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Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  977 ratings  ·  130 reviews
In this brilliant biography T. J. Stiles offers a new understanding of the legendary outlaw Jesse James. Although he has often been portrayed as a Robin Hood of the old west, in this ground-breaking work Stiles places James within the context of the bloody conflicts of the Civil War to reveal a much more complicated and significant figure.

Raised in a fiercely pro-slavery
Paperback, 544 pages
Published October 28th 2003 by Vintage (first published July 1993)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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For me the great thing about this book was how the author explored Jesse James in the changing political environment of his times - the American Civil war and the following decades. James will always be an unusual and peripheral figure yet he became, for a time, a symbolic figure in the creation of the "Lost Cause" idealisation of the Confederacy, this in turn part of a broader project to win the peace politically by those who had been defeated militarily in the civil war. Aside from being a ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War is a thorough study of how Jesse James became the man he was and why his legend grew beyond mere outlaw status.

Stiles dives deep into the Missouri political picture before, during and after the Civil War. The divisiveness of the citizens led to a steady stream of violence and conflict between Confederate supporters and Union loyalists. This was the toxic atmosphere Jesse grew up in and largely explains his anger and vengefulness towards fellow
May 30, 2008 is currently reading it
I'm about a third of the way through, and Chris Floyd's review steered me right:

"Last winter, I flew across the ocean back to Tennessee, after my oldest brother died. During this visit, I had with me a book I'd long meant to read but had never gotten around to. It was Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, by T.J. Stiles.

To call this work a "biography" risks misrepresenting the depth and scope of the illumination it provides. It is a masterpiece of historical reconstruction. By the time I had
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jesse James is certainly one of the more controversial figures in American history. Just a teenager at the end of the Civil War, he would nonetheless be an active participant in murder and robbery through his activities with Confederate guerillas. Much like many of those guerrillas, the end of the war was really just the start of a new phase of it for Jesse. A virulent racist, and unreconstructed Confederate, Jesse would continue ambushing and murdering right up until his death in 1882, long ...more
Aaron Million
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
T.J. Stiles writes biography and history with a superb blend of academic rigor (a copious and, in itself, interesting Notes section adds context to many parts of the book) and old-fashioned story-telling. While on the surface this is a biography of the legendary Missouri outlaw, it really reads much more as an excellent history of Civil War and Reconstruction-era Missouri. Throughout the first half of the book, James himself is a minor figure and there are many pages where he does not appear at ...more
Jeff Crompton
Dec 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My four-star rating is a compromise between what I objectively think of the quality of this book and how much enjoyment I had in reading it. Stiles has written an impeccably researched, thorough, detailed biography of James; as such it deserves five stars. But it was a hard read for me. Jesse James, however enduring his place remains in popular culture, was a particularly brutal person. The vast majority of those he killed were unarmed, and during his days as a bushwhacker in Civil War Missouri, ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up a few years ago when I visited Jesse James birthplace. For whatever reason, it kept getting pushed back in the to-read pile. Having visited the James place, I learned his story. There has been a revision of how we view James- not an outlaw of the Cowboy movie, but a Confederate who didn't stop fighting after the Civil War. Also, in the meantime, Stiles has become a very respected and successful writer of history with his George Custer book. Not sure if one influenced the other, ...more
Curtis Seven
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A well written book that takes a look at the James and Younger Brothers in the context of the politics of their times. Largely debunks the idea that JJ was some sort of folk hero or Robin Hood rather suggesting he usurped those ideas to further his own interests. In point of fact Jesse James, Cole Younger, and lot of other people who were held up as Confederate heros forced into a life of crime by persecution were nothing less than cold blooded murderers. On more than one occasion they point ...more
Theo Logos
With `Jesse James Last Rebel of the Civil War', J. T. Stiles has given us a most insightful, penetrating, and serious study not just of that outlaw, but more importantly, of the place and times that produced him, and which are necessary for an understanding of who and what he was. Stiles book is as much a study of the social/political/economic history of Missouri from 1845 through 1882 as it is a biography of James. Indeed, Jesse James is not even a principal actor in the book through its first ...more
Christopher Sturcke
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
In his book Jesse James: Last Rebel, Stiles spins a tale of revenge, cold-blooded murder, and politics. He does what historians are supposed to do: prove their thesis by compiling the supporting evidence and weaving it together in a logical argument capable of persuading others. Stiles thesis is that Jesse James, a bitter unreconstructed secessionist, was actually a product of the old Confederacy and therefore should not be grouped with the gunmen of the Wild West. James was a bushwacker in ...more
David Buccola
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jesse James is one of those figures who I grew up as a small child thinking of is in heroic terms. I know almost nothing about him but the idea was that he was some sort of Robin Hood figure back in the wild wild West days. so this book was a fascinating read into the life of the man that many of us have heard about it a few of us know. Stripped of his Robin Hood mythology, Jesse James comes across more as a modern terrorist. The author does a great job of leaving the narrative of Jesse James ...more
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Author Stiles blows away the folk myth that Jesse James was a Robin Hood populist hero. Stiles puts the outlaw's story in the political context of his times - post Civil War - and place - violence ridden Missouri. James was a political terrorist of his time, and many themes Stiles discusses are recurrent in the violence of Ruby Ridge and right-wing militia groups.
Jun 19, 2008 added it
I'm learning a lot about the complexities of the Civil War: the South, the Reconstruction, Bush-whackers, and how Jesse James fit in. The author says that if Jesse James were alive today, he'd be considered a "terrorist." Interesting thought, huh?
Greg Carson
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Superb biography, especially the chapters on the James brothers careers as Confederate guerillas during the Civil War and paramilitaries during the fragile peace following the war.
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent account of Jesse James' life but a little too textbook for my taste. A very complicated read... and yet, so very complicated was the subject!
Evan Barrett
May 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I remember as kid hearing some vague story and/or attitude about Jesse James, however never took the time to try and understand it. The synopsis of this book makes much of Stiles debunking the myth of Jesse James as a western hero, and Stiles does plenty to satisfy that claim. The strange thing is that I never understood James as a western hero, partially because of my ignorance of either the details of his story or his apparent status as a "wild west" figure, but also because I knew he was from ...more
This is not just a book about Jesse James. While James' life provides the framework for this book, it is really about the Civil War and how the conflict played out in the state of Missouri, both before, during, after and beyond the war. There is a lot of detail in here, which is why it took me so long to read it. I wanted to wrap my brain around exactly what was going on, never having studied Missouri and it's political positions before. The fist part of the book seemed to drag on as Stiles laid ...more
Kendrick Blackwood
Sep 04, 2007 rated it liked it
I made it through, though it was close at a couple points. I picked it up expecting a non-fiction, action adventure story about the James Gang and their exploits in and around the Kansas City area. What I got was an in-depth exploration of the socio-economic situation in Missouri during the Civil War era. That situation created the lost generation that was Jesse James'. (It did have troubling parallels to modern times and the disenfranchisement forced upon many of today's youth. The inability to ...more
Jul 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Fascinating history & biography of James and his times, and way more complicated than just a train & bank robber story. Missouri was the Bosnia/Serbia of its day, with countless murders and atrocities among the warring factions (and there were at least three groups) who absolutely hated each other. And the big Hate continued, especially for James, well after the Civil War ended. Great follow-up book to the recent Pitt movie. Also check out the novel by Ron Hansen on Jesse James.
Crystal Toller
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jesse James

This is the story of the outlaw, Jesse James. While I enjoyed this book, I was expecting more about Jesse James and his family life. The book concentrated a lot on the Civil War and it's impact on Missouri more than on Jesse James and his life, I felt. While I felt the book could have done more biography and less history, I did enjoy it.
Aug 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Jesse James as a member of a death squad? This book gives us a totally new look at an old American legend. T.J. Stiles shows us a Jesse James who was not only a product of some very intensely political times, but also the product of a "media-machine" in the form of an ex-Confederate journalist by the name of John Newman Edwards, who had a lot to do with the creation of the "Jesse James" image.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I learned a lot, but the discussion of the book's themes got repetitive and overtook the actual history at points.
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Those of us of a certain age know Jesse James as the quintessential bad man of the old west equaled only in the fame department by Billy The Kid. It was a big surprise to me to find that he wasnt Western at all but manifested his years long crime spree mostly in Missouri with his most famous shootout happening in Minnesota of all places. This book uses Jesse as the hook to tell the story of Missouri before and after the Civil War. As a border state the allegiance of the populace was mixed ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
jesse james seemed way cooler before i found out he was like a foaming-at-mouth unreconstructed confederate murder fan IRL.

stiles has a background in academic history and it shows in two places - the argument hinted (revealed?) in the subtitle "Last Rebel of the Civil War" and the host of primary sources he uses to assemble his story. but he doesn't write like an academic, at least not the bad kind--the narrative chugs right along, deftly weaving a big picture from those sources, knowing when to
Katherine Addison
This is both a biography of Jesse James and a social history of Missouri from about the 1850s to 1882, the year of James' death. As Stiles argues, the two are inextricably intertwined. Stiles makes no attempt to make Jesse James a sympathetic character, but he assesses him carefully and comes to the conclusion that, aside from being a ruthless, unrepentant killer, he was both politics-savvy and attention-hungry, combining his crimes with the rhetoric of the "Lost Cause" to make himself ...more
Matthew Goguen
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
T.J. Stiles masterfully shed Jesse James of his Robin Hood persona and carefully placed him in the context of Civil War-era Missouri. His great research skills and creative storytelling brought Jesse James, the man, to life as much as we can decipher from those who knew him and the paper trail he left behind. James was as much an active participant in his own mythology and utilized the power of the press to his advantage. The final chapter, in which Stiles confronts the long dubious ...more
Chad Rexin
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This helped uncover the legend of Jesse James and why we still remember him today. It also shows the very troubled and divided times in the US and I Missouri where it was often neighbor against neighbor because of different thoughts regarding slavery. Definitely shows that the wild west wasn't as glorious as it was always made out to be. I think it also fairly shows that while Jesse was a hoodlum that he had a life that got mixed in with politics and political ideals of the time.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booksiveread
Thi particular book took me longer than usual to read.
I wanted to get all the facts. The author certainly does provide that!
I like this author. I read his biography of Custer and thoroughly enjoyed it! Tho it was packed with information, as well.

If you are interested in "the rest of the story" of Jesse James and hi history post-Civil Was as a bonafied outlaw - this i the book for you.

Must to learn!

I recommend.
Kevin L
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is about much more than just Jesse James. It dives deep into the history and politics of Missouri and the South and really reframed a lot of history for me.

It also made clear how abysmal and inaccurate much of the Missouri history was that was taught when I was in school back in the 70s.
L.C. Fiore
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
A really incredible history of the social and political environment that gave rise to Jesse James. Missouri was crazy during Reconstruction, and you just don't get this dirty history of the U.S. in your history classes growing up. Also, Jesse James controlled the media in a way that would be familiar to anyone who follows the news today. It's a good thing he never had Twitter.
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