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Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait

Doc Holliday: A Family PortraitDoc Holliday: A Family Portrait by Karen Holliday Tanner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book on one of the Wild West's most famous figures is written by his great-grandniece. Holliday came from genteel Southern aristocracy who were horrified at the noteriety he gained in his lifetime. As the author states, they "circled the wagons" and never talked to outsiders about him.

Now that it's been so long, Tanner decided to write a book on her ancestor based on family memoirs and stories. What we get is a sympathetic look at Holliday, especially his early years and family.

The best part of the book is the details. For example, it turns out Holliday was born with a cleft palate that was succesfully operated on, although it left him with a speech impediment in his early years that made him a quiet and bookish child. He later went on to study dentistry. When he contracted TB, he headed out West to practice his trade and clean out his lungs.

He soon got sucked into the frontier world of saloons and gambling houses. He'd learned lots of card games and tricks from one of the family slaves and this served him well. His time in Tombstone is covered well, although not in the detail that many coming to this book will probably like.

The book is illustrated with numerous never-before-published photographs of family figures and personal items of Doc's. All in all, it's a fascinating and lively read.

There are two reasons I don't give this five stars. First, I get the impression that Tanner is a bit too sympathetic, hardly surprising considering she's writing about family. While Doc's gunfighting and resultant body count has been vastly exaggerated over the years, he comes off much cleaner than even academic readers make him out to be. i also think she went a bit too lightly over the key elements of Doc's career, namely Tombstone. Those wanting to know more about that will not find this a standalone book.

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