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Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends Paperback – November 15, 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Sorting through the innumerable legends about Wyatt Earp and his brothers is a monumental task, but Allen Barra, a sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a lifelong devotee of western lore, has tried mightily to sort the fact from fiction to determine once and for all if the Earps were heroes or villains. Judging by the cascade of films, books, and TV shows that have portrayed the Earps and their pal "Doc" Holliday, some people simply can't get enough of the legends, and those folks will find Inventing Wyatt Earp fascinating.

The central event of the Earp story is the fabled gunfight near Tombstone's O.K. Corral, a violent eruption in a simmering feud between, believe it or not, frontier Democrats and Republicans. Barra delves deeply into the motivations of all the participants and those who would later tell their stories, and he deserves credit for conducting his prodigious research with skepticism. However, the thoroughness of Barra's approach is a double-edged sword: his relentless examination of Earp's life and the various accounts of it can at times lead the narrative into a blinding sandstorm of minor details. Nonetheless, for those with a strong interest in sorting out the truth about the legends of Tombstone, this book is a valuable source. --Robert McNamara --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Wall Street Journal sportswriter Barra (That's Not the Way It Was) does an admirable job of discounting the stories and outright lies told by Earp's contemporaries by using firsthand accounts and newspaper stories of the time. Barra concludes that the legend we know as Wyatt Earp is really a compilation of many of the characters who frequented the streets, barrooms and card games of the Wild West. But most scholars agree that Earp was intelligent, strong and generally a just lawman. A particularly interesting section concentrates on the shoot-out at the OK Corral and the subsequent trial and lasting animosity between Earp and his associates?his brothers and Doc Holliday?and the gang of "cowboys" who forever harassed them. Barra also chronicles Earp's romantic interests, including his and marriage to Josephine Sarah Marcus, a Jewish actress from New York. Barra's writing alternates, somewhat awkwardly, between a rather folksy tone and some academic detail, but readers who grew up with the legend of Wyatt Earp, both in literature and in film, will be intrigued by Barra's comprehensive and detailed dismantling of the popular myths surrounding this figure.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (November 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786706856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786706853
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,684,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Allen Barra's book is a welcome extension to Casey Tefertiller's biography of Wyatt Earp. To fully understand why Earp has gripped both American movie makers and the public for the past 70 years, both books must be read.
The major strength of the book is the new perspective on the growth of Earp's legend; why writers, directors and producers chose to alter the truth of Earp's life for the various limp story lines developed during the 1940s and 50s, which most people began to accept as fact for the next thirty years.
Readers with a passing interest in Earp will enjoy Barra's detailed chapters about the impact of the Earp legend on American culture and the background information about the two new movies about Earp; "Tombstone" and "Wyatt Earp", which still show up regularly on television and video stores.
Another important part of the book is the investigation of Glenn Boyer and Frank Waters; two writers, who have written many books condemning Earp as the villan in the clash between the Earps and the Cowboys in Tombstone.
Several simple facts support the contention that the Earp Brothers were on the right side. When the Earps met the Clantons in the famous gunbattle; they confronted the Cowboys face to face in the light of day.
They did not plan a night ambush as the Cowboys did when they wounded Virgil Earp and killed Morgan Earp or when Stillwell met the train to California at night hoping to murder Wyatt without being seen.
Wyatt Earp lived the rest of his life refusing to discuss his Dodge or Tombstone accomplishments. Also, he did not continue to ring up felony warrants and end up shot to death by a detective; Ike Clanton did.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book on Wyatt Earp even though I have read several others primarily because I like the author's writing style and presentation. He assumes that you at least have a familiarity on Wyatt and he interjects his take on various controversies and adds a perspective based on facts and sometimes, although less concrete, on a point of view that seems to complement what rationally occurred. In these cases, it virtually feels like he has stopped to talk to you about the controversy as opposed to writing a dissertation. An example is his periodic references to other authors such as when he refers to Paula Mitchell Marks (Live and Die in the West: The Story of the OK Corral) who wrote a book with a fascinating sociological point of view. Barra challenges her when he references her comment that the judge presiding over the charges against the Earps and Holliday after the OK Corral fight was biased in favor of the Earps, Barras points out that judges are always biased in favor of those that enforce the law unless they are proven to be grossly negligent thus her point of view, in his opinion, is not relevant. Thus the book is not just a retelling of the facts and that is what makes it most interesting. The book covers the early days, Tombstone, Earp's post Tombstone career where he continuously seems to be a speculator looking for the big investment while times change around him particularly in regards to gambling, betting and saloons and the author has a very relevant look at Earp and the movies with an excellent review of all the Earp films, their misrepresentations and some detail on why many distort the real story, such as John Ford's desire to sell a movie and not necessarily a straight history.Read more ›
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By A Customer on May 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Inventing Wyatt Earp" is a major contribution to the literature of Old West. It is not, nor is it intended to be a biography based on groundbreaking research, and those who come to the book with that expectation are certain to be disappointed. It is, rather, a book of first-rate analysis and assessment whose main virtue is the clear-eyed, even-handed, critically probing intelligence the author applies to the appraisal of his material. Mr. Barra is possessed of a formidable analytical mind, and the questions he poses and answers he assays, however provocative at times, are reasonably well-considered. Wyatt Earp has over the years become a figure of debate and controversy. He is likely to remain one into the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, much of that debate has more recently betrayed a tone of strident and petty hysteria--much heat, little light--a tone that Mr. Barra's book serves effectively to counter. One needn't agree with the author's every assertion to appreciate the value of his book. "Inventing Wyatt Earp" may not be the Last Word on its subject, but I suspect that Allen Barra would not want, nor did he intend it to be. Forgive the many typos. Attend to the meat of the book. There is much there to be thoughtfully digested.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read every single book available on W. Earp and this is the book to read if you only one book. While the author adds little in original research he does a convincing job of sorting through the prejudices of the many Earp Historians. The book is well referenced with loads of interesting footnotes. I also enjoyed the author's personal asides on why he believes one Earp story over another. Maybe one of the reasons I liked this book so much is that,after reading the many diverse Earp books, I had reached many of the same conclusions as the author. Also well written and easy to read.
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