and it didn't come in the form of lead.

Upon examination from an old doctor acquaintance that had previously removed a slug from his stomach, Books discovers that his days are numbered and it is nothing that the
Mike (the Paladin)
Sep 21, 2012 Mike (the Paladin) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western
I got to know about this book from the movie (staring John Wayne). If that's also your knowledge of the story all you really have is a sort of general outline of the story. It's also an outline that leads you to a different destination than the story in the novel will.

This is another book where I find myself hesitant to say things such as "I like it", or "I enjoyed it" as it is a dark and even sad story with few bright corners. I suppose it might be best here to say what's different from the mov
Edward Erdelac
I'm afraid the Don Siegel John Wayne movie colored my enjoyment of this a bit as well. It's superbly written, but awfully cynical compared to the uplifting movie. Books is the same man as the Duke portrays, but Gillom is extremely different - I didn't care for him at all in the novel version, and the ending bleeds a star off my rating.
Željko Obrenović
Jan 14, 2016 Željko Obrenović rated it really liked it
Shelves: books
Poslednji dani matorog revolveraša.
C. Patrick
Sep 02, 2015 C. Patrick rated it it was amazing
It quickly became clear why this novel ranks so high on Western genre lists. Mr. Swarthout transports the reader to 1901 El Paso, and all the telltales of modernity imposing itself upon the West frames his story about a gunfighter who is himself an anachronism, and the last of his breed. He is out of time, adrift, and unhonored, but remains true to his life's terrible purpose of carrying out judgment against bad men. The reader shares J. B. Books' confinement to a quaint boardinghouse room, and ...more
Victor Drax
Oct 13, 2015 Victor Drax rated it it was amazing
Es cierto el cliché: Si vas a leer un libro de western, que sea este.

Una historia triste, una leyenda en su ocaso, una prosa hermosa.
David Berardelli
Oct 07, 2013 David Berardelli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story probes the mind of a dying man. In this case, the man in question is a notorious gunman who has discovered he has reached the final stages of a fatal disease. The story deals with his own personal "last stand," as he faces his rapidly approaching death on his own terms. Thought-provoking and dark, the book is well-written and suspenseful, with finely drawn characters. More detailed than the 1976 film, the story depicts the character and the inner workings of the western killer, fleshi ...more
The Cannibal
Oct 24, 2015 The Cannibal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
J.B Books est une fine gâchette, un tireur émérite, le roi du six-coups… Pas de chance, c’est justement du côté de son six-coups que ça ne tourne plus rond. Le truc est enrayé, le canon fichu, foutu…

Notre tireur ne tirera plus les dames avec sa Chose car le cancer de la prostate lui ronge les entrailles. Malgré tout, il veut rester digne.

Nous sommes en 1901, la reine Victoria a cassé sa pipe en Angleterre et nos derniers survivants de la Conquête de l’Ouest commencent à sentir la naphtaline. Le
G.R. Williamsom
Jul 15, 2016 G.R. Williamsom rated it it was amazing
The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout – A Review

Having watched the movie, The Shootist, many times, I decided to read the original book by Glendon Swarthout for a comparison. What a pleasure. It was all there, which proves why the movie was so well received by Western fans. The book is a captivating look at the winding down of the Amerian West and its icons.

The book entwines the gentle relationship that develops between the boarding house owner, Mrs. Rogers, and the dying gunfighter, J. B. Books, wi
Miles Swarthout
Mar 25, 2014 Miles Swarthout rated it it was amazing
The Shootist was the winner of the 1975 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America as the Best Western Novel of that year. In a recent 60th anniversary poll among its expert members, the Western Writers also ranked The Shootist #4 among the best Western novels ever written. This novel was also quickly made in 1976 into one of John Wayne's very best Westerns, as well as being Duke's last film.

The Shootist is John Bernard Books, a man of principle and the only surviving gunfighter in a vanish
Jan 31, 2014 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did not know the classic John Wayne movie was based on a novel until my colleague Rich Heldenfels let me borrow the book. I always thought that the Duke knew he was dying of cancer when he made the film and that it had been written with that in mind. It turns out I was wrong. Wayne didn't even have cancer at the time of production. In any case, it was a pleasure to read this book. I couldn't help but seeing John Wayne and Lauren Bacall in my mind, even though their characters are younger in th ...more
Feb 03, 2015 Christopher rated it really liked it
If all you know is Don Siegel's 1976 film, starring John Wayne, then you don't really know "The Shootist." While I liked that film (enough, anyways), and was especially charmed by Wayne's final screen performance (he died 3 years later), the book tells a much more powerful elegiac tale of a man on his way out, both as a living creature and as a breed of man. J.B. Books is a notorious gunman, or "shootist," who comes to El Paso in 1901 to see a doctor who once saved him from certain death after a ...more
May 27, 2016 Laura rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Kiku
Shelves: adult-fiction
J. B. Books is an absolutely unforgettable character. He has always done everything on his own terms and that includes living out his last days exactly as he sees fit. He doesn't take any guff from anyone and he is a man to be feared, even as he is wasting away.

The cover says this book was "Chosen by the Western Writers of America as ONE OF THE BEST WESTERN NOVELS EVER WRITTEN" -- I can't think of any other western I've ever read, so I have no frame of reference to say whether I agree with that
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brian Tucker
Apr 19, 2016 Brian Tucker rated it it was amazing
What just happened? THIS is a Western! Read it...if you can find it. (Bison books published it.) Beautiful, sad, profound. Now, time to go watch the movie version - John Wayne's last role as well. 5/5.
Chris Douglass
Apr 29, 2016 Chris Douglass rated it really liked it
It's nice to read a book where I feel the protagonist really does deserve to have his story told. It drew me into the bleak resignation of a dying man, with enough presence of mind and dignity to call out his own unique exit rather than just waiting for the inevitable.

The world where this takes place is one where nearly everyone is a carrion eater.
On his descent into sickness and increasingly intense pain, much of the book revolves around these people trying to profit from his death under the g
Jan 15, 2014 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been a big fan of Loius L'Amour and other "traditional" Western authors for most of my life, but have only recently come to the somewhat "revisionist" works of Charles Portis and Glendon Swarthout. THE SHOOTIST, in particular, is a deeply cynical book with several highly unlikable characters and a final page that made me cringe. It's short, it's violent, it's upsetting, and yet also somewhat moving and over far too quickly.

I've never seen the John Wayne movie version, but reading online pl
Cynthia Toliver
Jun 06, 2016 Cynthia Toliver rated it it was amazing
I have seen the movie countless times, but this is my first time to read the book behind the movie. The forward by Swarthout's son Miles lends even more insight into the fictional shootist, J. B. Books and the legendary actor, John Wayne, whose lives intertwined so eerily to make the movie as classic as the novel. Throughout the novel, I was constantly reminded not only of J. B. Books, but of every larger than life character, who like the rest of us, must face death. A gripping and tragic tale, ...more
Jul 03, 2016 Paul rated it it was amazing
" He thought: Oh, I have fed on honey-dew. On wine and whiskey and champagne and the tender white meat of women and fine clothes and the respect of strong men and the fear of weak and the turn of a card and good horses and the crisp of greenbacks and the cool of mornings and all the elbow room that God or man could ask for. I have had high times. But the best times of all were afterward, just afterward, with the gun warm in my hand, the bite of smoke in my nose, the taste of death on my tongue, ...more
Lawrence FitzGerald
Nov 30, 2014 Lawrence FitzGerald rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1970-s, western
Never saw the movie.

Good, serviceable prose. Good story. Lots of unlikable characters. Other reviewers have outlined the story.

More length could have been usefully employed in characterization. Predictable.

Ok, let's take predictable first. Authors need to foreshadow to eliminate those "Perry Mason moments" where the story turns on shit you never knew about. Swarthout foreshadows in a fairly narrow way that lets the reader guess the ending a little too easily.

The gunman's landlady sees the gunm
Clarence Tinklebottom
Jun 04, 2014 Clarence Tinklebottom rated it really liked it
This book is a trick bag. On the one hand, it is very much like the movie starring John Wayne; the dialogue is mostly verbatim. On the other hand, the book is very different from the movie. So the trick is trying to divorce the movie from the book when the two are so similar yet so different. If you can manage that, it’s a terrific read. The prose is lean and spare. It doesn’t quite get into the heart of the main character, but it that’s one of its strengths. It gets you close enough to J.B. Boo ...more
Sep 27, 2014 William rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
I don't read westerns, so I have nothing to compare this to in my experiences. If I could guarantee that all were of similar quality, perhaps I would read more. Unlike the John Wayne film version, this tale does not make the shootist (J.B. Books) a tragic hero, and the ending certainly does not have the movie's "uplifting" conclusion. And that is what makes this western a refreshing read for audiences accustomed to Hollywood's way of making every story end as we want it to end.
Dead John Williams
Nov 25, 2015 Dead John Williams rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
It took me years to get around the reading this book. It has been on my list and in my mind for a long long time. And when I finally got there it left me speechless. It is so precise and so exact it is like a zen exercise just to read it.

It is a period piece in that it captures the very essence of a time and a man.

I cannot say anything but stupid superlatives. You must read this book to glimpse how excellent writing can be when done done like this.
Jul 17, 2016 Carol rated it it was amazing
Glendon Swarthout is an amazing author. I have read two of his books now and have loved them. He writes about the west but not the usual angles of what you think of when you think of the old west. He talks about the practical, everyday that happen but no one makes a movie about it. This book is about an aging gunfighter who is dying and how he is going to handle that situation. Really well done. I hope to read more of his novels.
May 30, 2015 Wesjackson07 rated it it was amazing
A great read. I always thought Westerns were a little two dimensional with too many caricatures and cliches. This book completely changed my outlook. Beautifully written and well paced. Brilliant dialogue. The book builds towards a terrific climax and then delivers a perfect conclusion. A quick, 200 page read that begs to be finished in a single sitting.
Jun 17, 2015 Deb rated it it was amazing
I read the book before seeing the movie. I had the mental picture of John Wayne in my mind through out the story. Books could not have been played by any other. I loved the language of the book, the description made me sneeze at the dust in the street and smell the gun powder. Along with Lonesome Dove and The Homes, this is one of my top reads.
Dec 27, 2014 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
"At this rate El Paso would soon be as citified as Denver, far too highfalutin for a man who liked to let the badger loose now and then."

"On the tile floor under what remained of Jay Cobb's face lay an eyeball and the brain matter which housed the accumulated knowledge of his twenty years, a grayish, adhesive slop of girls and kings and arithmetic and cows and prayer and mountains but primarily of how to fire a revolver accurately and hate himself and deliver milk and cream and butter."
Feb 09, 2014 Doug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: westerns
Just read this one on my tear through some Westerns. I really enjoyed it -- maybe really 3.5 stars. Great prose and characterization. Perhaps it's story is a little too straightforward and simple -- a dying gunman (a "shootist") holes up in a boarding house, getting his life in order and pursuing a death that maintains his dignity.
Richard Givan
Mar 17, 2015 Richard Givan rated it really liked it
Powerful, bleak book about a gunfighter dying of cancer in 1901. If you've seen the movie, you know the basic plot, except that the Opie character is a real turd in this book, along with mostly everybody else. Still, one of those novels that makes you ponder as you read, and probably for a good bit thereafter.
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Glendon Fred Swarthout was an American writer. Some of his best known novels were made into films of the same title, Where the Boys Are, The Shootist and They Came To Cordura.

Also wrote under Glendon Fred Swarthout. Twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

More about Glendon Swarthout...

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“I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, I won't be laid-a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I require the same of them.” 6 likes
“He thought: Oh, I have fed on honey-dew. On wine and whiskey and champagne and the tender white meat of women and fine clothes and the respect of strong men and the fear of weak and the turn of a card and good horses and the crisp of greenbacks and the cool of mornings and all the elbow room that God or man could ask for. I have had high times. But the best times of all were afterward, just afterward, with the gun warm in my hand, the bite of smoke in my nose, the taste of death on my tongue, my heart high in my gullet, the danger past, and then the sweat, suddenly, and the nothingness, and the sweet clean feel of being born.” 5 likes
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