12 July, 2009

Early Review

Seth Bullock; Black Hills Lawman


David A. Wolff

A fascinating book about a minor character of American history. I suppose that he is of interest to most people because there is a character based on him in Deadwood, a television series of a few years ago; i dare say that is even the stimulous behind Wolff's writing of the book ~ that, and correcting the errors of the series' portrayal. Since i, however, had never heard of the programme, certainly never seen it, this book was my first (and only) introduction to Seth Bullock, and for that purpose it serves admirably.

Wolff has evidently done an immense amount of research; the notes are thirty pages of the two hundred page book, and the bibliography is another eight, and i have no fault to find with his scholarship. In fact, i'm not certain, at this point, that i find fault at all with the book, save perhaps, that the latter years of Bullock's life seem rather skimmed over, when compared with the detail given on the earlier, pre-Roosevelt shall we say, ones. This might be a reflection of the sources available, i suppose, though i suspect that if more was to be found on the man's earlier, less public life, that would be quite unusual in historiography. I would rather guess that it is the influence, perhaps without Wolff realising it, of the programme mentioned above, which i imagine focusses more on the Wild West aspects of the town of Deadwood and its leading citizens. Still, this is a minor complaint in a good book, and one i really didn't intend to focus upon.

The main point, as far as i am concerned, is that i have read a fascinating book about a man i never knew existed, about a time of history i really didn't (and don't) know very well, other than the basic “cowboys and indians” ideas that one obtains by osmosis from childhood, and now i have a slightly better feeling for the people of the Wild West. Not all of them came are portrayed by Wolff as real people, but there is enough life in the biography for the reader to grasp a flavour of it, and to be reminded that, yes they were actual people, the miners, the cowboys, the sheriffs, the hardware store owners, and all the rest, not just myths or characters on television and the silver screen. And that realisation of the reality of history is, in my opinion, sufficient justification for any history book to be called a success.

1 comment:

martyn.beeny said...

Glad you liked the book. I agree that it shows the "other" side of the Wild West.