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Gilded Age greed goes Wild West

Posted by on May 22, 2014 in News, The Books That | Comments Off on Gilded Age greed goes Wild West

Been reading up on the Johnson County Invasion of 1892. In “Freedom Around the Corner,” a survey history of America from 1585-1828, historian Walter McDougall addresses the American gift for hustling, a trait shared by those who hustle in the sense of working hard, for themselves, their families, and in shared community endeavors, and those who hustle others, deceitfully, fraudulently, and aggressively for their own gain. The latter, in unsavory, illegal, even unconstitutional form, was practiced by 1880s-1890s Wyoming capitalist ranchers, Social Darwinists who felt they deserved it all, against the smaller settlers in Johnson and nearby counties. The Johnson County War, in light of being an extraordinary story peopled by a wide array of colorful characters, marked by strong 3 (or 4) act story arc punctuated with dramatic scenes, remarkably has been the subject of relatively few books. ...

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History: A science of thought experiments

Posted by on May 15, 2014 in News, Writing History | Comments Off on History: A science of thought experiments

“How do historians know when they’ve established, once and for all, the causes of any past event? The answer is, of course, that they don’t.”  John Lewis Gaddis   I regularly read Old West discussion forums. The most active such website may be the “Tombstone History Discussion Forum,” filled with lively arguments over the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the iconic Wyatt Earp, Tombstone (“the town too tough to die”), and all things related. The opinions of forum posters do appear to shift on occasion, but mostly participants seem to talk past one another, their historical and evidentiary arguments on any side of the controversies du jour making little apparent headway in the face of strong, preconceived ideas. I thought a lot about the concrete stances taken on a fluid river of historical knowledge as I recently read an...

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The Essential Books on Wyatt Earp and Tombstone

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in The Books That | Comments Off on The Essential Books on Wyatt Earp and Tombstone

REVISED FRIDAY MAY 9, 2014:  A poster on BJ’s Tombstone History Discussion Website ( ) asked for recommendations of the ten best books on Tombstone and Wyatt Earp and Tombstone and also a list of books to avoid.  My list of essential books is up to 24, including 4 illustrated books to introduce the unsuspecting to this field. I’d avoid only one book, the late Glenn Boyer’s The Earp Curse. One feels the need for a shower after reading its execrable attacks on anyone who disagreed with his take on the Earp story and his use of hoaxes to tell that story. Plenty of other books have been debunked as questionable history or biography, but I would not avoid them. Earp has a legendary status that has risen and fallen, and the debunked books are a key part of...

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On Writing History…. that people want to read

Posted by on May 6, 2014 in The Books That, Writing History | Comments Off on On Writing History…. that people want to read

“Sadly, historical writing has quite a bad reputation. Newspaper reviewers will often praise a history book because it’s not like a history book. They will say it’s ‘as good as fiction’ and thus ‘a pleasure to read.’….”  Ann Curthoys and Ann McGrath, How to Write History That People Want to Read (Palgrave MacMillan, NY, 2011 edition), p.2. The number of “how to” books directed at the Ph.D. who desires to turn a doctoral thesis into a book suggests that many have gotten all the way through graduate school by writing only for their academic mentors.  While university English departments offer courses in creative or literary nonfiction, some history students seem to have passed by these. The ability to structure and tell a true story well enough to hold a general audience’s attention to the book’s end too often takes second...

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I can’t stop buying books

Posted by on May 4, 2014 in The Books That, Writing History | Comments Off on I can’t stop buying books

Seven months ago, I got back into reading in a big way. The bad news is that I’ve already boxed almost all my books in preparation for a planned move. I suppose I could unpack the boxes and find something to read, but it’s easier to just buy another book. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve purchased 49 books in the last 30 weeks, including 31 paper (physical) books and 18 e-books. I still prefer the physical book, but the e-books come in handy when traveling or after lights out.  I’ve read to completion 25 of the 49, and have started four others. Another five titles are lined up on the TBR (“to be read”) shelf, and I am eager to dive into them. I’ve already consigned to the DNF (“did not finish”) shelf three books that did...

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