Good Minds Suggest—Mary Doria Russell's Favorite Westerns

March, 2015
Mary Doria Russell

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With their scrappy cowboys and daring lawmen, true tales of the American Wild West have generated a rich literary history as well as a much-romanticized mythology. In her historical novel, Doc, author Mary Doria Russell cuts through the folklore to tell the very human story of a man, Doc Holliday, the gun-slinging dentist who forged a friendship with deputy marshal Wyatt Earp. Now, in the follow-up to that acclaimed novel, her new book, Epitaph, continues the frontier duo's tale, presenting them as ordinary men rather than outsize archetypes and recounting their infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral (which did you know lasted only 30 seconds?). Russell, who is also a paleoanthropologist, is best known for her first-contact science fiction—The Sparrow and Children of God—as well as two historical novels—A Thread of Grace, set in Nazi-occupied Italy, and Dreamers of the Day, set at the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference. She shares some of her favorite westerns that offer a more realistic spin on the Old West but will still inspire you to ride off into the sunset.

The German Bride by Joanna Hershon
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"Eva Frank, a 16-year-old Jewish Berliner, agrees to marry a much older merchant, Abraham Shein, and returns with him to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Set in 1861, this is an entirely different view of the West and the Jewish immigrant experience in America."


American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hannah Nordhaus (Goodreads Author)
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"[This] is a perfect companion book: The author's great-grandmother, Julia, was the basis for The German Bride. Yes, Julia's life on the frontier was difficult, but her sister, who stayed in civilized Germany, died in a concentration camp. It's a stunning moment when the Wild West connects with Hitler's Germany."


The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
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"Set in ranch country in 1885, this fine novel was justly celebrated when it was published in 1940, as Europe was abandoning the rule of law for mob violence. Here three innocent men are lynched for cattle theft, but the real story is an indictment of the 'good man' who does nothing to stop it."


The Virginian by Owen Wister
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"This is a classic story of the tenderfoot who goes west for his health, as so many did in the late 1800s, Doc Holliday among them. A lovely period piece written before the movies made every western into a shoot-'em-up."


Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer
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"A beautiful evocation of the life and times of a working cowboy, just as the Old West passes into history and mythology. Episodic, funny, and moving."





Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Westerns



Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)

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message 1: by Louise (new)

Louise  Smith Mary, if you like Westerns, try A GOOD MAN by Guy Vanderhaeghe. The opening chapter may feel a little dense, but push on for a rip-snorting ride on the Montana-Canadian border.

Louise Farmer Smith
louisefarmersmith


message 2: by Sue (new)

Sue Whittaker Also, Forrest Carter wrote 2 great books, Gone to Texas and the Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales.


message 3: by Henry (last edited Mar 05, 2015 06:30AM) (new)

Henry Ricardo I was blown away by The Sparrow and Children of God. I am halfway through Doc and I am enjoying it immensely. I have just pre-ordered Epitaph.


message 4: by Rosco (new)

Rosco As an inveterate reader of westerns from Cooper, London and Grey on through to McMurtry and Meyer, thank you for giving me the opportunity to broaden my horizon.
My favourite western is Conquering Horse by Frederick Manfred.His vision of the pre-wasi'chu plains is breathtaking.


message 5: by Randi (new)

Randi Barlow-pappa Speaking of Forrest Carter, don't miss "Education of Little Tree." Changed my life in some ways.


message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris Sue wrote: "Also, Forrest Carter wrote 2 great books, Gone to Texas and the Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales."

Neither Forrest Carter nor his books are what they appear to be: http://www.npr.org/2012/04/20/1510370...


message 7: by Fiorella (new)

Fiorella Pohle and what about the brilliant books by Thomas Eidson!


message 8: by Henry (new)

Henry Ricardo Then there are the Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch books by Robert B. Parker.


message 9: by Christine (new)

Christine Jeffords Anyone who enjoyed "Monte Walsh" should also read Ross Santee's "The Bubbling Spring" and James Boyd's "Bitter Creek," both tales of young men who go West to be cowboys and what they learn from the experience. Dr. Antelope, the medicine-show man, and Absolute Jones, teller of tall tales, in "Bitter Creek" are Western characters every lover of the genre should meet!

David Robbins wrote a sequel to "The Virginian," logically titled "The Return of the Virginian." It's surprisingly good and fits in nicely with the original.


message 10: by Randi (new)

Randi Barlow-pappa Thank you for that update, Christine. I had no idea. Shocking.


message 11: by Renato (new)

Renato Rodriguez I'd like to add Philipp Meyer's The Son to this list. Not only the best western i've read, but one of the best novels overall. Highly recommended.


message 12: by Angie (new)

Angie Westbrook I am wanting to read these western books now. I am a horror/ sci-fi/ fantasy kinda girl, but ya'll make it sound interesting.


message 13: by Louise (new)

Louise  Smith Angie,
You won't be disappointed. The West of these books offers all the horror and peril of outer space.
louisefarmersmith.com


message 14: by Charles (new)

Charles Loving I must be old school. I really like Stan Lynde the comic artist (Rick O'Shay) and old time writer and Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour, and my most favorite of all time the books of McMurty with Lonesome Dove leading the way.


message 15: by Louise (new)

Louise  Smith Ah, Lonesome Dove, good place to start.
louisefarmersmith.com


message 16: by David (new)

David Cordner The Cowboy and the Cossack, by Clair Huffaker one of the best books I've read in some time. It made me laugh out loud and also made me cry. Highly recommended.


message 17: by Fredrick (new)

Fredrick Doerring Most fond of Native American westerns illustrating their
cultures and both resistance and blending to conflicting
ways of the other invasive foreigners! Just plain Fritz


message 18: by Charles (new)

Charles Loving Lonesome Dove was a great tale. My grandfather's cousin was Oliver Loving so the stroy rang quite true. Emblished a bit but it was well done and there wasn't a curse word in the whole book. Amzing.


message 19: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Cockburn Does any member the westerns of Luke Short? The were staples of the paperback book rack in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Formulaic but fun, the have gone out of print now, I guess.


message 20: by Hardewunmmy (new)

Hardewunmmy Nurphysat i can't help but to like The Half Slave/Half Free. my Gosh, the book is so cool. but unfortunately i couldn't view the end of the story


message 21: by Fredrick (new)

Fredrick Doerring I recall Luke Short paperbacks. Sort of liked, but soon
got worn out on them. As you say; formulaic!
Just plain Fritz


message 22: by Christine (last edited Mar 09, 2015 11:47AM) (new)

Christine Jeffords Jennifer wrote: "Does any member the westerns of Luke Short? The were staples of the paperback book rack in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Formulaic but fun, the have gone out of print now, I guess."

Oh, yes! I'm a proud owner of every novel Short ever wrote, and am closing in on a complete collection of his brother, Peter Dawson. Their styles are so similar that if you like one you're sure to like the other. I've found them both fast-moving, tightly plotted, often turning on the tiniest chance, and almost always featuring at least one independent, frontier kind of woman.

If I had the money, I'd start a POD company and bring them back. And a lot of other older books, too--the kind that aren't in the Public Domain yet but have fallen OP.


message 23: by Stephen (new)

Stephen ward Henry wrote: "I was blown away by The Sparrow and Children of God. I am halfway through Doc and I am enjoying it immensely. I have just pre-ordered Epitaph."

Sounds interesting definately give it a go :)


message 24: by Jason (new)

Jason S. Please try Thrust From the Hand of God by Jason Litz. It is in 1870 and is an historical adventure like the kind you like. It is very good and gets better and better as it unfolds! Thanks!


message 25: by Wieunkc (new)

Wieunkc one piece online


message 26: by Sharon (new)

Sharon So surprised no one mentioned SHANE by Jack Schaeffer. That to me is the quintessential Western.


message 27: by Christine (new)

Christine Jeffords Sharon wrote: "So surprised no one mentioned SHANE by Jack Schaeffer. That to me is the quintessential Western."

I tend to like Schaeffer's short stories better.


message 28: by Christine (new)

Christine Jeffords Charles wrote: "I really like Stan Lynde the comic artist (Rick O'Shay)..."

Have you discovered his new (well, it was 10 years ago!) prose series about Merlin Fanshawe? Merlin is a former bronc-stomper who becomes, somewhat reluctantly, a Deputy US Marshal in 1880's Montana. There are eight books in the series to date; most recent is "The Big Open." All available at Amazon.



message 29: by Christine (last edited Nov 16, 2015 05:30AM) (new)

Christine Jeffords Fredrick wrote: "Most fond of Native American westerns illustrating their
cultures and both resistance and blending to conflicting
ways of the other invasive foreigners! Just plain Fritz"


Then you should read some of Robert J. Steelman. His novels often turn on a white man, taken captive by Indians, who becomes a valued member of the tribe. Start with "Winter of the Sioux" and "Sun Boy" and go from there.


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