An earnest and affable, if somewhat humorless, history of the cowhand in North and South America that concentrates on replacing cowboy mythology with unromanticized fact. Slatta (History/North Carolina State Univ.) compares his book's structure ""to that of a Western film."" But there is nothing that smacks of Hollywood in this very academic study, which follows the American cowhand from his first appearance in the 16th century to his supposed demise in the early 20th. Chapters bearing regretfully lumbering titles like ""Horsin' 'Round: Equestrian Fun and Games"" disdain the colorful anecdote in favor of more prosaic information about ""the popular practice of tailing in mid-19th-century Venezuela"" and about US ranch grocery lists (""Cowboys preferred sourdough biscuits to those made with buttermilk or baking powder""). Still, it is rather refreshing to read the unvarnished truth about the harsh economies of cowboys' lives and how rarely guitars actually made it onto cattle drives (""On the trail, instruments had to fit into saddlebags""). Even more interesting are Slatta's exposÃ‰s on the power of racism virtually to eradicate from the popular consciousness both the inestimable influence of Mexican vacheros on the Anglo cowboy and the sizable existence of black cowboys, and his review of the ongoing manipulation of the cowboy myth by modern US politicians such as Ronald Reagan. The enlightening effect of these sections, however, is more or less smothered by descriptions like that of the Chilean huaso's typical attire in 1850. Slatta's attention to detial and the breadth of his research are impeccable, and serious cowboy aficionados should find his book indispensable. The typical urban cowboy, however, will probably regret the lack of lively vignettes and. . .well, mythical energy.