Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life
About the Book
In popular culture, Wyatt Earp is the hero of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and a beacon of rough justice in the tumultuous American West. The subject of dozens of films, he has been invoked in battles against organized crime (in the 1930s), communism (in the 1950s), and al-Qaeda (after 2001).
Yet as the historian Andrew C. Isenberg reveals, the Hollywood Earp is largely a fiction --- one created by Earp himself. The lawman played on-screen by Henry Fonda and Burt Lancaster is stubbornly duty-bound; in actuality, Earp led a life of impulsive lawbreaking and shifting identities. When he wasn’t wearing a badge, he was variously a thief, a brothel bouncer, a gambler and a confidence man. As Kirkus Reviews said, “Isenberg shows us Earp as an early Jay Gatsby, reinventing himself continually.”
Earp spent his last decades in Los Angeles, where he befriended Western film actors and directors. Having tried and failed over the course of his life to invent a better future for himself, in the end he invented a better past. Isenberg argues that even though Earp, who died in 1929, did not live to see it, Hollywood’s embrace of him as a paragon of law and order was his greatest confidence game of all.
An authoritative account of the man and his legend, and a book about our national fascination with extrajudicial violence, WYATT EARP: A Vigilante Life is a resounding biography of a singular American figure.