THE ENGLISH WESTERNERS' SOCIETY
NOVEMBER 2011 BOOK REVIEW
This review first appeared in the Tally Sheet (Summer 2009, Volume 55, Number 3)
DOC HOLLIDAY: THE LIFE AND THE LEGEND
By Gary L. Roberts. Hoboken, N.J., Wiley & Sons, 2006. 528 pages, incl. acknowledgements, prologue, epilogue, illustrations, notes, and index. Hardcover. $30.
The fascination with, and market for, the Earp-Holliday-Tombstone story seems undiminished since its beginnings at the hands of Walter Noble Burns and Stuart N. Lake. In the specific case of John Henry Holliday, alias "Doc," his first biographer was John Myers Myers in 1955, followed by Patricia Jahns a couple of years later. More recently, we have had new biographies by Bob Bell, Ben Traywick, and Karen Holliday Tanner's Doc Holliday – A Family Portrait (1998).
This biography embodies some new material on Holliday's early years in Georgia, his activities in Texas and New Mexico prior to turning up in Tombstone, and his post-O.K. Corral years in Colorado. Although there is no separate listing of sources, the material used is identified in eighty-five pages of notes, supported by a twenty-seven page index. There is no list of the illustrations but there are plenty of them and despite being integrated with the text they are well reproduced.
For all of his notoriety after 1881, Doc Holliday remains an enigmatic character whose story is still characterised by as many questions as answers. Historian Gary Roberts has produced here as painstakingly researched, carefully organised, and thoughtfully narrated a biography of Holliday as anyone might wish. In just over four hundred pages of narrative it explores his actual deeds, the mythology surrounding him, and examines dispassionately the popular imagery he has generated. This may not be as stylish and innovative a treatment as Bell's The Illustrated Life and Times of Doc Holliday (1994) but it is the one for the really serious students of Holliday's life and legend.
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