Somehow the American West always seems to loom larger in myth and legend than it does on the map. In novels, songs, film, and television, Western heroes are nobler, villains crueler, millionaires richer, and entrepreneurs more daring than those east of the Mississippi could ever hope to be. Writing as part of the "American Voices" series, Rebecca Stefoff draws on a variety of primary sources—from personal diaries to Hollywood movies—to explore the gap between real life and legendary escapades in the so-called "wild" West. After a brief look at pre-Civil War settlers, she focuses on the history of the west during the last half of the nineteenth century. Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, and Wild Bill Hickok are only a few of the famous figures included here. Most were not what they purported to be. Yet Stefoff makes their true stories as intriguing as the fantasies woven around them. Lesser known individuals, such as the author Mary Austin whose sensitive nature stories inspired a new generation of western writers, are brought forward too. The West that Stefoff shows us is neither as good nor as bad as the tales it inspired. The central question she raises for the reader is not just what happened in history, but why we, as a society, seem to need our legends as much as we need the truth. In the present era of media spin and instant celebrity, that question should resonate far beyond the classroom. Richly illustrated, this title would be a welcome addition to collections devoted to social studies and American history.