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Last Bus to Wisdom: A Novel Hardcover – August 18, 2015

4.6 out of 5 stars 493 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of August 2015: The final book in Ivan Doig’s career as a great western writer begins with a journey east. 11-year-old Donal Cameron, already orphaned, must leave Montana and the protective skirts of his beloved Gram when she is required to have surgery. Armed only with an autograph book and an active imagination, Donal boards a Greyhound bound for Wisconsin. After a memorable trip that includes a first kiss and a run-in with a sheriff, he arrives to live with his Aunt Kate. It does not go well, and since it is the 1950s Aunt Kate threatens to send him back west to an orphanage. Donal boards a bus again, but now he has gained an unexpected companion: Aunt Kate’s beleaguered husband Herman the German (who intercepts the orphanage papers). Together they head west in a wide open and fun adventure. Donal shows Herman the west. Herman takes on the role of father figure. The boy’s autograph book fills up, and we watch him grow wiser with each signature (and there is another run-in with the sheriff). The apparent joy that Ivan Doig took in crafting this story is infectious—it is a wonderful novel, populated with simple and real characters. Last Bus to Wisdom is a yarn and a pleasure. – Chris Schluep


Praise for Last Bus to Wisdom:

Named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews

Named a Best Book of the Summer by the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and Paste Magazine

“One of Doig’s best novels…enchanting … It’s warming to think that in his final months [he] shared the writing hours with one of his greatest characters: a version of his younger self wound up and set spinning on the long zigzag adventure called life in the American West.” -The New York Times Book Review

“With his final novel Doig aptly crowns a luminous literary legacy…'Last Bus to Wisdom' is a deeply humane coming-of-age tale set in the early 1950s…Forever the master of colorful characters and landscapes reflecting the vastness and vulnerability of the human heart, Doig has left us with a rollicking road trip filled with both.” -Seattle Times

“[T]he true successor to the dean of Western writers, Wallace Stegner…Last Bus to Wisdom is a rambunctious adventure packed with color, vitality and characters worth rooting for… a masterful fusion of picaresque exploits and ripping yarns.” -The San Francisco Chronicle

“The chimerical tale is moving, vivid and funny… Doig's adolescent narrator recalls his literary cousins, Scout Finch, Augie March, Huck Finn, Claudia MacTeer, as his open-hearted curiosity provides readers a sense of unmediated engagement with an expanding world…Last Bus to Wisdom takes us back 65 years to an era when the West was a little more rugged and the ethos of wide, open spaces allowed for mythical endings.” -Chicago Tribune

“[D]elightful…Last Bus to Wisdom is a sweet novel, a fitting and fine last work from a writer we’ll miss for his endearing stories, his engaging characters and his enduring humanity.” -Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[A] fun summer read, and a way to pay tribute to Doig’s wonderful combination of memory and imagination that gives us one more vision of the unique history of the American West.” -Christian Science Monitor

“Over the course of a 36-year literary career, Doig…painted as detailed and complete a picture of the American West as any writer of the last century....[and] remained, at heart, an old-fashioned storyteller...Last Bus to Wisdom is an unpredictable and boisterous road novel…[that] offers a fresh take on several familiar Doig themes: nontraditional families, deep connection to the land, the West as a hardscrabble world of work and the profoundly (and often humorously) interwoven nature of everyday individual lives and political and social history.” –Paste 

Last Bus to Wisdom is a treasure; one suspects that the beloved Ivan Doig--a red-haired boy who lived with his grandmother and grew up to tell stories--chuckled as he plotted to leave his readers a part of himself.” -Shelf Awareness (starred)

“A delightful sprawl of a novel… big-hearted, joyfully meandering work by a master.” –Bookpage

“Chockfull of rollicking humor, blissfully good storytelling and characters so alive on the page they live on in the reader’s mind, Doig’s last book is a paean to this country as it existed half a century ago… [Last Bus is] so purely involving and so much fun to read, it’s easy to label as an American classic, as is Ivan Doig the most engaging storytelling the West has ever known.” -KUER-FM “Books & Beats” 

"[Last Bus] is a book worthy of its author’s enduring legacy in Montana and the rest of the English-reading world.” -Bozeman Daily Chronicle

“Last Bus to Wisdom...does what all [Doig's] best books have done: given us indelible characters of the American west -- timeless, beautifully flawed, interesting people who never give up trying to find happiness in life.” -Omnivoracious.com

“A fitting finale…Last Bus is rich in details about Montana as it was in the early 1950s, seen through a boy’s eyes on a grand adventure.” –Great Falls Tribune

“[Last Bus] contains…[Doig’s] trademark wonderful writing about the Western landscape, and plenty of gentle humor…Doig will be missed by his many faithful readers, and for them, this last offering will be welcome and bittersweet.” -Portland Oregonian

Last Bus to Wisdom is the last story from one of the great storytellers of our time. The world moves on, as it invariably does. But it moves on without Ivan Doig and, in his absence, is much less full than it was in his novels.” -Fredericksburg Freelance Star

"A big-hearted, joyfully meandering work by a master." -Book Page

“Doig has thoroughly engaged readers' sympathies for his high-spirited yet vulnerable protagonist…Enjoyable coincidences abound, and a leisurely storyline with plenty of twists gives the author ample room to display his knack for vivid thumbnail sketches and bravura descriptions… A marvelous picaresque showing off the late Doig's ready empathy for all kinds of people and his perennial gift for spinning a great yarn. He will be missed.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred)

An utterly charming, goodhearted romp...this posthumous publication will be greeted enthusiastically as a fitting tribute to a memorable body of work." -Booklist (starred)

“The pleasures of reading Doig’s final novel are bittersweet. His familiar themes are here: love for his native Montana, and his astute observation of and admiration for the tough homesteaders and ranchers who eke out a hardscrabble living… Funny, suspenseful, and nostalgic, [Last Bus to Wisdom] is a rollicking tale set during the summer of 1951…heartwarming [and] memorable.” –Publisher's Weekly

"Doig’s superb storytelling does not disappoint. The dialog is snappy, funny, and true to the charming characters. With the author’s passing in April, this is the last journey into familiar Doig territory we’ve come to admire." –Library Journal


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1 edition (August 18, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594632022
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594632020
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (493 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For decades, I avoided Ivan Doig's writing because I knew it would be too good. Intense, that is, dead-on true to life except for the occasional bit of deliberate exaggeration designed to underscore a point. Now that the author has left the planet, though, I've run out of excuses and run into Last Bus to Wisdom, reading his last novel first. And I was right; the lead protagonist, eleven year old Donal Cameron, will live with me forever.

When Donal begins his journey east from Montana to Wisconsin on the dog bus, or Greyhound--what we in our part of the Treasure State called the big grey dog at that time--the reader has no idea of the ever expanding universe that is about to open for the boy. Neither does Donal; the emotional highs and lows that are part and parcel of being eleven in uncertain circumstances are more than enough to keep his mind spinning and desperately focused by turns. In 1951, however, I was growing up on a ranch in western Montana, just four years younger than Donal. I've ridden the big grey dog more than once, our family knew hoboes and sometimes hired them during the haying season, and I can say with absolute certainty that Doig nailed both the characters and the times. The voices are authentic. There is not a single false note, not one comma out of place. If you read this book, you will live it. Guaranteed.

That said, the vision of the book expands exponentially as the pages proceed. From the limited awareness of a youngster concerned only about his own summer and his grandmother's health, Donal finds himself suddenly aware of larger and larger issues. Thieves on the bus. Good Samaritans on the bus. A small time Sheriff with Little Man Syndrome.
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Format: Hardcover
I received this book as part of the Penguin First to Read program for an honest review. This is my second book by Ivan Doig and much better than the first one. The story is simple, an eleven-year-old boy is sent on the “dog bus” (Greyhound) to live with his Great Aunt Kate while his Gram recuperates from a “woman’s troubles” operation.

I was reminded of a modern (set in the 1950’s) Huck Finn and Donal Cameron has some exciting adventures on the bus and beyond. When he makes it to Manitowoc, Wisconsin and realizes that Aunt Kate is nothing like his Gram, she is too bossy, opinionated and stingy too make anyone happy. He does make friends with her husband Herman the German and before too long they are back on the bus high tailing it out of there for the great western experience.

I grew up in the next decade but a lot of what Donal experienced I can identify with. I never rode a dog bus but I remember taking the train across the country and the fun I had and I still remember the nice porter who allowed us to bring food on to the train against the rules. He also pointed us to the best places to eat whenever there was a layover of longer than an hour. I don’t remember his name, but his face and smile are clear in my mind. These are the kind of experiences that Donal and Herman have on their “Last Bus to Wisdom”.

This book is beautifully written and evokes the time when hoboes rode the rails and worked as harvesters, where the Crow Fair and rodeos were big deals and where life was simpler and easier to get lost in the shuffle.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good coming of age tale with no worries that things will come out all right in the end. This one’s a keeper!
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Format: Hardcover
A feisty 11-going-on-25-year-old narrator takes us on the mother of all cross country (and back again) bus trips in the early 1950s. Young Donal (with no "D") has already faced too much trauma in his young life, but now he must hunker down and take it as his beloved Gram has to have serious surgery for "female trouble" and Donal is sent from the Double W Ranch in Montana to a small town in Wisconsin to spend the summer with an unknown great aunt and her husband. Aunt Kitty bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous Kate Smith, but her selfishness and unkindness make life tough for Donal. Luckily, her husband Dutch, also known as Herman the German, becomes young Donal's safety net. As the two escape "the Kate's" clutches, another bus journey comes into play.

In both directions, good old Greyhound, the dog bus, becomes a character in itself. First Donal, and then Donal and Herman together, meet a wide and wild cross section of Americans: a pretty girl, a famous author, soldiers, petty criminals and even pettier law enforcement, senior citizens, kids on the way to camp, and "the Johnson family" on the way to the hayfields. Each has a story to tell and most willingly oblige Donal with a signature and some words of advice for his cherished autograph book.

There are several fortuitous coincidences that help rescue our two intrepid travellers and keep the story moving, and the last 20% or so of the narrative gets a little too far-fetched, but mostly this is a lively, enjoyable road trip story -- I wonder how the people at Greyhound liked this book? The beautiful details and loving references to Indian and ranch life in the West of the 1950s are quite believable, and it is sad to know that this is the last book written by author Ivan Doig. It is a fitting epitaph.
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