Good nonfiction: "Cowhand - The Story of a Working Cowboy" (1953)

I bought this used paperback copy of Cowhand: The Story of a Working Cowboy, by Fred Gipson, many years ago at a used bookstore. I finally got around to reading it. Here is my book report.

The author was born in 1908 on a farm in Texas. He went to the University of Texas at Austin and became a journalist. Gipson's best known for his novel Ole Yeller (1956) which won a Newbery prize and was adapted to a Disney movie of the same name. A few years before Ole Yeller, he wrote Cowhand - The Story of a Working Cowboy and it focuses on the life of his friend Ed "Fat" Alford, born in 1901 to rent-farming parents in Oklahoma. Here's how Gipson describes his friend Fat:

By Hollywood standards, Fat is a far cry from being a typical cowhand. He never shot a man in his life. He never chased a rustler across the Rio Grande. He never rescued a beautiful girl from ruthless bandits and rode off into the sunset with his arm about her waist. He never carved a cattle empire out of a "howling wilderness."

The truth is, he doesn't even look like a cowboy. He's too squat and heavy; he's too short-legged and bullnecked. He's so potbellied and yet so hipless that some consider it a minor miracle that his pants aren't forever slipping down to hang around his hocks. It is very doubtful that he could hire on as a Hollywood extra in the quickest of quickie Westerns.

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Should science filmmakers tell the truth?

These days, television networks air completely fictitious productions as non-fiction documentaries on subjects such as the extinct Megalodon shark or mermaids. Read the rest

Nine books I think you should read (plus a couple more that I need to read, myself)

The New York Times Magazine's 6th Floor Blog interviewed me about the books I'm reading now (including a climate scientist's account of dealing with evidence and uncertainty in the treatment of cancer), the science books I love (where you'll learn why it's impossible to remove the risk from risky technologies), and the books I generally recommend to everybody (try my favorite boozy novel of jazz-age New York). Overall, it's definitely a list I think the Happy Mutants will dig. Read the rest