A gripping portrait of one family’s gamble that rodeo and ranching are the future of the West—and not just its past.
For generations, the Wrights of southern Utah have raised cattle and world-champion saddle-bronc riders—some call them the most successful rodeo family in history. Now Bill and Evelyn Wright, parents to 13 children and grandparents to many more, find themselves struggling to hang on to the majestic landscape where they’ve been running cattle for 150 years as the West is transformed by urbanization, battered by drought, and rearranged by public-land disputes. Could rodeo, of all things, be the answer?
In a powerful follow-up to his prize-winning, best-selling first book, New York Times reporter John Branch delivers an epic and intimate family story deep in the American grain. Written with great lyricism and filled with vivid scenes of ranch life and the high drama of saddle-bronc competition, The Last Cowboys chronicles three years in the life of the Wrights, each culminating in rodeo’s National Finals in Las Vegas. Will Bill and Evelyn be able to hold the family together as rodeo injuries pile up and one of their sons goes off on a religious mission? Will their son Cody, a two-time world champion, make it to the finals one last time—and compete with his own son? And will the younger generation—Rusty, Ryder, Stetson, and the rest—be able to continue the family’s ways in the future?
This is a grand and compelling work of reporting that, like Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, offers deep insight into American ritual and tradition. And in telling the Wright family’s story, from branding days to rodeo nights to annual Christmas gatherings, Branch captures something vital of the grit, determination, and integrity that fuel the American Dream.
An unforgettable book by one of the finest reporters of our time, The Last Cowboys is a moving tribute to an American way of life.
John Branch is a reporter for the New York Times. His feature article about an avalanche in Washington State, "Snow Fall," won the Pulitzer Prize; he has been featured three times in The Best American Sports Writing; and his first book, Boy on Ice, won the PEN/ESPN Prize for Literary Sports Writing. He lives near San Francisco.
This biography puts readers in the saddle to experience the life of a champion rider in his quest for the gold buckle. Drawing on interviews with Smith and his family and friends, Margot Kahn recreates the days in the late 1960s and early 1970s when rodeo first became a major sports enterprise. She captures the realities of that world: winning enough money to get to the next competition, and competing even when in pain. She also tells how, in his career’s second phase, Smith married cowgirl Carole O’Rourke and went into business raising horses, gaining notoriety for his gentle hand with animals and winning acclaim for his and Carole’s Circle 7 brand.
Inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979 and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2000, Smith was a legend in his own time. His story is a genuine slice of rodeo life—a life of magic for those good enough to win. This book will delight rodeo and cowboy enthusiasts alike.
Melody Groves, a native New Mexican and former bull rider, examines the sport of rodeo, from a brief history of the ranch-based competition to the rodeos of today and what each event demands. One of the first topics she addresses is the treatment of the animals. As she points out, without the bulls or horses, there wouldn't be a rodeo. For that reason, the stock contractors, chute workers, cowboys, and all the arena workers respect the animals and take precautions against their injuries.
Groves writes for the rodeo novice, explaining the workings and workers (stock handlers, veterinarians, clowns, "pick up" men, event judges, etc.) seen in the arena and behind the scenes. She then describes the rodeo events: bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping, and barrel racing. Interviews with rodeo legends in every event round out the "feel" for this breathtaking sport. Over ninety photos depict what is described in the text to more fully explain the rodeo, with its ropes, reins, and rawhide.
Boy on Ice is the richly told story of a mountain of a man who made it to the absolute pinnacle of his sport. Widely regarded as the toughest man in the NHL, Boogaard was a gentle man off the ice but a merciless fighter on it. With great narrative drive, Branch recounts Boogaard's unlikely journey from lumbering kid playing pond-hockey on the prairies of Saskatchewan, so big his skates would routinely break beneath his feet; to his teenaged junior hockey days, when one brutal outburst of violence brought Boogaard to the attention of professional scouts; to his days and nights as a star enforcer with the Minnesota Wild and the storied New York Rangers, capable of delivering career-ending punches and intimidating entire teams. But, as Branch reveals, behind the scenes Boogaard's injuries and concussions were mounting and his mental state was deteriorating, culminating in his early death from an overdose of alcohol and painkillers.
Based on months of investigation and hundreds of interviews with Boogaard's family, friends, teammates, and coaches, Boy on Ice is a brilliant work for fans of Michael Lewis's The Blind Side or Buzz Bissinger's Friday Night Lights. This is a book that raises deep and disturbing questions about the systemic brutality of contact sports—from peewees to professionals—and the damage that reaches far beyond the game.
"You will not read a more important book about America this year."—The Economist
"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal
"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for more than forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.'s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir, with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.