Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Colonel and Little Missie: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginnings of Superstardom in America by Larry McMurtry, a book review

What this book is not:  1) About Annie Oakley; about halfway through, McMurtry has a section titled "Annie Oakley." There follows a chapter about her and then the book returns to Buffalo Bill. 2) About the growth of superstardom. Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley had great charisma and knew how to use it--that is the extent of the analysis. 3) About Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley together; the chapters on Oakley mention that she toured with Buffalo Bill, the chapters on Buffalo Bill mentions that he hired her; there is little discussion of how the two did or did not interact. 4) Deeply researched; the bibliography lists a handful of previously published work; there is nothing from archives, newspapers, or other sources a reader might not find on his or her own, and McMurty has an annoying tendency to say "So and so covers this very well" without providing either a summary of the other author's conclusions or any comments of his own.

What it is: A light, enjoyable, often humorous (I read bits out loud), introductory biography of Buffalo Bill. Occasionally the chronology gets a bit mixed up when McMurty remembers he's supposed to be doing a thematic analysis and switches over from his largely linear approach, but mostly it's easy to read and I recommend it for someone who is casually curious about Buffalo Bill.

It wasn't a bad book, but I'm sure there are better books on both subjects out there.

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