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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,392 ratings  ·  195 reviews
One of the great classic tales of The Great American West...

IT IS 1881. Jesse James, at the age of 34, is at the height of his fame and powers as a singularly successful outlaw. Robert Ford is the skittish younger brother of one of the James gang: he has made himself an expert on the gang, but his particular interest - his obsession - is Jesse James himself. Both drawn to
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 26th 1997 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 1983)
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Community Reviews

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Jesse James was an arrogant son of a bitch!

During a train robbery, he introduced himself to the engineer and the stoker as "Jesse James, the man they'd read so much about." He took a certain pride in his fame, and infamy.

Jesse extricated himself from his heavy coat and laid it on the sofa with his hat. "Did I ever tell you about meeting Mark Twain?"
"He was in this country store and I recognized him, of course, and went over to shake the man's hand and congratulate him on his good writing. I
Ashley Sandeman
I fell in love with this book on the first page, with the opening lines,

“He was growing into middle age and was living then in a bungalow on Woodland Avenue. Green weeds split the porch steps, a wasp nest clung to an attic gable, a rope swing looped down from a dying elm tree and the ground below it was scuffed soft as flour.”

There begins a master class in description that continues until the novel’s end, and the environment becomes almost as large a character as the protagonist himself as Hans
What makes this book is the language. Though I am no authority, it has effectively captivated the language we would expect from the time. Hansen is definitely a researcher and it shows, but on top of that, the story seems removed from the contemporary. It breathes forward to us from another time, even though it was probably composed on a computer. The language and tone, generating that removal from the contemporary, provide the elevated platform to be awed at, Jesse James is a realized mythologi ...more
Very entertaining.

Well researched historic fiction (or fictionalized history?) and a stark portrait of nineteenth century America. This is also a fair study of the foundations of our western culture, focusing on hero worship, victimization and demonization and our propensity for violence.

Ty Melgren
When this book was made into a movie a few years ago, I heard an interview with Ron Hansen on NPR and I liked the way he talked about writing and fiction and nonfiction and people and characters and God. Then I forgot about him for a long time until I recently decided that I want to start reading westerns and I remembered the title of this book, even though it isn't really a western. At first it was a little bit annoying to me; it seemed like Ron spent too long writing each of his sentences, or ...more
Ayu Palar
Mar 19, 2009 Ayu Palar rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sindro
Shelves: favorites-ever
Usually, I prefer to watch the book and after that get in touch with the film. But this time, it's the other way around. I watched the film first, and then read the book. Obviously, having watched the film influenced the way I think and feel about the book, but I think I took the right move. It doesn't mean the book is bad, in fact the book is gripping and exciting in its own way. Yet, kudos to the actors, the film has made the experience of reading the book more pleasing. Everytime the name Bob ...more
Patrick Gibson
There is a detachment in the writing style that is unengaged. Once you adjust to this punctuated attitude towards the characters, it is easier to absorb the stark beauty of the words. For example: “He was one to read auguries in the snarled intestines of chickens, or the blow of cat hair released to the wind, and years of bad luck that moated and dungeoned him.” Throw away details like the conditions of Jesse’s teeth or the smell of a sweating horse accumulate unconsciously to create a startling ...more
Sep 07, 2012 Derek rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mark Kemp
I'm not particularly fond of the term "a writers' writer"--it seems far too dismissive and a little pretentious--but I'm not sure I can find a more fitting description for Ron Hansen, and for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in particular. I've remarked before that there's no one who manages verbs quite as swiftly and beautifully as Hansen does, a feat he repeats here in Jesse James, but I found myself more smitten with his metaphorical descriptions and always-enviable ...more
Miss Poppy
Ron Hansen was the first living author of (semi)fiction I'd read in years. I'd seen the movie and LOVED it - my favorite of the year. It reminded me of "Thin Red Line" and I was not surprised to find that the director of Assassination, Andrew Dominik, had been involved with Malick.

The movie is S... L... O... W..., so if you're looking for Bruce Willis type action, skip it. There's a voice over and that's what drove me to the book. I hoped that same poetry would be there and it was.

Who uses the w
It's all about the tempo, the plot was skillfully set, alittle bit slow, the interactions, and the outcomes...

concerning the movie, cinematography was really great, the music, and as aspecial note Cassey Affleck performance...
It is not often that I’ll buy a book after enjoying the movie adaptation, but this is something of a special case for me. I saw Andrew Dominik’s film on its release back in 2007 and have adored it ever since. It’s one of those rare movies which I found not only technically superb (a great story well performed, beautifully shot, with a lovely and haunting score) but also deeply affecting on a personal level. I wrote about it here, a long time ago.

After seeing it, I was vaguely aware that it was b
The story begins with Frank and Jesse James, whose relationship was strained to antagonistic, gathering a bunch of local rubes for one last heist. The story ends with the death of Robert Ford nearly a dozen years later. In between Hansen weaves a fascinating tale of intrigue and violence surrounding many of those who robbed the Chicago & Alton Railroad on Sept. 7, 1881, five years to the day after the James and Younger gang got shot up trying to rob a bank in Northfield, Minn.

Written by Ron
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
by Ron Hansen
4 stars
pp. 304

I'd anticipated reading Ron Hansen's book, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford for a while before I took the plunge. I'd expected it to captivate me as I really enjoy a good western, but somehow I found myself in a reading bog with this and couldn't force myself to read more than a few pages a day.

Hansen can certainly captivate the feel of the west and his language is authentic as shown b
Mindy Jones
I saw the film adaptation of this book several times before reading the book. I love how it tells the story and how it was shot. The photography and music were spot on and the acting was nice too.

After reading the book, it feels like the movie was made to be a sort of companion to the book rather than an adaptation. The two lean on each other and thrive as one piece. They act as a sort of collaborative diptych.

While the book has beautiful meandering descriptions of people and events, the film fo
Apr 25, 2008 Bart rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of literature and Westerns
Recommended to Bart by: Kristin
This book is a real pleasure. Its writing is meticulous and understated.

As the novel opens, Ron Hansen shows great care with his description of Jesse James. Most novels show great care with the opening depictions of their protagonists, though, so as always a reader is advised to say, "Let's wait and see." But as the novel progresses, Hansen's descriptions never lose their detail and never resort to irrelevant imagery.

That is this novel's best surprise. Hansen knows what deserves his ample descri
The Book Gobbler
Don’t be fooled by the title. This isn’t just a fictional retelling of a murder, of one of the most infamous celebrity assassinations in United States history. This is the story of two lives that once-upon-a-time intersected, and were forever changed, each by the other, for better or worse. Jesse James: train robber, thief, husband, father, ex-bushwhacker and hero to many, at the long and lonely end of his ‘night riding’ ways. Bob Ford: young, impressionable, and desperate to be like his childho ...more
When I was writing my MA history thesis, my advisor said to me, "Narrative is the hardest thing to write."

What he meant was that a long string of narrative, devoid of historical argument is difficult because the simple recounting of facts gets really boring after a while.

The story of Jesse James and Robert Ford is far from boring, but the style of this book reads like the narrative portions of a history or narrative non-fiction book. Only a very few times are we allowed access to the thoughts of
A very good story written about that infamous outlaw Jesse James. The film based on these writings which is of the same title starring Brad Pitt was excellent and this book is also entertaining and gripping.

After reading this book my opinion of Jesse James is much the same; he was a murderous criminal who deserved to be brought to justice. The manner of his death is unpleasant but it is not Jesse himself I felt sorry for but his family. He was shot dead in his own home not far from his wife and
I suspect that many people saw the Brad Pitt/Casey Affleck film first, then read the book, as I did. I found the movie to be excellent and appreciated the tragic nature of it. Much like the film, the author takes his time with the Assassination of Jesse James. For Hansen, the death may be the climax but it certainly is not the focus. Instead, the fawning relationship between a young Bob Ford and an enigmatic Jesse James waxes and wanes, to the point where it is difficult to tell if it's a love o ...more
Dylan Quarles
The film is one my top 10 favorite. The soundtrack to the film IS my favorite album, and now the book is one of my favorite books as well.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is simply amazing. Ron Hansen's blend of history and fiction is seamless and I more than once asked myself just how he could know the things he does.

I especially liked the way he would pause the story to give you 360 degree view of the characters as they were in that moment in the narrative. He would
Gorgeously fictionalized history. As someone who's read several Jesse James biographies (I find the time period and the development of organized crime quite interesting), I was surprised and impressed by the detail and general historical accuracy in this novel; the majority of the "fictional" aspect lies in the assigning of motives to these figures, which any historian would tell you is impossible to do with any certainty in reality. The reader ends up heartbroken for misguided Robert "Bob" Ford ...more
As a rule, movie adaptations are never as good as books, right? Well, this may be the exception that proves the rule, as throughout the novel my mind kept wandering off, wondering if the Brad Pitt/Casey Affleck film was available on Netflix or if I could possibly find the Blu-Ray in the Walmart discount bin.

That being said, I did enjoy the novel. I especially liked that the actual assassination took place somewhere around the mid-point, which was followed by a lengthy telling of future lives of
Joshua West
Ron Hansen entitled this remarkable book "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" not because he agrees that Robert Ford was coward, indeed, Bob Ford spends much of the last third of the book attempting to prove that he was not a coward, instead, Hansen seems to be drawing our attention to the fickle attitudes of a public that romanticized Jesse and demonized Bob. Yet Hansen's Jesse James, while one of the most compelling and well wrought characters ever committed to a novel, ...more
I had watched the movie before I had even heard of this book, and I'm so glad I became aware of both. This book was more than just a biography on Jesse James or Robert "Bob" Ford, and the reader really gets to see how much of a man Jesse was, apart from the legends and myths we always hear about. Bob Ford's name is basically forgotten nowadays, but I found myself more enraptured with him than with Jesse. At only 19 years old, he has such an ambition to become famous, just like his hero Jesse, wh ...more
Jonathan Schildbach
I am not one for much historical fiction, or for Westerns in general, but this book is incredible at drawing the reader into a particular world and time. A blurb from a Newsweek review on the cover of the edition I read said Hansen made "low history" into "high art," which is a near perfect way of explaining this work. Hansen is extremely gifted with language and clever turns of phrase, as well as having a solid period feel to the diction. Occasionally, Hansen's writing can call attention to its ...more
Jesse James was a bank robber, a train robber and a murderer. So the question is, why do I and so many Americans have a reverence for him like a hero? Logically it doesn't make sense, but we Americans seem to love our wild west outlaws. Jesse James wasn't even really "wild west", he was from Missouri and began his gang activities as a member of the Confederate army guerrilla gang that his older brother belonged to. According to the author, "He considered himself a Southern loyalist and guerrill ...more
I wanted to read this because I loved The Sisters Brothers and True Grit, and this one is often recommended in the company of those works-- I didn't know previously that it was a book, as I saw the movie when it came out. I loved the movie, but I remember calling it a "masterpiece of misery." Meaning it was miserably depressing, such that it would put a person in a funk for many days, but it was so terribly well done and artful that it was totally worth it. Well, it turns out the book is that, t ...more
It's a good book with many flaws. The most bothersome thing is Hansen's use of phrases usually in historical non-fiction, like "records indicate," and, "by all accounts from that time;" it took me out of the story everytime he did that. I mean, it's otherwise written as a novel, but it's as if he's trying to also make it the definitive book on Jesse James. The feeling of Hansen holding back from adding detail or character description, in order to be taken seriously by historians, comes through o ...more
Look, I don't know how much of the "novel" THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is true; I don't know how much of the dialogue and interaction and actions of the characters actually took place, or were embellished by a very gifted Ron Hansen.

But does it matter? The account of the final days of infamous outlaw Jesse James (and the subsequent final days of his killer) is "historical fiction", in any case (the definitive oxymoron, if you ask me). What does matter is this tigh
This fictionalized account of the life and death of Jesse James focuses on his relationship with the brothers who brought him down. My favorite historical fiction novels are the ones where I can't tell where the history ends and the fiction begins. I think The Plot Against America is the best example I can think of. This novel does that at times, especially in the middle, where the dialogue between Jesse and Robert Ford has an incredible authenticity. Hansen's mastery of the language of the time ...more
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Books2Movies Club: The Assassination of Jesse James with Brad Pitt 1 10 Jan 22, 2013 12:45PM  
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Hansen was born in Omaha, Nebraska, attended a Jesuit high school, Creighton Preparatory School and earned a Bachelor's degree in English from Creighton University in Omaha in 1970. Following military service, he earned an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1974 and held a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship at Stanford University. He later earned an M.A. in Spirituality from Santa ...more
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“Do you know what it is you're most afraid of?"



"I'm afraid of being forgotten," Bob said, and having admitted that, wondered if it was true. He said, "I'm afraid I'll end up living a life like everyone else's and me being Bob Ford won't matter one way or the other.”
“For the man was canny, he was intuitive, he anticipated everything. He continually looked over his shoulders, he looked into the background with mirrors, he locked his sleeping room at night, he could pick out a whisper in the wind, he could register the slightest added value a man put into his words, he could probably read the faltering and perfidy in Bob's face. He once numbered the spades on a playing card that skittered across the street a city block away; he licked his daughter's cut finger and there wasn't even a scar the next day; he wrestled with his son and the two Fords at once one afternoon and rarely even tilted - it was like grappling with a tree. When Jesse predicted rain, it rained; when he encouraged plants, they grew; when he scorned animals, they retreated; whomever he wanted to stir, he astonished.” 7 likes
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