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West Like Lightning : The Brief, Legendary…

West Like Lightning : The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express (edition 2018)

by Jim DeFelice

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338338,203 (3.81)4
Title:West Like Lightning : The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express
Authors:Jim DeFelice
Info:HarperCollins 2018.
Tags:TKE, non-fiction

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West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express by Jim DeFelice



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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I always enjoy reading narrative microhistory that has a rip-roaring yarn PLUS lots of historical context for readers. Humor helps. West Like Lightning has all three. And it’s easy to tell that the author is also a fiction writer/storyteller -- the book is well sourced, but with a more journalistic feel, and without a hint of academese.

However, I thought that IN SECTIONS, there were too many facts crammed in, making it a tedious slog. And what this bound galley lacked (and I hope the finished book will have) was a map. My favorite college history teacher ALWAYS included maps in her handouts and lectures, saying history and geography go together. Illustrations and/or photographs would have been much appreciated, too.

I read an earlier history of “The Pony,” Orphans Preferred, and found that rather light on sourcing – West Like Lightning is definitely better.

All-in-all, I enjoyed this entertaining and enlightening book -- and it was a fairly easy read.

Review based on publisher-provided bound galley. ( )
  NewsieQ | May 14, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
For one who knew nothing about the Pony Express save that it once existed, Jim DeFelice's chronicle, "Fast Like Lightning" will be a joyous read. DeFelice traces "the Pony"'s Missouri to California route by using the 1860 election as his base. A whole lot of miles lay between St. Joe and Sacramento. Not unlike today, in a pivotal election, with the country on the precipice of civil war, folks in 1860 wanted to know what was going on NOW, if not yesterday. Conventional mail delivery from the Mississippi to the Pacific could take literally months; the technological wonder of the time, the telegraph, didn't connect the coasts (yet). So, with Mr DeFelice's superb writing, we are off with the Pony riders, news of Lincoln's election in hand (or mail satchel, to be precise), from Missouri to California. Along the route, we learn about who came up with the idea of a Pony Express (today's American Express and Wells Fargo are descendants), how it was financed, how the company's executives parlayed with the banks and played with the politicians. We visit the Pony's stations, learn how they were established, staffed, and managed. We get to know some of the young riders -- the "face of the franchise," after all -- who they were and how they worked. Even though much of the documentary history is lost, Mr DeFelice doesn't have to resort to hyperbole: facts are supported by sources and citations; if, on the other hand, a person, place, or event is conjecture or myth (or fact joined with embellishment), he tells you.
The American West was being mythologized almost simultaneously as it was being explored and exploited. And this mythology, like the music beat, goes on. The Pony Express quickly became a dashing and daring part of that national saga. Mr DeFelice has gifted readers with a delightful book that both takes us back in time and brings "the Pony" to the here and now. Highly recommended. Enjoy! ( )
  bks1953 | May 14, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Right away, one of the most amazing facts about the legendary Pony Express is that it lasted a mere 18 or so months. And another of the most amazing facts is that it was intended to exist only a short time.

The Pony Express ran mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. But it was only a demonstration for the men who started it. They really wanted a normal mail contract from the U.S. government, and the Pony, as it was called, was a way to show that they could deliver the mail.

The cliché of only single young riders was just that, something added after the Pony was over, as was most of the legend. For example, the one man who did more than anyone to burn the Pony Express into the consciousness of the nation, Buffalo Bill Cody, likely never rode it. But his Wild West show helped turn it into a Western legend.

The author uses the device of the 1860 presidential election to tell his story with aplomb and humor. He recounts the stories, legends and tall tales as we follow the news that Lincoln had won all the way from the East to the West just a few days later, which was a revelation.

Just months after opening, the telegraphs came along – and there was a telegraph station that the Pony delivered to, in fact. As the Pony wrapped up, the telegraph took over, and the men who started the Pony had their hand in the transcontinental railroad, too.

This is a fun, fast-moving story and a must if you’re interested in the stories of the Wild West.


This book was won from Library Thing.

For more of my reviews, go to Ralphsbooks. ( )
  ralphz | May 8, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Pony Express was a doomed idea from the start but some how this hair brained scheme connected the country from St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California in record time. In 1860 it could take six months or longer for a letter to make it from one coast to the other. The Pony Express riders rode a long day at top speed with minimal stops in any kind of weather to deliver not only personal and business mail but also national news. Jim DeFelice has done his homework and gives us a blow by blow account of the characters that rode for the express as well as the obstacles they faced. These young daring men risked bad weather, Indian attacks, bandits, angry Mormons and other dangers and as soon as they got off a horse and got a hot meal, they were off again. This is not only the history of the Pony Express but a frank account of some of the West's most colorful characters. The author shares the myth and over the top stories of Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok and Kit Carson as well as the toned down version of what most likely happened. This is a fascinating look at the Wild West before it was tame. ( )
  ltcl | Apr 19, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Here's the ultimate compliment for an author. I'm in a phase where I've periodically resisted the urge to veer towards books that cover subjects I'm intensely interested in. Every once in a while, I'm inclined to read books about topics that I know little about. The Pony Express is a perfect example. When DeFelice's book showed up on the Early Reviewers roster, I figured I would give it a chance. To the author's credit, I found "West Like Lightning" immensely entertaining and educational. His humorous style, vivid writing and talent for connecting the "today" to an earlier era kept the story moving at a nice pace through at least two-thirds of the book. The vivid narrative sheds light on Old West entrepreneurs at a time when the U.S. was on the cusp of civil war. Readers meet a cast of memorable characters that range from Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody, to Mark Twain, Jack Slade, Kit Carson and numerous political leaders. The book also provides fascinating insights into the Mormon migration, the California Gold Rush and life on the frontier. DeFelice is meticulous when it comes to trying to separate fact from fiction, a mission that is difficult in some instances given the absence of records. True, the detailed geographic descriptions and vignettes that on occasion feel a bit repetitive tend become a bit much by page 200. My sense is that this tale of 19th century venture capitalists could have been told even more effectively in 50 fewer pages. Still, "West Like Lightning" provides a fascinating look at a unique era. It also includes about 70 pages of documentation, including an appendix, notes, a source list and a select bibliography. ( )
  brianinbuffalo | Apr 17, 2018 |
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