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A classic biography from the American West
on March 2, 2002
Apart from Paul Horgan fans, probably most people coming to this book will be doing so to learn more about the real life archbishop who inspired Willa Cather's great novel DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP. And just as Cather's novel concerns the friendship and work of two major characters--Archbishop Jean Latour and his vicar Father Joseph Vaillant--so Horgan's biography necessarily tells the story not only of Juan Bautista Lamy but also Joseph Machebeuf.
Horgan's biography succeeds magnificently in two ways. First, for those who will be coming to the book from reading Cather, one will find vastly greater depth and detail than was possible in that novel. So, the book is a boon for Cather fans. Second, even if one has not read Cather, the book tells a magnificent story of a truly heroic man and his closest friend. Their story is also the story of the West as a whole, and Santa Fe in particular.
There are biographies that record the rote facts about an individual, and unfortunately most fall into this category. And the there are biographies that almost manage to bring you into contact and introduce you to someone you have never met. Lamy emerges almost as someone you know, instead of someone you merely know things about.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in either history of the American West or in Willa Cather's great novel. Although I am not myself Roman Catholic, it would probably also be enjoyed by those whose main interest is in Church History. It is a tragedy that this book is not currently in print. With so many much weaker and less interesting biographies available, it is unfortunate that many of the truly excellent ones are not.