Anyone dismissing this book or the tie-in series of TV documentaries due to a bias toward Fox New and/or Bill O’Reilly, risks missing out on some interesting and entertaining reflections on several of the Old West’s most prominent characters and events.
The TV features (as of this writing there have been four --- Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickock, Kit Carson – with Davy Crockett due in a week) are formatted much like previous works done on the Discovery and History channels. Which is to say there are narrated cinema re-enactments of the subject matter, augmented with inserted commentary by historians, authors, and related ‘experts’.
The production values of the re-enactment vignettes this time around are, in my opinion, somewhat higher than on some of the previous work. Not saying the historic facts are any more accurately detailed, just that it appears there may have more money spent on the visuals. They are actually quite good.
The corresponding book, despite the prominence of O’Reilly’s name on the cover --- BILL O’REILLY’S LEGENDS & LIES: THE REAL WEST is the complete, rather cumbersome title --- is actually written by one David Fisher, a veteran novelist and author of various non-fiction works. O’Reilly does write a lengthy Forward to the book and also speaks in a number of the commentary pieces on the TV features; using his name so prominently is clearly in recognition to his stature at Fox News and to the success of his previous mega-bestselling books.
Mr. Fisher’s writing, as it turns out, stands just fine on its own.
As might be expected, the book is more richly and completely detailed than what is covered in the TV features. The complete Table of Contents for the book (I’m not sure if all of these will appear on TV) is as follows: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, Black Bart, Wild Bill Hickock, Bass Reeves, George Custer, Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Billy The Kid, and Butch Cassidy. A wealth of photographs (many not commonly seen before) is also included.
Inasmuch as I had already read and learned a good deal about the factual Old West, I can’t say that I learned a whole lot of new things from this book or the TV features I’ve seen so far. But, by the same token, neither did I find any glaring errors or sharp contradictions to what I’d previously encountered … although some of the TV features (due to time constraints, I suppose) skim over or totally skip certain incidents; the book, however, does not.
At any rate, the presentations here --- in print and on screen --- are well done and entertaining and I doubt anyone with an interest in the Old West would come away disappointed.
I recommend both.