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That Steiner (The Ranchers, 1980; Dark and Dashing Horseman, 1981) died in 1987 while completing this engaging book is sad but somehow poetically fitting, for most of its 30 or so essays celebrate a way of life also breathing its last. As John Nichols (The Milagro Beanfield War) puts it in his eulogistic introduction, ""any place as vast as the West must have a real kaleidoscopic soul. And it is that soul which Stan has captured here."" Or if not captured, as least admired on the wing through an array of mostly brief, passionate essays on such aspects of the subject as: sexuality in the Old West (""these were robust and lusty men and women""); the passing of the last ""old-timers""; the astonishing appeal of the West to Europeans (in West Germany during a recent year, Steiner reports, ""publishers had printed an unbelievable 91,000,000 copies of books on [the Old West] ""; the West as melting pot (a moving essay on Chinese rail workers; an ironic one on Jewish conquistadors; an oral history of Levi Strauss, the ""wandering Jew"" of jeans fame); the author's own exuberant youthful odyssey from hometown Brooklyn to the West, including a mock-epic ferry crossing of the Hudson River (""Going West!"" he exults). But for all of Steiner's surging love for his subject, there's poignancy (and sometimes pointed black humor) underlaying it, particularly in his writings on the ""New West"" and nowhere more apparent than in ""When the Bomb Fell on New Mexico""--an acid look at how the West has become the dumping ground of Eastern-fostered military might, symbolized here in the little-known accidental dropping in 1957 of a nuclear bomb on Albuquerque (the bomb's explosive device went off, but not the bomb itself). Two interviews with Steiner round out the book. A hardheaded, softhearted, winsomely homespun elegy to a vanishing land; not in the same class as Ian Frazier's The Great Plains (p. 267), but worthy reading all the same.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1989
Publisher: St. Martin's