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The Ox-Bow Incident
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The Ox-Bow Incident

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  2,761 ratings  ·  244 reviews
Set in 1885, The Ox-Bow Incident is a searing and realistic portrait of frontier life and mob violence in the American West. First published in 1940, it focuses on the lynching of three innocent men and the tragedy that ensues when law and order are abandoned. The result is an emotionally powerful, vivid, and unforgettable re-creation of the Western novel, which Clark tran ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published October 12th 2011 by Modern Library (first published 1940)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Judy
Dec 29, 2013 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Judy by: Cheryl
When I turned the first page of this book yesterday afternoon, I never dreamed I would be putting it down about 24-hours later stunned by the perfection of this book. I feel unworthy to even try to expound on what astounded me about this literary masterpiece, so will make a quick summary of the plot and offer some quotes from the author to explain why it is a masterpiece.

Summary: Think western, but one with something important to say. The entire book takes place within a 24-hour period, beginnin
...more
Jonathan Briggs
Assuming you had some reason for doing so, you could dig up all kinds of critical commentary claiming that Walter Van Tilburg Clark's Western classic "The Ox-Bow Incident" transcends the genre. "Transcends the genre." What does that mean? That's one of those dumb things critics like to say when they accidentally like something they're not supposed to. "Wait a minute, this is really good. It can't be Western/scifi/horror/etc.; therefore, it (music swells) TRANSCENDS THE GENRE!!!!" Nonsense. "The ...more
Cheryl
I've never seen the movie, nor did I really know what this was about going in - only that it's short, and that it's read both for pleasure and studied as Literature. Well, I was duly impressed. I did enjoy it, and I did find it provocative and intense, also.

I'd like to quote about 1/2 of page 50 (my edition) but I think it would be beyond fair use. See if you can appreciate this snippet: "...arguments sound a lot different indoors.... [you] don't get a chance to test ideas against the real size
...more
booklady
Remember reading this in high school. Think I reread it again sometime later. Would love to reread it again.
Mel
I read this at the suggestion of my Dad and I really enjoyed it. The book takes place in the Old West and it is about the dangers of mob law and a lesson I think we could all benefit from even in today's world when the media often decides people are guilty of crimes before they have a chance to state their case in a court of law. It was beautifully written and I highly recommend it.
Shawn
A psychological western that seemed to question the basic assumption that frontier justice was hard but fair. It seemed the author wanted to paint a picture that men in groups inevitably follow a "herd mentality" and when someone shouts "something must be done", inevitably, the wrong thing will be done. The book was well written but a tad preachy. It seemed, at times, I was reading the script of an old Twilight Zone script..still... a western literature fan should read this through once in his o ...more
Carol
This is a little book that roars through your conscience and stomps ethic and moral codes to the hinterland. What is law ,what is justice are they one and the same? Is it ever right to take the law and judgment into your own hands? Clark leads you to an ending in which you must ask yourself this question. For a 200 and something page book it speaks volumes.

Imagine you are in a saloon in the old west ,vigilante justice is on the rise and someone rides into town with a wild story about murder and
...more
Folboteur
In the heat of the 2012 Presidential battle, mired in debates with Libertarian friends, I sought a good read about justice, society, responsibility and humanity. My father recommended this to me when I was very young... too young to appreciate or desire this novel. But as a Nevada district attorney, I suppose he had some very deep connection to the story of Nevada Justice.

"The Oxbow Incident" is a meditation on the rule of law, the establishment of society, and all the personality types at play
...more
Frances
This book is horrifying - and rightly deserves a position in the canon of American literature. It depicts the definite dark-side of the American West mythos. Tillburg Clark creates characters to bear out the darkness, rather than employing abstract forces themselves. All that a man is, an outsider, an insider, a bully, a martyr, play in his decisions in this book. Though evil happens, it doesn't happen for evil's sake; rather, it happens because of the intersections and overlappings of the chara ...more
Clif
You can take every western movie you've seen and every western book you've read and erase them from your memory. Then read this one book and it will more than make up for the loss.

A terse account of a lynching, the Ox-Bow Incident is a man's book. It deals with a man's world where communication by word is spare but communication by gesture, expression and body movement is nuanced; no shrug or glance goes without notice. Egos are sharp-edged, every shoulder carries a chip, every man is either est
...more
Qwo-Li
Ok, honestly, I can't remember one damn thing about this book except that Sister Marie Renee made us read this in Jr. High and I hated it and wouldn't read it. Then, the night before we had to be done with it, I had a major 12-year-old nervous breakdown because I knew I could never finish it in time and was afraid of incurring nun-wrath.
Ed
Cerebral but hard-boiled Western deals with frontier justice, mob rule, and vigilantism. Narrator is a good reporter of the events but nobody really comes off looking too noble or even decent. Made into a movie. Slow start to set up the alleged crimes, but the ending is a searing one.
David B
The inhabitants of a ranching community get up a posse to go after a band of rustlers who are thought to have stolen cattle and committed a murder. The small number of men who try to act reasonably and thoughtfully are easily swept aside by those who are ruled by their passions, leading to disastrous results.

Walter Van Tilburg Clark is a wonderful writer who has produced a powerful novel that succeeds in every way. His simple, evocative language brings the Old West to life. His characters speak
...more
Sam Reaves
Already by 1940, when this novel was published, the mythology of the American West had become iconic and cliched, the stuff of genre fiction rather than serious literature. The merit of this book is the way it takes so many elements of the traditional Western-- cowpokes playing poker in the saloon, rustlers, a posse-- and uses them to confront serious and enduring moral and social issues.
A messenger gallops into town with news of a killing and the theft of some cattle; the crowd in the saloon, s
...more
David Kubicek
The Ox-Bow Incident is not your standard western. This is an excellent examination of mob justice and its consequences. Clark was a really good writer. He develops the characters and settings much better than many of the westerns I've read. The descriptions of western life sound as if he's writing from experience, as if he were there, which is not the case.

Clark was born in 1909 in Maine. In 1917 his father accepted the position of President of the University of Nevada and moved the family west
...more
Amy
I really do not know how I want to rate The Ox-Bow Incident. I didn't hate this book, but I didn't like it either, yet it's better than ok. As others have mentioned, the writing, the setting, and the feel of this story are all very well done. It feels authentic, and I liked this study of the mob mentality as told from the point of view of one of the individuals in the mob.

While there is plenty to like about this book, it just read so slowly for me. I kept waiting for the action to pick up, and t
...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 29, 2011 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List
This is a powerful book not only on the psychology of lynch mobs, but what is the quality that is most important in upholding civilization. Many might have seen the classic film, but I think the novel more than holds its own. Told as the first person account of a cowboy, Art Croft, at the periphery of events, first helping an attempt to stop the lynch mob from forming, than being swept up into it, he is thoughtful and does have a conscience. But what Clark tells us that's not enough without the ...more
Robert Palmer
The film adaptation of this book was released in 1943.I did not see the movie until 1950 or 51.All the guys I hung around with at that time loved western movies,John Wayne always got the bad guys at the end (most ofton killed) and so this western did not do it for any of us.It was not until the mid 60s that I read the book.When I finished reading it I knew it was a masterpiece.
A group of men and one women set out to catch and most likely lynch the three cattle rustlers who have also most likely
...more
Suzanne
I chose this book as my Nevada pick for the 52 Books Around the USA Book Challenge. Clark’s classic novel is a look at the morality of justice through the eyes of a mob. In the opening chapter, word gets out that some cattle have been stolen and a man was shot. Like most stories that get passed along, this one grows. Before long the man was not only shot, but shot and killed in the head – an even more heinous and unforgivable crime that cattle rustling.

The sheriff is away and rather than wait on
...more
Stephen Gallup
This book has been on the edge of my awareness for years but I never knew what it was about. Finally picked it up.

The opening pages made me smile at the "cowpoke speak" with exchanges like the following, which takes place over the bar in an otherwise empty saloon:

"Well?" [That's the bartender speaking:]
"Don't rush me," Gil said.
"Take your time," Canby said.
"It don't look to me," Gil said, "like you was so rushed you couldn't wait!"
"It's not that. I hate to see a man who can't make up his mind.
...more
Kate Woods Walker
Although this masculine tale sits taller in the saddle than most other westerns, I found it an overall disappointment. Perhaps I was expecting more than anything in that genre could deliver; nevertheless, the intense description of every character and cloud was at first impressive, but soon wore heavy on this impatient reader.

The moral lessons were plain and straightforward. However, the lessons are too easily seen as applying only to some past, far-away time--certainly not to us here in 2010, w
...more
Tylor Genske
From begining to end this book kept me guessing on where it was going next! The story turns out to be about very early mob violence that had started in the wild west West of 1885. In the story the main characters are a group of "cowboys". These cowboys go on a long ride far from their home town together. On their ride away from home they are faced with the challenge of decieding between lynching three suspects of a crime or to spare them. Through the book the characters were very deeply describe ...more
Donna
The story takes place in a small town in the American west in 1885. A lynching is being organized and is soon to be carried out. The lynching mob is an eclectic group of 28 individuals. Some are good and some bad but each is unique. And each is flawed. These vigilantes from the community are young, old, men (and a woman), white, black, Mexican, a judge, a civil war veteran, ranch hands, cowboys, the town drunk. As it turns out they hang 3 innocent men, accused of murder and cattle rustling. How ...more
David Harris
* weak on plot, strong on dialogue, philosophy, etc, December 14, 2004 *

I would imagine that this book was more powerful when it was first published back in 1940. But today, the plot seems very predictable, with bits and pieces falling into place too neatly all along the way. Nothing comes as any real surprise, including the ending.

The book is worth reading, though, for its philosophical dialogue and its interesting look into the minds of true-to-life characters with varying points of view on ju
...more
Peter
This is first and foremost a beautifully written book.
It reminded me of "Deliverance" in the spare, almost poetic descriptions of place and action. At their hearts they are two simple, straightforward stories, but presented with such understated clarity and immediacy that you read them breathlessly, "in the moment".
The "incident" unfolds through the honest observations of Art Croft, and through slabs of dialogue that draw you in with their natural robustness and sincerity. As one finely drawn s
...more
Phillip
Although published in 1940, I suspect that readers will think this book is timely; it tears open the notions of civility and justice in a way that cannot be forgotten. Dozens of characters are woven together in an escalating tragedy that rips the entrails out of a decent town to reveal that we are all what we abhor - a weak and cowardly mob, susceptible to the passions of a few, undeterred by fact or reason, and seldom brave enough to rise to honest justice when it contradicts the will of the ma ...more
Sandy
In this classic western published in 1940 and made into the iconic movie starring Henry Fonda in 1943, in 1885, two cowpokes come into the dying town of Bridger's Wells following the spring round-up. While there drinking whisky, fighting, playing poker, and hearing the latest gossip (there have been cattle rustlers in the area hitting most of the herds), a young man comes racing into town with the terrible that ranch hand Larry Kinkaid has been murdered out on the range, shot through the head. H ...more
Hannah
While it moves quite slowly, it is a great study of people and their decision making processes, group think, and the power a mob can exert on individual opinions.
Greg
This novel was another first for me this year: the first western novel I've read. The author's take of the American West and what a western novel should encompass made this novel a breath of fresh western air for me. I had been used to the John Wayne-Clint Eastwood western genre, never considering what a western novel would be like. This novel was a great read. One thing that irked me was the use of first-person point-of-view. I didn't get the real, gritty emotions and reasoning behind character ...more
Mmars
This is the thinking man's western. I think if you've read it you will understand when I say that everything John Wayne taught you is wrong.

This was tense both in action and psychologically or perhaps philosophically. What is just and how do you enact justice? How do you negotiate within the parameters of justice in a lawless land? How does one perform under fear? How do you separate the weed from the chaff?

A really fine book. Great for discussion. Great storytelling. Beautifully written.

Classic
...more
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the ox bow incident 2 14 Mar 15, 2013 12:55PM  
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Walter Van Tilburg Clark was an American novelist, short story writer, and educator. He ranks as one of Nevada's most distinguished literary figures of the 20th century and is known primarily for his novels, his one volume of stories, as well as his uncollected short stories. As a writer, he taught himself to use the familiar materials of the western saga to explore the human psyche and to raise d ...more
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“True law, the code of justice, the essence of our sensations of right and wrong, is the conscience of society. It has taken thousands of years to develop, and it is the greatest, the most distinguishing quality which has developed with mankind ... If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience? And what is the conscience of any man save his little fragment of the conscience of all men in all time?” 6 likes
“That hatred of the railroad was Winder’s only original notion, and when he got mad that always came in some way. Everything else was what he’d heard somebody, or most everybody, say, only he always got angry enough to make it sound like a conviction.” 0 likes
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