If we know little about the working cowboy--as distinct from the rhinestone, drugstore, midnight, and horse-opera types--it's because ""most cowboys don't write, and most writers don't work on ranches."" Erickson, author of last year's Panhandle Cowboy, is the exception: for a straightforward, highly readable account of today's cowboy, you can't do better. Erickson succinctly describes the tools of the cowboy's trade (in an increasingly mechanized business, pickup trucks and cattle trailers as well as horse and rope) and the work itself throughout the year--from the heavy drudgery of winter feeding through spring roundup and branding to the summer and fall chores: fence-mending, making hay, and repairing windmills (""the only piece of machinery the cowboy has every really understood""). But ""cowboy work is more than a job; it is a lifestyle and a medium of expression."" That lifestyle, as Erickson describes it, has been undergoing seemingly small but significant changes in wardrobe (the Stetson yields to the advertising give-away baseball cap), in marital status (the bachelor cowboy bites the dust), and even in vice (snoose and plug tobacco edge out smoking, the Marlboro man notwithstanding). Erickson also sketches changes in the modern cattle business (""the business of converting grass into beef"") and in government price policies that find many ranchers--and their cowboy employees--bottoming out on the bottom line. Yet he has more confidence in the cowboy's durability than Jane Kramer in The Last Cowboy and he adds a corrective chapter on all those ""Books About Cowboys"" written by non-cowboys who don't know a Brangus from a hoolihan. Erickson's nuts-and-bolts wrap-up, well informed by history, is less spiced with tall tales and wry humor than Panhandle Cowboy; but it's informative, engaging, and clearly the real thing--as certified by cowboy-wife Kris Erickson's photos.