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The Ox-Bow Incident

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  3,790 Ratings  ·  312 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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Dec 29, 2013 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Mr. Matt
Jan 06, 2015 Mr. Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Ox-Bow Incident is a classic in the truest sense of the word. It is a timeless book that speaks to our common humanity and remains just as relevant today as the day that it was written. It reminds us that no matter how much our world has changed – no matter how sophisticated our technology – we humans have changed very little.

As I read The Ox-Bow Incident it gradually dawned on me that this book had a message. This was shockingly refreshing to me. I generally read a lot of what my mom had o
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
Apr 24, 2010 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
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
Jan 30, 2014 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 03, 2012 Frances rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 22, 2010 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 13, 2007 Qwo-Li rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Remember reading this in high school. Think I reread it again sometime later. Would love to reread it again.
Stephen Gallup
Apr 16, 2010 Stephen Gallup rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 31, 2014 Clif rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
David Harris
Mar 22, 2013 David Harris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
* 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
Sep 10, 2016 Franky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One cannot help reading The Ox Bow Incident without thinking of the term mob mentality. This novel reminds me of a morality play disguised in a Western’s clothing, because the true essence of the novel is simply the aftermath of an event, where judgements are rendered, and individuals must live with the repercussions of those judgements.

There are some minor set backs to this book. The beginning is a bit of a slow crawl, and it seems like we have the same points and conflicts retread and repeate
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 29, 2011 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Nov 11, 2013 Robert Palmer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 21, 2014 Sandy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014
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
Sam Reaves
Jun 21, 2014 Sam Reaves rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
David Kubicek
Sep 29, 2011 David Kubicek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Tylor Genske
Nov 02, 2012 Tylor Genske rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 14, 2013 Donna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 19, 2012 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
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
Mar 13, 2011 Phillip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Marcia Letaw
I liked this book OK; we had to read it in high school, so at least I didn't hate it. Afterwards, our assignment was to rewrite the ending which project I was raring to go on since the ending seemed totally wrong and unfair and really not representative of my idea of justice. Votes were taken; my ending came in second principally because the narrator was basically speaking from beyond the grave. What's wrong with that! In any case, the main thing I remember about this long ago book was: It had s ...more
Mar 06, 2009 Hannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blog-shelf
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.
Aug 06, 2016 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Ok. Pretty powerful stuff. Clark does a terrific job of evoking time, place (Nevada 1885), sensibility and psychology/sociology of the particular and by extension manages to tell a moral fable.
I watched the movie with Henry Fonda concurrently. To keep the story moving and in line with standard editing principles of classic cinema of having somebody doing something at all times on screen ( less talking - more doing) the first thing I noticed was how the most powerful monologues were either
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the ox bow incident 2 21 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
More about Walter Van Tilburg Clark...

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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?” 13 likes
“Most men are more afraid of being thought cowards than of anything else, and a lot more afraid of being thought physical cowards than moral ones.” 7 likes
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