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West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  223 ratings  ·  57 reviews
The #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of American Sniper brings the Pony Express to life in this rich and rollicking new history

"One can hear horse hooves pounding across the prairie and sense the fear and courage and excitement." —Tom Clavin, author of Dodge City

On the eve of the Civil War, three American businessmen launched an audacious plan to create a financial e
ebook, 368 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by William Morrow
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3.42  · 
Rating details
 ·  223 ratings  ·  57 reviews

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Mar 06, 2019 rated it liked it
The Pony Express existed for eighteen months on the eve of the Civil War. From its first month when riders carried the news of Lincoln's electoral victory, to its demise, news was carried from St. Joseph Missouri, the western edge of the civilized world, to Sacramento and stations in between.

DeFelice weaves the facts and myths of the Pony Express with the events of the time. The election of Lincoln, the dissolution of the union, indian wars, the Mormon or Utah War, the gold rush as well as the i
Joseph Williams
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Listened to the audio. Reader is perfect for this topic.

The author offers an expansive history of the Pony Express contextualizing it within its time. There are often many side tangents, but I found these to be more fun than engaging. The author’s humor also prevails throughout ultimately making this a great, accessible book not just of the narrow topic of the Pony, but of the Old West, and America.
This new release follows the trail of the Pony Express, an easy (for the reader) and quite fun journey from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California and beyond. DeFelice makes stops at several stations along the way, introducing the reader to Old West characters, both legendary and unfamiliar. He attempts to sort out fact from fiction, as many tales originated larger than life and merely touched on the truth. But proof and disproof are next to impossible due to the murky history of the se ...more
An interesting microhistory of the surprisingly short-lived Pony Express. Although I listened, I don't recommend the audio which had too many mispronunciations, too many proper names and place names mispronounced for my taste. The author uses an interesting frame on which to hang the story of the Pony Express's history: we follow the November 1860 message about Lincoln's election from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, in just 6 days. Along the way we learn how the Express got its ...more
Kim McGee
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Pony Express was a doomed idea from the start but some how this hair brained scheme connected the country from St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California in record time. In 1860 it could take six months or longer for a letter to make it from one coast to the other. The Pony Express riders rode a long day at top speed with minimal stops in any kind of weather to deliver not only personal and business mail but also national news. Jim DeFelice has done his homework and gives us a blow by blow ...more
It is obvious from the beginning of this very well researched and thorough monograph that it is more of a labor of love by DeFelice than it is actually a pure history of the Pony Express. That being said, you get more of a sense of what was going on in the various locales that the Pony passed through than what the actual pony riders were doing, which at times was disappointing. There are also extensive detours through the events of the Civil War, which I thought was a little bit too tangential, ...more
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This highly readable popular history of the legendary Pony Express is a piece-together from many sources, both solid and, as DeFelice admits, dubious. Since the mail service lasted only a little over a year, it probably would be only a footnote in history had it not been popularized by the likes of such colorful characters as Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill. The "hook" onto which DeFelice hangs the book's overall theme is the news about Lincoln's election as President being carried from St. Jo ...more
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm really struggling with how to rate this book. I think I was at a disadvantage of listening to the audiobook, as this book's structure did not lend itself well to the audiobook format (though the narrator was excellent). The information was interesting, but because the author goes into so much detail about westward expansion, the factors leading up to the Civil War, and the personalities involved, the story of the Pony Express gets lost, and in fact there were times I forgot that's what the b ...more
Randall Harrison
Jun 09, 2018 rated it liked it

To me, this story is more an historical survey of the western US around the time of the Pony Express than a complete, thorough telling of the Pony Express story per se. I understand it's impossible to tell the PE story without including all the context of what was happening in and around the area and across the US at this time. Still, I found some of the diversions from the main story a little annoying at times, i.e., a distraction
Mar 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
If I had turned this book in as a paper for a freshman-level history class, I think it would get a B-. Maybe a B+ because all of the sources are cited correctly.
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

West Like Lightning : The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express

• by Jim DeFelice (pub. 2018, about 368 pages)

A historical account specifically on the 18 months the Pony Express was in operation. The author tries to distinguish between fact and legend, pointing out details that are unsupported by the historical record. The subtitle could also be: a history of the American West and politics in the 19th century. The author covers a lot of material that seems to side track, but eventually he g
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
My great-grandfather’s uncle, William Pridham, was a rider for the Pony Express. This is not a family legend, as are many Pony Express stories; he is listed in the Appendix to this book, which is a crisp, compelling story of the brief life of that once-iconic American enterprise. The family connection is really why I picked this book to read, and I was not disappointed in my choice.

The author, Jim DeFelice (noted for earlier writing "American Sniper"), frames his book through describing the deli
Geoff Habiger
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, history-us
West Like Lightning is a fun, very entertaining look at the brief history of the Pony Express. While the Pony Express only ran for 18 months, it has lived on in myth and legend ever since it's first days.

Jim DeFelice does a good job of presenting the story of the Pony Express, using the delivery of the news of Abraham Lincoln's election along the route of the Pony as the framework to talk about the people that built and operated the Pony Express, from the business men who thought up the idea, t
Earl Grey Tea
Dec 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I'm going to round up and give this book four stars on Goodreads, but three and a half would be my final verdict.

What I like the most about West Like Lightning is how the author covered a lot history around the short lived Pony Express to help give context. This information clarified what was happening in America around that time and the background of key people associated with this mail service. Keep in mind that Jim DeFelice went a mile wide but only a couple of inches deep in the topics that
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Born April 3, 1860, died Oct. 24, 1861: The Central Overland and Pikes Peak Express Company, aka "The Pony Express." For a mere 18 months, during which the United States lurched toward dissolution, intrepid young men on fast horses riding between relay stations about 10 miles apart kept the west coast connected with the midwest and eastern states, transporting messages from the end of the telegraph at St. Joseph MO to Sacramento CA in 10 days across plains, deserts, and mountains.
To tell the s
Jul 20, 2018 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book about an 18-month period in US History. Beginning with what was probably the Pony Express' famous dispatch, the election of Abraham Lincoln, DeFelice breaks down the history of the Pony (1860-1861) in each of its five divisions as it ran from St. Joe, MO, to San Francisco, CA. The Pony was never expected to make money, and the founders knew that the telegraph and transcontinental railroad would soon make their service obsolete. What they intended and what they got wa ...more
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
A lively read about the Pony Express. It's amazing how something that was so short-lived has become such a romanticized, mythologized presence in American history.

This was a very enjoyable read though, after I finished reading it, I didn't feel as if I walked away knowing much more about the Pony Express than before I started. There's a lot of information in the book, but much of it is focused on the other events going on in the country at the time- especially the Civil War (and the beginnings o
Jun 17, 2018 rated it liked it
I learned a lot from reading this book--I didn't realize how short-lived the Pony Express was, and how it fit into the context of the times. It took me a while to catch on to how DeFelice was approaching the book: not chronologically but instead by telling stories of the stops along the route. That's an interesting way to tell the story, but it made the book somewhat hard to follow. Early in the book, Lincoln has been elected, then later he hasn't, and then he is again . . . the book doesn't fol ...more
Dec 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I listened to this on audio. I don't think it is the best format for an audio book. In the end, while it was a a pretty decent book, it was too broad to be truly about the Pony Express, and too narrow to be a comprehensive history of the West. I felt like the story skipped around a lot. It starts with a pony rider taking the news of Lincoln's election west. Then, it ranges all over the place forward and backward in history, back and forth across the plains. It's all related, but I felt like the ...more
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
The only thing this author does succinctly is refer to the pony express as “the pony.” He presents information like a terrified drunk with a shotgun—there’s no telling where or what is coming next. If he kept to the information actually related to the pony express, the book would be a fraction of the length.

Certainly, DeFelice has a huge enthusiasm for the old west. Had he only retitled the book to focus on a broader theme, expectations would have been better met. As it stands, it’s too hard to
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book is uneven. I picked it up because I have a newfound interest in California/Western history. It tells about the Pony Express both from a factual basis and as a myth. Lasting only 1 1/2 years, the stories of the brave young men dashing across the American outposts to deliver mail were told and retold til they reached epic status in the late 1800s.
The author tries to do a lot in this book - tell the background story of the business elements of the Pony Express, set it in the context of t
Annie     Wilkinson
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I visited a Pony Express marker on the Pony Express Trail in Utah. It's near a recreated Pony Express Station by Simpson Springs where wild Mustang herds still water. I wondered what tales that old trail could tell from 1860 to 1861 when the Pony was in operation. West Like Lightning by Jim DeFelice told me a lot: the business ventures, the lawlessness, the Indian Wars, the United States on the brink of Civil War, the election of Abraham Lincoln, but most of all, the Pony Express Riders--young, ...more
John Walker
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting account of the short, happy and eventually demise of a truly American legend of the Pony Express.The young men who rode across the untamed west from St. Joseph Missouri to San Francisco, California and made it in spite of weather, dead end trails and of course Indian's ( not much though as the westerns of fiction, movies and television would later protray).

The stories of the riders, the wannabe's and the businessmen are all depicted, whether they spun the tales of riding or not. B
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, sold
Right away, one of the most amazing facts about the legendary Pony Express is that it lasted a mere 18 or so months. And another of the most amazing facts is that it was intended to exist only a short time.

The Pony Express ran mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. But it was only a demonstration for the men who started it. They really wanted a normal mail contract from the U.S. government, and the Pony, as it was called, was a way to show that they could deliver the mail.

Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
2 stars out of 5 - I listened to this on CDs during my drive times over the past couple of weeks. It was tough to follow as an audio book, and I came close to abandoning it, because the author described sections of the route of the Pony Express in short vignettes separated by descriptions of the financial doings of the founders and those of other freight and mail carrying companies, the telegraph companies and the railroads. And he further sprinkled in sections of descriptions of the political s ...more
Rebecca Gregory
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this history of the Pony Express. It included a lot of history surrounding the 18 month life of the express. I was surprised at how short it lived and that it was not at all profitable. However it does speak to the romance of the times and our love of the "old west". Also the character of Americans many of us hold so dear. The last line of the book:
"We see ourselves as we'd like to be: brave, resourceful, racing against nature and all manner of dangers, with determination in our hearts
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I liked about this book was that the author tied in elements of what was going on around the riders politically and socially that made an impact on what eventually became the demise of the pony express. Many passages made me feel as if I was a part of the landscape looking on as a flash of a pony with a crouched rider breezed by. In order to comprehend the way of thinking of the western United States, and to understand its complexity, an study of the Pony Express is essential. This book giv ...more
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I grew up in Marysville, Ks., a Pony Express town and heard a lot about it. This book is fascinating, telling about a very interesting enterprise in a fast-changing and turbulent time in our country. Wide-ranging, it liberally follows all sorts of side-tracks and tells you a little about a lot of different things. Writing style is more of a popular fiction than a scholarly history, which fits with the subject and was appealing and enjoyable. I enjoyed this book and got a new appreciation for the ...more
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
The best history writing has a good narrative hook. They pull you into the lesson. This does not. I found ‘West Like Lightning’, dry. DeFelice reminds us (many times) that little is known or documented about the brief 18 month life of the Pony Express. There is a lot of ‘this may or may not be true’. As filler we get, some interesting background on the period. Buchanan’s failed presidency, Lincoln’s election and inauguration, the ongoing political/moral issue of slavery, and the imminent war.
Gerry Connolly
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
West Like Lightening is Jim DeFelice's account of the Pony Express. Running from St Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California the Pony lasted only 18 months from 1860 through 1861. But it's heroics and reliability were lionized in Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows. An iconic image in American myth of the old, Wild West. Good read.
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