Jeff Crompton's Reviews > Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War

Jesse James by T.J. Stiles
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's review
Dec 03, 2011

really liked it
Read from December 03 to 22, 2011

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, he and his cohorts often mutilated the bodies of the fellow Missourians they killed.

But I learned a lot, even if much of it was distasteful. Not only did Stiles' book clarify what made James what he was - he was a Confederate guerrilla, rather than a Western bandit - it made me think about the subsequent history of the South differently. Jesse James and those who shared his beliefs were still fighting the Civil War years after it was over. Unfortunately, many of my fellow Southerners were still doing so over a hundred years later.

Toward the end of my reading, my wife asked me if I had any sympathy toward James at all. Not at all. But the one moment that made me see the humanity in this killer was late in his life, when he made a pretty funny private joke. He applied for a job at a railroad depot, and stated that he had extensive experience with railway and express companies. I assume that he didn't explain that his experience was all in robbing them.
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