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Butcher's Crossing

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  6,930 Ratings  ·  765 Reviews
In his National Book Award–winning novel Augustus, John Williams uncovered the secrets of ancient Rome. With Butcher’s Crossing, his fiercely intelligent, beautifully written western, Williams dismantles the myths of modern America.

It is the 1870s, and Will Andrews, fired up by Emerson to seek “an original relation to nature,” drops out of Harvard and heads west. He washes
Paperback, 274 pages
Published January 16th 2007 by NYRB Classics (first published 1960)
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Margaret I don't think he's doing either. I think he's simply telling a story and because of the details of the time and place, the end of the buffalo, the…moreI don't think he's doing either. I think he's simply telling a story and because of the details of the time and place, the end of the buffalo, the beginning of the end of the West as his main character had known and imagined as a child, and confronted in its reality as an adult, that story reveals the full horror of the greed and exploitation that was wrought on the West. But the character can see beyond his experience and continue to move on when the events in the book come to their end. He is a witness and we witness through him. (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 11, 2013 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-old-west
”You get born, and you nurse on lies, and you get weaned on lies, and you learn fancier lies at school. You live all your life on lies, and then maybe when you’re ready to die, it comes to you that there’s nothing, nothing but yourself and what you could have done. Only you ain’t done it, because the lies told you there was something else. Then you know you could of had the world, because you’re the only one that knows the secret; only then it’s too late. You’re old.”

Will Andrews bought into the
Why read a historical novel about a privileged Harvard dropout who wants to find himself by going on a buffalo hunt?

1. It's by John Williams, who wrote one of my three favourite novels, Stoner, which I reviewed HERE, as well as the almost as good Augustus, which I reviewed HERE.

2. Hunting is not what it's really about (probably like Moby Dick?).

3. It was a good follow-on from Cold Mountain, which I reviewed HERE: two totally different US landscape-based stories, set only a few years apart.

What T
Jun 11, 2013 Dolors rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Beware of Westerns
Shelves: read-in-2015
Williams’ biggest achievement in this novel is that there isn’t an ounce of overblown characterization in the diverging life perspectives that populate Butcher's Crossing, an emerging town in the Great Plains of the old west. In spite of the bison hunters, the dusty brothel with the purring prostitute, the inexperienced city boy Will Andrews from Boston, and the drunkard who nurses his whiskey with a mucky Bible and prayerful gibberish, this is not the predictable Western the reader might antici ...more
Lynne King
Andrews dropped to his hands and knees and swung his head from side to side like a wounded animal. “My God!” he said thickly, “My God, my God”.

“A whole winter’s work,” Miller said in a flat dead voice. “It took just about two minutes.”

“Andrews raised his head wildly, and got to his feet. “Schneider,” he said. “Schneider. We’ve got to-”

“Miller put his hand on his shoulder. “Take it easy, boy. Won’t do no good to worry about Schneider.”

I went to bed last night still thinking about this rem
… he believed - and had believed for a long time - that there was a subtle magnetism in nature, which, if he unconsciously yielded to it, would direct him aright … (48)


Now Andrews could see the herd clearly. Against the pale yellow-green of the grass, the dark umber of the buffalo stood out sharply … Many were lying at ease upon the soft valley grass; those were mere humps, like dark rocks, without identity or shape … some were grazing lightly, others stood unmoving, they huge furry heads slum
Feb 21, 2013 Algernon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2013

One of the joys of reading chaotically, picking up books from the TBR stack at the whim of the moment and not according to some master plan, is to discover that succesive reads turn out to be related after all. The Great Gatsby is concerned with the Great American Dream - that success is waiting right around the corner for anyone determined enough to reach for it. Butcher's Crossing is about another facet of the Great American Dream, the myth of the pristine land, a Garden of Eden where Man
Is the sighting of large herds of buffalo on a hidden track nine or ten years previously good enough reason to set off on a buffalo killing expedition? Miller thinks so, and young Andrews is keen to join, and he needs no persuading to both invest money and join as learner skinner. But this is no simple adventure story.

Why is Miller, leader of the expedition, so obsessed with finding this herd and killing every single bison in it? Why does the fanatically religious Charley tag along almost agains
John Williams wrote four novels. None of them, however, sold many copies during his lifetime. I remember some years ago seeing and scanning stories about John Williams with headlines such as “The Best Writer You Never Heard Of,” or something similar. And that certainly applied to me. I had never heard of him, and I couldn’t read his books because they were out of print. In fact, although there were critics who praised his work his books sold few copies before disappearing – literally in some cas ...more
Cathrine ☯
Oct 20, 2016 Cathrine ☯ rated it it was amazing
Shelves: group-challenge
In his third year at Harvard, Will Andrews leaves his studies to go west. After hearing a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson his quest is to find and experience his “unadulterated self.” The year is 1873 as he arrives in Butcher’s Crossing Colorado. He decides to fund a buffalo hunt as a way “to see as much of the country as I can. . . I want to get to know it.” I picture that scene in Dances With Wolves when the character played by Kevin Costner relates that he wants to see the West before it is
Parthiban Sekar
Oct 30, 2016 Parthiban Sekar rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-lit, owned
After reading this book, I have felt myself becoming one of those naive victims from this story. At first, I was unaware of what is going to happen amidst the scurry behind shrubs and rocks, and the constant thuds of distant hooves. I was slowly made to believe that everything is normal without knowing what lies beneath. I suppose that I was taken for granted.

Eventually, there was this strange feeling of foreign intervention which made me question my own existence and my very own purp
Sep 10, 2015 RK-ique rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Wonderful book. Read it. Americana at its best. "Stoner" was a book that made me look into my life as I am. "Butcher's Crossing" took me back to my youth when I wandered, and lived in my tent in the mountains, became lost in a snow storm in the North. But more than anything it took me back to this:

"He could hardly recall, now, the passion that had drawn him to this room and this flesh, as if by a subtle magnetism; nor could he recall the force of that other passion which had impelled him halfwa
Nov 30, 2015 Carmo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Que motivação pode levar os homens a deixarem-se reduzir aos instintos mais básicos?
O que leva o homem a desafiar os elementos, a arriscar a vida com uma faca no bolso?
Que prazer, que satisfação, que desejo secreto o leva à matança selvagem, até não restar mais nada?
O apelo do desconhecido?
Testar todos os limites? De sobrevivência, de força, de coragem?
Para provar o quê? Que o homem é um eterno solitário, que a demanda em busca de um sentido para a vida pode ser a essência da própria vida?
Ou en
Feb 02, 2015 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2015
A Holocaust of Hides

"He could hardly recall, now, the passion that had drawn him to this room and this flesh, as if by a subtle magnetism; nor could he recall the force of that other passion which had impelled him halfway across a continent into a wilderness where he had dreamed he could find, as in a vision, his unalterable self. Almost without regret, he could admit now the vanity from which those passions had sprung.

(view spoiler)
Aug 18, 2010 Ken rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished-in-2010
Penned in 1960, John Williams' BUTCHER'S CROSSING anticipates and in many ways eclipses Cormac McCarthy's western works because it not only nails the rapacious greed of the buffalo hunters it describes, it reaches for more abstract and troubling themes that go to the very essence of man and his place in the world.

Will Andrews, the protagonist, is but a 23-year-old preacher's son when he shows up in Butcher's Crossing with money and a dream in hand. He winds up payrolling a buffalo hunt to a hidd
Nov 14, 2016 Tony rated it it was amazing
People, here and elsewhere, are agrief over the most recent national election. A common question is, "How could this happen?" For the handful of people who are not asking that question rhetorically, I could reply "I don't know" or I could attempt a lengthy answer about how the choice meant different things to different people, different oxen being gored. I'd never finish the longer answer. In the unlikely event that the first or second explanation didn't cause a disagreement, eventually ennui wo ...more
Sarah Funke
Apr 02, 2008 Sarah Funke rated it really liked it
Anything that's prefaced by a quotation from Melville's The Confidence Man is ok by me. This one, by the author of Stoner, owes a lot more to Melville than that -- from Transcendental meditations to musings on "white," not to mention the monomania of a man on a hunt (like Gatsby, come to think of it, but broader, and deeper, and colder/wetter, and hotter/thirstier). This is Moby-Dick in the early American west, with many, many buffalo instead of a single whale, and set very very much on land. Wi ...more
Jan 05, 2017 Carla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simples e complexo.
John Williams no seu melhor.

Tinha passado naquele vale da montanha os momentos mais importantes da sua vida e, quando deixava os olhos percorrê-lo – a planura e a sua cor amarelo-esverdeada, as altas paredes das montanhas revestidas do verde carregado dos pinheiros, atravessado pelo flamejante vermelho-dourado das faias na mudança da folha, o penedo saliente e o outeiro, tudo encimado pelo intenso azul do céu sem vento -, parecia-lhe que os contornos do local fluíam sob o seu
Sep 30, 2015 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: n-usa, e4
Cinco estrelas não, porque há o Stoner...
"Uma pessoa nasce, é amamentada na mentira, é desmamada na mentira e aprende mentiras mais elaboradas na escola. Vive toda a vida no meio da mentira e mais tarde, porventura quando está prestes a morrer, descobre que não há nada, nada a não ser ela própria e o que podia ter feito. Só que não o fez, porque as mentiras lhe disseram que havia outra coisa. Nessa altura percebe que podia ter todo o mundo, porque é a única pessoa que sabe o segredo; só que entã
Apr 15, 2014 Tfitoby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit, western
John 'Stoner' Williams' bleak and unromantic portrait of the great myth of the Western Frontier is a hard edged read designed to repulse the reader with its content whilst wallowing in the majesty of nature. It's no mean feat to capture such beauty and such horror in one novel with equal skill and success, in doing so Williams confirms his place in my heart as one the greats of American letters, and if justice is served all of us who care for the careful consideration of how one word follows ano ...more
May 09, 2015 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I enjoyed this sparse and dark novel set in Kansas and Colorado in the period after the Civil War.Strong characterisation and very atmospheric.This is Moby Dick brought to a rapidly changing American West.A precursor to the novels of Cormac McCarthy.
Oct 16, 2013 orsodimondo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana, western
Pubblicato nel 1960, cinque anni prima di “Stoner”, e ambientato intorno al 1870 tra Kansas e Colorado, tra prateria e montagne, “Butcher’s Crossing” è il romanzo western per antonomasia, il paradigma del western, tutto quello che ci si aspetta da un western.

In più c’è l’enorme talento di questo scrittore, che non spreca parole e neppure le lesina, le cerca con precisione che rimane nascosta, le organizza con perizia e pacatezza, con potere evocativo e incredibile capacità descri
Could John Williams' first novel, widely regarded as the counterpart to the famous Stoner, have left a more striking impression? I highly doubt so, and if only for its memorable, brutal honesty, Butcher's Crossing has earned a place among my all-time favorites. John Williams is no very well-known author, and most people connect him only to Stoner, yet in my opinion, this underrated novel is, from a general point of view, his true masterpiece.

Butcher's Crossing focuses on Harvard student Will And
Betsy Robinson
Aug 16, 2015 Betsy Robinson rated it it was amazing

In the 1870s, Will Andrews, a young man fresh out of three years at Harvard College, travels west and, with a band of hunters, heads further west in search of buffalo because he is seeking Nature (intentional capital “N”).
Andrews felt that the mountains drew them onward, and drew them with increasing intensity as they came nearer, as if they were a giant lodestone whose influence increased to the degree that it was more nearly approached. As they came nearer he had again the feeling that he was
Oct 23, 2016 Jessaka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western
"A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell..... a death wind for my people."
~~Sitting Bull

They came down into valley, and the buffalo herds were moving darkly over the land like waves on the ocean. The men slowly moved in on them. The first shot went to kill the leader of the herd, more shots would follow. My mind stopped. The buffalo just stood there in wonder of what was going on. and one by one they were killed. What innocence they had. What beautiful creatures. What a
João Carlos
Jan 04, 2017 João Carlos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2017best, l2017
6 Estrelas

Review mais tarde...
Jul 27, 2014 Hanne rated it really liked it
When you’re in the midst of things, it’s easy to lose perspective.


“All around him was whiteness which glittered with needlelike points of fire. He gasped at the immensity of what he saw. (…) He blinked and cupped his hands over his eyes; but even upon his closed lids he saw only whiteness. A small inarticulate cry came from his lips; he felt that he had no weight in the whiteness, and for a moment he did not know whether he remained upright or whether he had gone down into the snow.”

Will Andre
Sophie VERStand
Wenn uns ein Autor Transformation und Desillusionierung eines jungen Protagonisten darbieten kann, dann John Williams.
Während es sich bei William Stoner [im gleichnamigen Roman "Stoner"] um einen jungen Bauernsohn handelt, der sich zum Englischprofessor entwickelt, begegnet uns mit William Andrews [in "Butcher's Crossing"] ein adoleszenter, aber noch völlig unerfahrener und etwas weltfremder Ex-Harvardstudent, der in die Steppe von Kansas kommt [wohlgemerkt mit 1400$ im Gepäck], um die raue Wirk
Mia (Parentheses Enthusiast)
Jan 11, 2016 Mia (Parentheses Enthusiast) marked it as on-hold-for-the-moment
I'm reading this for the 2016 Popsugar Reading Challenge: "A book based on its cover." In the spirit of rule following, I'm going into this book totally blind, having not read anything about this book at all- no reviews, no summary, nothing. I plan to read it soon, and I'm predicting (based on the cover and title) that it's about two childhood friends who decide to scale a mountain, get into some sort of natural disaster, and must band together and fight against the elements. Probably takes plac ...more
May 03, 2013 Noce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evoluzione della fuga

Il libro racconta che c’è questo tale, Cristopher McCandless che una volta laureatosi, prende zaino e voglia di vivere e si inoltra nella selvaggia natura in cerca di libertà e se del caso, di se stesso.

Ah no, scusate, quello è il protagonista di Into the wild ( o Terre estreme per i lettori più avanti di me, che superficialona, ho visto solo il film). Il parallelismo però c’è. Anche nel libro di Williams c’è un eroe solitario che tenta una via di fuga dall’ordinary world.
Отдавна не ми се е случвало да споделям впечатления след прочит, но тази книга определено го заслужава. На пръв поглед - четирима господа потеглят през прашната пустош, очаквайки грандиозен лов на бизони. Колко по-мъжко може да бъде едно повествование? При все това, препусках из страниците така, както от месеци не съм, а след двадесет и четири часа вече се вглеждах в задната корица.
Романът е написан добре, дори повече от добре - стегнато, последователно, с изчистени от претенции слова. Липсват р
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

John Edward Williams was born on August 29, 1922, in Clarksville, Texas, near the Red River east of Paris, Texas and brought up in Texas. His grandparents were farmers; his stepfather was a janitor in a post office. After flunking out of junior college and holding various positions with newspapers and radio stat
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“Young people," McDonald said contemptuously. "You always think there's something to find out."

"Yes, sir," Andrews said.

"Well, there's nothing," McDonald said. "You get born, and you nurse on lies, and you get weaned on lies, and you learn fancier lies in school. You live all your life on lies, and then maybe when you're ready to die, it comes to you — that there's nothing, nothing but yourself and what you could have done. Only you ain't done it, because the lies told you there was something else. Then you know you could of had the world, because you're the only one that knows the secret; only then it's too late. You're too old."

"No," Andrews said. A vague terror crept from the darkness that surrounded them, and tightened his voice. "That's not the way it is."

"You ain't learned, then," McDonald said. "You ain't learned yet. . . .”
“It came to him that he had turned away from the buffalo not because of a womanish nausea at blood and stench and spilling gut; it came to him that he had sickened and turned away because of his shock at seeing the buffalo, a few moments before proud and noble and full of the dignity of life, now stark and helpless, a length of inert meat, divested of itself, or his notion of its self, swinging grotesquely, mockingly, before him. It was not itself; or it was not that self that he had imagined it to be. That self was murdered; and in that murder he had felt the destruction of something within him, and he had not been able to face it. So he had turned away.” 12 likes
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