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Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

4.4 15
by Ron Hansen

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Jesse James was a fabled outlaw, a charismatic, spiritual, larger-than-life bad man whose bloody exploits captured the imagination and admiration of a nation hungry for antiheroes. Robert Ford was a young upstart torn between dedicated worship and murderous jealousy, the "dirty little coward" who coveted Jesse's legend. The powerful, strange, and unforgettable


Jesse James was a fabled outlaw, a charismatic, spiritual, larger-than-life bad man whose bloody exploits captured the imagination and admiration of a nation hungry for antiheroes. Robert Ford was a young upstart torn between dedicated worship and murderous jealousy, the "dirty little coward" who coveted Jesse's legend. The powerful, strange, and unforgettable story of their interweaving paths—and twin destinies that would collide in a rain of blood and betrayal—is a story of America in all her rough, conflicted glory and the myths that made her.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
“This book is a wonderful achievement.”
Richmond News-Leader
“Here is THE James book . . . Put Hansen on your bedside table.”
“Hansen has turned low history into high art. This is a terrific book.”
Christian Science Monitor
“One of our finest stylists of American historical fiction.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Assassination of Jesse James

Chapter One

September 7th, 1881

His manner was pleasant, though noticeably quiet and reserved. He listened attentively to every word that Scott Moore or I uttered but he himself said little. Occasionally he would ask some question about the country and the opportunities for stock-raising. But all the time I was conscious that he was alertly aware of everything that was said and done in the room. He never made the slightest reference to himself, nor did he show the least trace of self-importance or braggadocio. Had I not known who he was I should have taken him for an ordinary businessman receiving a social visit from two of his friends. But his demeanor was so pleasant and gentlemanly withal that I found myself on the whole liking him immensely.
Miguel Antonio Otero
My Life on the Frontier

He was growing into middle age and was living then in a bungalow on Woodland Avenue. Green weeds split the porch steps, a wasp nest clung to an attic gable, a rope swing looped down from a dying elm tree and the ground below it was scuffed soft as flour. Jesse installed himself in a rocking chair and smoked a cigar down in the evening as his wife wiped her pink hands on a cotton apron and reported happily on their two children. Whenever he walked about the house, he carried several newspapers—the Sedalia Daily Democrat, the St. Joseph Gazette, and the Kansas City Times—with a foot-long .44 caliber pistol tucked into a fold. He stuffed flat pencils into his pockets. He played by flipping peanuts to squirrels. He braidedyellow dandelions into his wife's yellow hair. He practiced out-of-the-body travel, precognition, sorcery. He sucked raw egg yolks out of their shells and ate grass when sick, like a dog. He would flop open the limp Holy Bible that had belonged to his father, the late Reverend Robert S. James, and would contemplate whichever verses he chanced upon, getting privileged messages from each. The pages were scribbled over with penciled comments and interpretations; the cover was cool to his cheek as a shovel. He scoured for nightcrawlers after earth-battering rains and flipped them into manure pails until he could chop them into writhing sections and sprinkle them over his garden patch. He recorded sales and trends at the stock exchange but squandered much of his capital on madcap speculation. He conjectured about foreign relations, justified himself with indignant letters, derided Eastern financiers, seeded tobacco shops and saloons with preposterous gossip about the kitchens of Persia, the Queen of England, the marriage rites of the Latter Day Saints. He was a faulty judge of character, a prevaricator, a child at heart. He went everywhere unrecognized and lunched with Kansas City shopkeepers and merchants, calling himself a cattleman or commodities investor, someone rich and leisured who had the common touch.

He was born Jesse Woodson James on September 5th, 1847, and was named after his mother's brother, a man who committed suicide. He stood five feet eight inches tall, weighed one hundred fifty-five pounds, and was vain about his physique. Each afternoon he exercised with weighted yellow pins in his barn, his back bare, his suspenders down, two holsters crossed and slung low. He bent horseshoes, he lifted a surrey twenty times from a squat, he chopped wood until it pulverized, he drank vegetable juices and potions. He scraped his sweat off with a butter knife, he dunked his head, at morning, in a horse water bucket, he waded barefoot through the lank backyard grass with his six-year-old son hunched on his shoulders and with his trousers rolled up to his knees, snagging garter snakes with his toes and gently letting them go.

He smoked, but did not inhale, cigars; he rarely drank anything stronger than beer. He never philandered nor strayed from his wife nor had second thoughts about his marriage. He never swore in the presence of ladies nor raised his voice with children. His hair was fine and chestnut brown and recurrently barbered but it had receded so badly since his twenties that he feared eventual baldness and therefore rubbed his temples with onions and myrtleberry oil in order to stimulate growth. He scissored his two-inch sun-lightened beard according to a fashion then associated with physicians. His eyes were blue except for iris pyramids of green, as on the back of a dollar bill, and his eyebrows shaded them so deeply he scarcely ever squinted or shied his eyes from a glare. His nose was unlike his mother's or brother's, not long and preponderant, no proboscis, but upturned a little and puttied, a puckish, low-born nose, the ruin, he thought, of his otherwise gallantly handsome countenance.

Four of his molars were crowned with gold and they gleamed, sometimes, when he smiled. He had two incompletely healed bullet holes in his chest and another in his thigh. He was missing the nub of his left middle finger and was cautious lest that mutilation be seen. He'd had a boil excised from his groin and it left a white star of skin. A getaway horse had jerked from him and fractured his ankle in the saddle stirrup so that his foot mended a little crooked and registered barometric changes. He also had a condition that was referred to as granulated eyelids and it caused him to blink more than usual, as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept.

He was a Democrat. He was left-handed. He had a high, thin, sinew of a voice, a contralto that could twang annoyingly like a catgut guitar whenever he was excited. He owned five suits, which was rare then, and colorful, brocaded vests and cravats. He wore a thirty-two-inch belt and a fourteen-and-a-half-inch collar. He favored red wool socks. He rubbed his teeth with his finger after meals. He was persistently vexed by insomnia and therefore experimented with a vast number of soporifics which did little besides increasing his fascination with pharmacological remedies.

Assassination of Jesse James. Copyright © by Ron Hansen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Ron Hansen is the bestselling author of the novel Atticus (a finalist for the National Book Award), Hitler's Niece, Mariette in Ecstasy, Desperadoes, and Isn't It Romantic?, as well as a collection of short stories, a collection of essays, and a book for children. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Ron Hansen lives in northern California, where he teaches at Santa Clara University.

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Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Joel_M More than 1 year ago
Ron Hansen does an excellent job of portraying the events surrounding the last few years of the outlaw Jesse James and the man-boy who killed him. Robert Ford comes off as a sniveling creepy little coward reminiscent of Dickens' Uriah Heep, but with a driving desire for fame. Jesse James is portrayed as mesmerizing, eccentric, and cruel. The writing style was a bit uneven. in some places the book read like a straight up biography and in other places like historical fiction in the style of the Jeff and Michael Shaara (real events with dialogue and inner thoughts supplied by the author's imagination). Overall, a fascinating look at the lives of some very bad men that would have been better if the author had picked one style and stuck with it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is pure genius. It tells a realistic tale about Jesse James and James' assassin, Robert Ford. The novel shows you how the two met, where their relationship led to, where it went wrong, and how it ended, and at the same time is historically accurate. The writing style is exceptional, and you wish that it isn't over the second you turn the last page. A definite must-read if you like history, Jesse James, or if you're interested in how idolizing someone can take a sour turn.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book show's the life of Jesse James and his gang and what they went through. And it you read every little detail about Jesse James I highly recommend you buying this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written. An enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After watching the movie I had to read the novel. Enjoyed them both greatly.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She whinnies at the others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*Rides up on a pure black american standardbred, one of the fastest horses you will ever see.* Howdy there, miss. Need any help with the stragglers?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A thoroughbred female galloped in she eould make a good racehorse and good for mating (i dont do realistic)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Ok!", she claps her hands. "My house and ranch is found at "jess house", but you will need to go to either result ten or the second to last result. Ten is inside the barn and the second to last is just a large fenced in pasture." "But, I will not be posting there because I want everyobe to see the description first, before I do!" She continues, "Or, you can read the description, not post and wait here to be loaded up into the trailor", she said then placed her hands on her hips. -Jess Yoy do realize a "stallion" is a male? Not a breed.