School Library JournalGr 6-12-A gripping portrait of one of the most notorious and vicious criminals in U.S. history. At 18, James was to most a feared and hated outlaw, but to others he was a folk hero in the image of Robin Hood. Along with his brother Frank and other renegade soldiers, he formed the ``James Gang,'' which sought to avenge the lost cause of the Confederacy. This man has fascinated readers for a century, and Stiles brings him to life with his poignant style and use of vivid period photographs. While his tone is highly sympathetic to James and the cruel and iniquitous treatment he received at the hands of Union soldiers, he in no way romanticizes or justifies the killer's actions. The legend lives on in this readable biography.- Julie Halverstadt, Douglas Public Library District, Castle Rock, CO
Kay WeismanStiles recounts the details of the life and lore surrounding this notorious outlaw. The son of a slave-holding Baptist minister who died when Jesse was 3, James grew up on the frontier of western Missouri steeped in Southern culture. At 16, he joined the Confederates as a bushwhacker and became an experienced killer, riding with some of the same individuals who later became part of his gang. His career as a bank and train robber spanned some 16 years until his death in 1882 at the hands of one of his own men. Stiles never tries to glorify his subject or engage in postmortem psychoanalysis. He does suggest that James' war experiences embittered him and that some of his victims may have been selected to settle old grudges. Still, the presentation is detached; readers will come away with a chronology of events but very little understanding of James' personality. Several period photos and a bibliography will assist report writers; the treatment of the Civil War from the Southern point of view will make for interesting discussions, too.
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