Murder in Tombstone, by Steven Lubet

November 23, 2011 at 19:45 (Biography, Book Reviews, Crime and Law Enforcement, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Nineteenth Century) (, , , , , , , )


This was a wonderfully gripping history. Accusations of plagiarism and grandstanding aside, all history books should be written with the same passion and clarity that Lubet manages in his study. While he can come across as suspicious or stodgy at times (or, on the other hand, tenacious and deeply moral), Lubet also appears to rigidly adhere to the facts. His disinterest in a lot of the historical accusations, jibes and brouhahaing allows him to take a forensic look at the evidence and the laws in place, rather than stepping into the brawl himself. It is an irony, then, that his dryness and unwillingness to delve into pettiness is precisely what makes this book so compelling. As a history, this work has become contentious, based largely on the implications of Earp’s gunfight on modern day gun rights. There is no reason why this ought to be the case: and mercifully Steven Lubet has the good sense and professionalism to stay very well away from drawing any connections between the past and the present.

“When Tom threatened to ‘make a fight,’ Wyatt obliged him: ‘I slapped him in the face with my left hand and drew my pistol with my right…and I hit him on the head with my six-shooter and walked away.'”

-Murder in Tombstone

Lubet makes judicious use of plenty of period sources, including the local newspapers and the diary of the garrulous George Parsons, but at no point does he commit the schoolboy error that so many historians plunge gleefully into, and try and end up struggling with an unlikely and badly-drawn account of “what it must have been like”. He is not trying to take his readers on a field trip into the Old West: he is trying to open a court case and a potentially criminal act for study. In some very compelling summaries, the author echoes the reports of Judge Spicer, declaring Wyatt Earp innocent and rehabilitated to history…but not necessarily a wise, honest or good man. His own speculative additions are brief enough to be humble and subtle enough to be thought provoking, and this book certainly succeeds in its scope and stated aims. An excellent effort.

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