The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a fantastic and fascinating look at the life and times of Jesse James, his gang and those who sought to stop him. Rather than tell Jesse’s whole story this book focuses on the last few years of his life. It is extremely rich with details to really give the reader the sense of actually being there.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. Most of the information presented by the author was new to me. Of course, I’ve heard of Jesse James, but I was unfamiliar with his story or his death. It’s no wonder he and his brother are legends. The author presented the facts and characters in a straightforward and unbiased matter reminding me at times of newspaper accounts.
I really enjoyed the writing throughout the whole book, but I especially liked the opening section describing Jesse James. I also loved that the author chose to leave Bob’s fate for the last sentence in the last paragraph on the last page of the book. My one complaint is that it is SO detailed that at times it felt longer than 300 pages. I did get the gang members mixed up a few times, by the second part of the book, I had most of the major characters straightened out.
While reading the book, I had so much contempt for Ford (especially after reading all of the details of the assassination) that I considered writing this review without using his name. I was tempted to just call him “the coward” and leave it like that. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of being remembered. His was afraid that he wouldn’t be remembered. At one point in the book (page 205 in this edition) Jesse asks Bob, “Do you know what it is you’re most afraid of?” Bob responds: “I’m afraid of being forgotten…I’m afraid I’ll end up living a life like everyone else’s and me being Bob Ford won’t matter one way or the other.” However, by the end of the book, I almost felt sorry for him. He was quite young and pretty stupid when he sealed his fate by killing James. He was pardoned for the crime, but didn’t gain the hero moniker he sought. For the rest of his life he was labelled a coward. Wherever he went he was known as the man who killed Jesse James; his crime was not forgotten.
While I don’t generally like photos of characters on book covers (I like to use my imagination), this one is pretty good. I like the B&W slightly-out-of-focus figures surrounded by the black background. It sets the period and the mood.
I also really enjoyed reading the P.S section at the back of the book, especially the sections “A Conversation with Ron Hansen” and “Jesse James: Facts Falsehoods, Fiction and Film”. Both were enlightening.
I’d definitely recommend this book for those interested in this period in America’s history. Also, those interested in outlaws or the James brothers or heroes/anti-heroes would also enjoy it.
Now, I can’t wait to see the movie. I’ve heard it’s deliberately long and slow, but very good.
For more information about Jesse James click here. For more information about Robert Ford click here.