Good Minds Suggest—Mary Doria Russell's Favorite WesternsMarch, 2015
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
"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)
"[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
"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
"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
"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