The area of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains – beyond the original colonies on the eastern seaboard – has always held a mystique and wonder, both for the people who lived it and the people who look back to a place and time unrecognizable in the modern world.
The Wild West earned its name in history on the back of stories about cattle and pony rustlers, marauding Indians, bank robbing gangs, saloon shootouts and whooping prospectors striking it rich in the various mining towns of the west. It earned its reputation fast with stories traversing the infant United States by rail and telegraph new technologies that cemented and helped exaggerate the reputations of real people.
Henry Brook takes on the mission of distilling the modern legends of the 19th and early 20th Century in as easily accessible a fashion for Usborne Publishings True Stories line. It is certainly not an original topic to approach but one which this western obsessed reviewer enthusiastically approaches. The task is always clear – make it readable, make it interesting, make it educational.
The old favorites are in attendance as the book comes with ten stories including such western luminaries as: Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, the Daltons, Buffalo Bill, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, my old favorite Wild Bill Hickok and one story I hadn’t read about before on mountain man Hugh Glass, which is an extraordinary tale.
Brook accomplishes his task with three approaches. He introduces each new story with a narrative passage that throws you into the setting like a fictionalized novel and then pulls out to give a sufficiently fleshed out historical account of the story in question. Added to this the book is dotted with interesting sketches in much the similar fashion of the ‘Dime Novels’ that first gave these legends legs. Brook regularly gives definitions of words readers might not be familiar with allowing them to expand their vocabulary.
At 150 something pages, the ten chapters do not stretch the readers interest allowing short quick reads each night or day (if in school) and whilst not going into detail the book does what all good young readers books should – it leaves the reader wanting to know more.
My only reservation is that whilst a map is included at the front of the book it is symbolic of the scope of the book rather than of any particular use. It can become very easy reading the stories to lose track of any sense of locality and as the American west is probably unfamiliar to a British student, maybe a small sketch of the narrative area at the start of some of the stories would have been illustrative of events. The story on Butch Cassidy is an example – a sketch of the two Americas highlighting the distances traveled would have been impressive on the reader and helped them track the people involved.
The cover price is £4.99, good value for something which can keep a kid occupied for a week or two and who knows – like an old book on the west did for me when I was a kid, Brooks book might spark a wider interest in history for the young reader.