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A biography of the outlaw, focusing on his involvement in the Civil War and the formation of the James Gang.
"After reading this biography . . . can doubt that the driving force of Jesse James's career was persistent Confederate ideology and loyalty. . . . [Stiles writes] vigorously, eloquently, persuasively." —James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books
"Intricate, far-reaching. . . . A fascinating revisionist biography.” —TheNew York Times
"In this excellent account, T.J. Stiles shows James to be a southerner, not a westerner; a Confederate, not a cowboy. . . . [He] masterfully strips James bare." —The Economist
“Elegantly rendered and compelling.” —Jay Winik, Washington Post Book World
"Stiles has combed a wealth of contemporary sources and imbues this story with the drama it deserves.” —Eric Foner, Los Angeles Times
“[A] bold, myth-bashing account of the brutal life and times of the outlaw-icon.” —Boston Globe
"Carries the reader scrupulously through James’s violent, violent life. . . . When Stiles, in his subtitle, calls Jesse James the ‘last rebel fo the Civil War; he correctly definies the theme that ruled Jesse’s life." —Larry McMurtry, The New Republic
“A fascinating challnge to old legends.” —The Dallas Morning News
“A dazzling work of American history. . . . James emerges, stripped of his Robin Hood folk mythology, as a more complex and pivotal figure than earlier histories have allowed.” —Sunday Times [London]
“Arresting and powerful.” —The Richmond-Times Dispatch
"This gripping biography of one of the most famous American outlaws clarifies the development of modern violence and proves that the simplistic Jesse James of western movies fall far short of the historical mark." —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Perhaps the finest book ever written about this American legend.” —Salon.com
“The book is quite simply outstanding. . . . [Stiles is] a writer whose allegiance is not with the easy and obvious but with the subtle and definiantly humane.” —Guardian
"As gracefully written as a novel, and convincingly argued throughout, this is biography at its finest." —Bookpage
"Stiles spent four years examining James’s deadliest weapon: his politics. . . . James emerges as no mere robber, but as a proslavery 'terrorist' who remains wildly misunderstood." —Time Out
“In hard-eyed, exhilaratingly physcial language . . . T. J. Stiles takes us beyond the usual interpretation of the outlaw’s notorious life and into a far more challenging understanding of the man.” —The Bloomsbury Review
“Wonderful. . . . An important new biography.” —John Mack Faragher, Raleigh News & Observer
Posted November 16, 2002
As a historian of the Civil War period, with a particular interest in the border states, I found this to be a superb work of scholarship and tremendous storytelling at the same time. To my knowledge, that is the universal opinion of every historian and professional book reviewer who has examined Mr. Stiles's work. Indeed, the only fair-minded appraisal one can make is that it is simply outstanding. Unfortunately, the deserved praise this book has received has also made it a target of abuse by a handful of patently dishonest customer reviewers. For example, Tom Spencer writes here on Barnes and Noble that this is simply a work of popular history, with no scholarship. This claim is so absurd it is apparently calculated to undercut this fine book, for reasons unknown. In my opinion, if an assistant professor of history made simply one of the many new interpretations Stiles offers, he or she would make tenure--such as the role of the border ruffians in polarizing politics within Missouri before the Civil War, the emergence of the Radical party in the state, the political nature of both bushwhacker and militia operations against civilian targets, the transition of the bushwhackers into bandits amid the turmoil of 1866, the political rather than economic nature of support for the James-Younger gang, and the definitive assessment Stiles offers of the historical theory of social banditry. Customer Spencer would have you believe that Stiles is creating a work of historical fiction. My knowledge of the period and sources, and my review of the endnotes of this book, allow me to state that it is an extraordinarily well-reasoned work of history. Stiles focuses on Jesse James over Frank (as the title indicates he will do from the beginning) because it was Jesse who was central to the outlaws' public, political role. He addresses all the things his critics claim he doesn't, including the role of bushwhacker victims Bond and Dagley in the hanging of Reuben Samuel (he simply puts a different light on it, saying, "they had long since left the militia, and had been tending their fields and livestock in peace," p. 104), and the possibility that the outlaws wanted to rob the Mankato bank in 1876 (Stiles shows why this is unlikely). As Larry McMurtry noted in a review in The New Republic, this is an extremely careful biography that never goes out on a limb--it is dishonest to accuse it of being fiction. As Stiles himself notes, the leading buff book on the subject, Ted Yeatman's "Frank and Jesse James," is a very useful resource, one that (again, as Stiles notes) covers things that Stiles simply doesn't cover in an already-sweeping account; but I have to say, as a historian, that Yeatman's book is far shallower in its research and its judgments. Stiles has written the definitive book, one that forces us to rethink both Jesse James and his times in a wonderfully fast-reading manner.
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Posted February 20, 2006
If you are interested in reading ONLY about the derring-do of Jesse James and his gang, Bill Anderson and the bushwackers, this is not the book for you. Mr. Stiles has packed his book with the history of the War between the States, the causes, the impact of Reconstruction, and Missour's plight during this entire period of American history. It is intense reading, but well worth the effort.
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Posted October 22, 2002
Jesse James by T. J. Stiles attempts what others have tried and failed: an accurate portrait of one of Americas largest legends. In doing so he greatly succeeds as no other author has quite done before him. The book is riveting. A good storyteller with an academician's research ability, Stiles seemingly has found the core of this elusive man, his brother,cousins and the times that tore Missouri and Kansas apart. His ability to set the stage in the proper historical context is one of the things that has eluded most biographers. They either succumb to the legend or wanted to debunk the legend; both lead an author astray. Interestingly, most previous attempts have betrayed either pro Northern or pro Southern biases and ignorances that Stiles has been able to avoid. As one who comes from "this neck of the woods" and whose family friends knew and lived next to Frank James at the end of his life, I am aware of all the views pro and con. This biography lays out the story from both viewpoints. He is able to explain without justifying or making excuses. Stiles sets the historical stage so one can understand the vicousness and hatred on both sides. The most interesting and revealing truth is Siles's discovery and understanding that Jesse James was, in fact, larger and more politically relevant than the legend he became; how he was, in fact, the prototype of what has come upon us today. For any student of western history this book is a MUST.
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Posted August 27, 2013
I am half way done with this book and only about 2% of it is about Jesse James the other 98% is about Missouri history. I am from Missouri so i don't mind the history about my home state. However if i wanted a book about Missouri history i would of bought one. I bought a book about Jesse James.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 12, 2013
Nearly half of the book deals with the general history of Missouri. As a native of the state, I found this informative and fascinating. Others might feel this was a digression and wandered from the topic of the book. The book ends rather abruptly with Jessee's death. I would like to have read more about the influence of his life and the legacy of the outlaws.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 26, 2012
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Posted June 10, 2011
Posted May 31, 2011
This book gave me a greater feel for the western area of conflict leading up to and beyond the American Civil War than any Civil War book that I've previously read. Stiles book is factual and certainly no dime store account of James life. I previously read The Devil Knows How to Ride about the life of William Quantrill but this book is by far an easier read and far more interesting. I can recommend Ron Hansen's novel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, as a companion to this fine work of nonfiction. The Assassination book has far more detail than the movie. Sure, Hansen's book is fiction but as to events involving robberies and ongoings in James life he is amazingly factual.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 23, 2011
Posted February 8, 2011
Posted October 23, 2008
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The one thing that usually comes to mind when the name Jesse James comes up is; ruthless outlaw who murdered and robbed banks out of shere boardom. We dont really like to see him as someone who was truely a troubled person to begin w/ but one who did the kinds of things that he did in his lifetime as a way of protest through terror. When we think of Jesse James we don't think of him as someone who was on the same ranks w/ Osama Bin Ladin back in his day. For Jesse James, the Civil War never ended. If he were to be still alive today he would continue to fight his Civil War by useing terrorist tactics. You get a very different perspective of the South that Jesse James was born in through this book. Lots of history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 12, 2008
TJ Stiles did a wonderful job researching this biography. This book depicts what James' life was like growing up in Missouri during the Civil War and what made him the man he was. It is a history lesson on the real Jesse James, not the glorified version. Highly RecommendedWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 18, 2008
I read the one star review here and was skeptical when it was hard going for the first 80 pages or so BUT THIS BOOK IS SENSATIONAL. It is not about the Jesse James I thought I knew but about the real James. At the same time fascinating, pitiable, crazed and reprehensible. He is no heroic figure. If you have any interest in either James or AMerican History read this book now.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2004
How sad that a book that pretends that it will be a biography of an historical individual instead turns into a polemic against the Confederacy prior, during and after the civil war. No attempt is made to put into context those events during his life (lynching of his step father, an attack on his mother's home with the intent to burn it to the ground, the fact that his mother lost an arm due to vigilanty gunfire, etc., etc.) Most alarming is the fact that there is absolutely no real comment as regards the fact that James was assassinated by the most cowardly of 'friends' an Stiles makes absolutely no judgement regarding this personal traitorship. No mention of the song - Jesse had a wife, the love of his life, the children they were brave, but that dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard and put poor Jesse in his grave'.
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Posted October 28, 2002
The most informative story of the outlaw Jesse James.What created the legend and the people southern sympatizers and radical republicans whose political views on the reconstrution after the Civil War helped him terrorize Missouri and the surrounding states.A product of the violence in Missouri during the war. James and the bushwackers around him were raised in violenc at a young age and this violence after the war under the idealistic view that the radical republicans were changing there way of life.The book is fast reading and quite interesting it gives a lot of infomation about what happened in the south after the war.A must read for all history buffs.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 13, 2002
I've read just about everything published on Jesse James, and this is easily the best book ever written about him. It is easily the definitive biography. The usual books about Jesse read like a report to a committee of buffs, focusing on pointless minor details, and giving "Uncle Ned" stories, as Allen Barra calls them in his praise of this book on Salon.com. They're old family stories or childhood recollections, and Stiles never relies that kind of thing. Instead, this is a biography the way it should be written. The author gives us his version of events, then leaves it to his long, detailed footnotes to tell us how he came to that conclusion. It's rock-solid, but vivid and entertaining, too. He's not content to simply do another run-through of the famous robberies. Instead, he really explains Jesse James by taking a fresh look at the world he lived in. Stiles doesn't just take for granted the conventional wisdom about the Civil War and the James-Younger gang. He offers new insights that really make sense out of what happened to Missouri during the war and afterward, which completely changes the way Jesse himself looked. He shows that the guerrilla war in Missouri was a lot more complicated than simply Missourians vs. Kansans, the way it's usually explained. This book explains why Jesse stood out from Frank and the Youngers, because he was so political, and wanted to take part in the politics of the Reconstruction period. This is not a writer who simply wants to tell the same old stories again. He has really thought about it from every angle, bringing in politics and economic analysis and military history, but he's never dull for a moment. In the acknowledgments, Stiles says that the manuscript was reviewed by William Parrish, who wrote all the main histories of Missouri during the Civil War period and after, along with other historians. It shows, because this is amazing stuff. A good read and good, thought-provoking history don't often come along in one package.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 18, 2002
T.J. Stiles¿s excellent new biography on Jesse James--gripping from beginning to end--makes a compelling case that James, no Robin Hood, was a publicity-hungry terrorist who embarked on a killing spree to avenge the lost Confederate cause. The book is packed with fascinating accounts not just of James, his family, and his gang, but of the times that shaped him. Especially interesting are Stiles¿s accounts of slave life and the fratricidal struggles that characterized Missouri¿s politics leading up to and during the Civil War. Though it is clear Stiles spent a great deal of time researching his subject, he wears his scholarship lightly. The book reads very well, almost like a novel, and is not larded down with mundane details that seem to diminish the power of so many biographies written today. Highly recommended!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2002
"Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War" is an excellent example of what revisionist history should and can be. James and his cohorts have been portrayed by some historians as Robin-Hood type figures, misunderstood men who were unable to readjust to civilian life after the Civil War. Stiles uses excellent research to not only expose a truer portait of the James-Younger Gang, but also the times and places that shaped them. The Jesse James that stands revealed at the end of this superb book is still an enigma of sorts, but he is an enigma that is better defined. This shadowy figure's edges are sharper. Jesse James was not a Confederate hero but a thief and murderer who stole because he wanted the money. He did not fight to preserve a way of life, but to line his own pockets. This book will shake the cages of neo-confederates who would like to lionize figures like Jesse James. It is just this sort of book that is a tonic for the lies these people perpetuate.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 9, 2011
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