by Mary Doria Russell


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The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.
Beautifully educated, born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday is given an awful choice at the age of twenty-two: die within months in Atlanta or leave everyone and everything he loves in the hope that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Young, scared, lonely, and sick, he arrives on the rawest edge of the Texas frontier just as an economic crash wrecks the dreams of a nation. Soon, with few alternatives open to him, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally; he is also living with Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung Hungarian whore with dazzling turquoise eyes, who can quote Latin classics right back at him. Kate makes it her business to find Doc the high-stakes poker games that will support them both in high style. It is Kate who insists that the couple travel to Dodge City, because “that’s where the money is.”

And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really begins—before Wyatt Earp is the prototype of the square-jawed, fearless lawman; before Doc Holliday is the quintessential frontier gambler; before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.

Authentic, moving, and witty, Mary Doria Russell’s fifth novel redefines these two towering figures of the American West and brings to life an extraordinary cast of historical characters, including Holliday’s unforgettable companion, Kate. First and last, however, Doc is John Henry Holliday’s story, written with compassion, humor, and respect by one of our greatest contemporary storytellers. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400068043
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/03/2011
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Mary Doria Russell is the award-winning author of four previous bestsellers: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, and Dreamers of the Day. Widely praised for her meticulous research, fine prose, and compelling narrative drive, Russell is uniquely suited to telling the story of the lawman Wyatt Earp and the dental surgeon John Henry Holliday. The daughter of Dick Doria, five-term sheriff of Dupage County, Illinois, Mary grew up with guns and cops but she also holds a doctorate in biological anthropology and taught gross anatomy at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry before she left academe to write. 


Cleveland, Ohio

Date of Birth:

August 19, 1950

Place of Birth:

Elmhurst, Illinois


B.A., The University of Illinois; M.A., Northeastern University; Ph.D., The University of Michigan

Read an Excerpt

Playing for Time

He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle. The disease took fifteen years to hollow out his lungs so completely they could no longer keep him alive. In all that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness.

When he arrived in Dodge City in 1878, Dr. John Henry Holliday was a frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who wanted nothing grander than to practice his profession in a prosperous Kansas cow town. Hope—?cruelest of the evils that escaped Pandora’s box—smiled on him gently all that summer. While he lived in Dodge, the quiet life he yearned for seemed to lie within his grasp.

At thirty, he would be famous for his part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. A year later, he would become infamous when he rode at Wyatt Earp’s side to avenge the murder of Wyatt’s younger brother Morgan. To sell newspapers, the journalists of his day embellished thin fact with fat rumor and rank fiction; it was they who invented the iconic frontier gambler and gunman Doc Holliday. (Thin. Mustachioed. A cold and casual killer. Doomed, and always dressed in black, as though for his own funeral.) That unwanted notoriety added misery to John Henry Holliday’s final year, when illness and exile had made of him a lonely and destitute alcoholic, dying by awful inches and living off charity in a Colorado hotel.

The wonder is how long and how well he fought his destiny. He was meant to die at birth. The Fates pursued him from the day he first drew breath, howling for his delayed demise.

His mother’s name was Alice Jane.

She was one of the South Carolina McKeys, the third of eleven children. Fair-haired, gray-eyed, with a gentle manner, she came late to marriage, almost twenty at her wedding. Alice was pretty enough and played piano well, but she was educated in excess of a lady’s requirements. She was also possessed of a quiet, stubborn strength of character that had discouraged beaux less determined than Henry Holliday, a Georgia planter ten years her senior.

Alice and Henry buried their firstborn: a sweet little girl who lived just long enough to gaze and smile and laugh, and break her parents’ hearts. Still in mourning for her daughter, Alice took no chances when she was brought to bed with her second child. This time, she insisted, she would be attended by Henry’s brother, a respected physician with modern ideas, who rode to Griffin from nearby Fayetteville as soon as he received her summons.

Labor in Georgia’s wet mid-August heat was grueling. When at last Alice was delivered of a son, the entire household fell quiet with relief. Just moments later, a dreadful cry went up once more, for cleft palates and cleft lips are shocking malformations. The newborn’s parents were in despair: another small grave in the red north Georgia clay. But Dr. John Stiles Holliday was strangely calm.

“This need not be fatal,” the physician mused aloud, examining his tiny nephew. “If you can keep him alive for a month or two, Alice, I believe the defects can be repaired.”

Later that day, he taught his sister-in-law how to feed her son: with an eyedropper and with great care, so that the baby would not aspirate the milk or choke. It was a slow process, exhausting for the mother and the son. John Henry would fall asleep before Alice could feed him so much as a shot glass of milk; soon hunger would reawaken him, and since his mother trusted no one else with her fragile child’s life, neither slept more than an hour or two between feedings, for eight long weeks.

By October of 1851, the infant had gained enough weight and strength for his uncle to attempt the surgery. In this, John Stiles Holliday was joined by Dr. Crawford Long, who had begun developing the use of ether as an anesthetic just three years earlier. After much study and planning, the two physicians performed the first surgical repair of a cleft palate in America, though their achievement was kept private at the family’s request.

With his mother’s devoted care, the two-month-old came through his operation well. The only visible reminder of the birth defect was a scar in his upper lip, which would give his smile a crooked charm all his life. His palate, on the other hand, remained unavoidably misshapen, and when the toddler began to talk, Alice was the only one in the world who could understand a thing he said. Truth be told, everybody but his mamma suspected the boy was a half-wit, but Alice was certain her son was as bright as a new penny, and mothers always know.

So she shielded John Henry from his father’s embarrassment and shame. She forbade the house slaves and John Henry’s many young cousins to poke fun at his honking attempts at speech. She studied Plutarch on the education of children, and with Demosthenes as her guide, Alice Jane set out to improve her child’s diction. All on her own, she analyzed how the tongue and lips should be placed to produce the sounds her little boy found impossible. She filled scrapbooks with pictures and drawings, and every afternoon she and John Henry paged through those albums, naming each neatly labeled object, practicing the difficult words. In that way, Alice taught her son to read by the age of four, and though correction of his speech required years more, their diligence was rewarded. In adulthood, if his difficulty with certain consonants was noticed at all, acquaintances were apt to ascribe it to his lazy Georgia drawl. Or, later on, to drink.

He was quiet and rather shy as a child. Hoping to counter this natural reserve, Alice started John Henry’s piano lessons as soon as he could reach the keyboard, and she was delighted to discover that he had inherited from her an accurate musical ear and a drive to master any skill to which he set his hand. Left to himself, the boy would have whiled away his hours reading, or practicing piano, or daydreaming, but Alice knew that was no way for a Southern gentleman to behave. So when John Henry turned seven, she began to encourage the other Holliday boys to spend more time with him, and it wasn’t long before he held his own in their rowdy, noisy games, riding as recklessly and shooting as well as any of them.

“He ain’t big and he ain’t strong,” nine-year-old Robert Holliday told his Aunt Alice, “but that boy’s got a by-God streak of fight in him.”

And he was going to need it.

Confident at last that John Henry would not be ridiculed for his speech, Alice enrolled him in a nearby boys’ academy. She had taught him well at home: from the start he excelled in mathematics, grammar, rhetoric, and history. Latin and French came easily. Greek was a struggle, but with characteristic determination, he kept at it, year after year, until he could read Homer in the original.

Like all Southern girls, Alice Jane had made a thorough study of the male of the species. She knew the rules by which boys played, so she wasn’t much surprised when her son’s diffident aloofness and scholastic success combined to provoke his classmates beyond toleration. The first time John Henry came home bloody, all Alice asked was “Did you win?” Later that evening, she told the story of the Spartan mother seeing her son off to war. “Come home with your shield or on it,” Alice reminded him the next morning when he left for school.

His cousin Robert followed that moral lecture with another involving applied physics. “Don’t start nothin’,” young Robert advised, “but if some ignorant goddam cracker sonofabitch takes a swing at you? Drop him, son. Use a rock if you have to.”

John Henry never did make many friends at school, but the other boys learned to leave him alone—and to copy his answers on exams.

And what of Henry Holliday? Where was Alice’s husband while their only surviving child practiced phonemes and piano, learned to ride and shoot, and came home from school with bruised knuckles and excellent marks in every subject?

At a distance. Away. At work. At war.

In the 1850s, there was foolishness being talked on both sides of the Mason-Dixon. Throughout John Henry’s childhood, the word secession had come up in conversations among the men. His cousin Robert thought the whole idea of war was glorious, but John Henry’s father and his many uncles were unenthusiastic about the notion, even after the North elected Lincoln in 1860 and as much as told the South, “Secede, God damn you, and be done with it!” When the hotheads of Charleston opened fire on Fort Sumter, his Uncle John remarked, “South Carolina is too damn small to be a country and too damn big to be an insane asylum.” That got a laugh, though the Holliday brothers agreed: it was unfortunate that a dispute over cotton tariffs had become such a tangle. Still, they expected practicality to win out. Why, the entire nation’s economy was based on cotton! Naturally, the Yankees would have to make some token response to the attack on Sumter, but cooler heads would surely prevail. There’d likely be a trade agreement signed by Christmas.

Certainly, nobody imagined that Mr. Lincoln would order an armed invasion over the affair. When he did exactly that, the entire South ?exploded with defiance and patriotism, cheering the new nation—?sovereign and independent—that had just been born.

In April of ’61, Henry Holliday and six brothers rode away to join the 27th Georgia Volunteers. John Henry was still four months shy of ten years old, but he was told, “You are the man of the house now.” He and his mother were not left alone, of course. The household staff was presided over by the aging brothers Wilson and Chainey, who’d been in the family since their own birth and who would have fought the hounds of hell for Miss Alice and her boy. Even with Henry and a half dozen uncles gone, there were all the aunts and the older Holliday menfolk and the younger cousins near, and Alice Jane’s many relatives as well. Hollidays and McKeys never lacked for kin.

Young as he was, John Henry took his responsibility for his mother’s safety seriously, and his solicitude warmed Alice as much as it amused her. She was especially pleased by the very great deal of thought he gave to an outing she proposed when he was eleven, with the war well into its second year. The great Viennese virtuoso Sigismund Thalberg was coming to Atlanta to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto at the Athenaeum Theater. “Sugar,” Alice told her boy, “I wouldn’t miss this concert for all the tea in China! And I do believe you are ready to meet the Emperor.”

“The emperor?” Frowning, John Henry looked up from The Gallic Wars. “Did something happen to President Davis?”

“Mr. Davis is fine. The Emperor is the concerto’s nickname—you’ll understand why when you hear it. The concert is to benefit the Georgia Volunteers,” she added. “What do you think, shug? Shall we chance it?”

Alice watched her somber, spindly son think the matter through. He presented a number of objections. The weather might be bad, and Alice had not gotten over the bronchitis she’d developed last winter. Griffin was a good distance from Atlanta; twice this spring, the front axle on their ancient carriage had been repaired and it could not be considered reliable.

“You’re bein’ very sensible,” Alice observed. “Well, now . . . We wouldn’t have to take the carriage the whole way. We could stay with your Aunt Mary Anne in Jonesboro, and ride the train to Atlanta from there.”

A solution to the transportation problem swayed him, but he was ?concerned about rumors of marauding Yankees and highwaymen, so the discussion went on at some length. Finally, when Alice gave John Henry permission to arm himself with a pair of antique pistols his great-grandfather had carried in the Revolutionary War, the boy agreed to the journey, though he stipulated that Wilson should accompany them as an additional precaution, and that Chainey should remain at home to guard the household in their absence.

“Sugar,” Alice told her son, “it is a comfort and a support to have such a fine young man lookin’ after me.”

It was the sort of thing any Southern woman of breeding might say to flatter a male. What surprised Alice was how much she meant it and how touched she was to see him stand all the straighter for her remark, as though feeling even more keenly a gentleman’s duty to protect a lady from whatever insult or danger a barbaric, broken world might present.

He spent days planning their expedition, serious as snakebite about each of his decisions. It was only on the evening of the concert, with his responsibilities temporarily discharged, that John Henry began to relax. He acquitted himself very nicely during an economical supper at their modest hotel’s restaurant, and when they strolled down the center aisle of the Athenaeum, he offered his mother a young man’s arm instead of a child’s hand. They found their seats—on the left, so they could watch Maestro Thalberg’s hands—and chatted like old friends while the orchestra assembled. At last the house lights dimmed. The audience fell silent. A commanding figure strode across the stage, ignoring the burst of applause as he took his seat at a gleaming black concert grand.

And then: the first great massed orchestral chord sounded.

From that moment to the end, the boy was caught and held in a grip so tight, his mother could have snapped her fingers in his face and that child would not have blinked. He had never before heard the blended timbres of an orchestra, had not suspected there was such music in the world. At eleven, he possessed no words for what he heard and felt; indeed, it would be years before he could articulate the overwhelming impact of the concerto, with its tumbling, propulsive drive, its kaleidoscopic shifts of mode and mood, its euphoria and gentleness, its anger and urgency. Liszt was more showy and athletic, Chopin more sparkling and luminous. But Beethoven . . . Beethoven was magnificent.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“If I had a six-shooter, I’d be firing it off in celebration of Doc . . . a deeply sympathetic, aggressively researched and wonderfully entertaining story.”—The Washington Post
“A magnificent read . . . filled with action and humor yet philosophically rich and deeply moving . . . more realistic yet more riveting than any movie or TV western . . . Doc Holliday is the tragic hero in this terrific bio-epic. . . . Losing their mythic, heroic sheen, figures like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson become more captivating for their complexity.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Intense, individual characters, so fully realized that readers can almost physically touch them, fill the novel’s pages . . . Doc’s restrained but magnificent struggle to rise above the indignities of his disease and of life in Dodge . . . is one of the delights of this surprisingly luminous and elegant novel.”—The Oregonian
“Fascinating . . . Russell’s women are a match for any of the men in Dodge, and their presence at the center of Doc gives the novel an unforced verisimilitude.”—The Plain Dealer
“Intoxicating . . . Doc reads like a movie you can’t wait to watch.”—The Seattle Times
“Grabs us from the opening sentence . . . Russell makes the narrative hum and the characters come alive.”—Chicago Tribune
“Well-written and provocative, Doc is a book that will haunt you.”—Historical Novels Review

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Doc 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 150 reviews.
nyauthoress More than 1 year ago
The title of Mary Doria Russell's new book may be Doc, but the novel sheds light on the many earthy people intertwined in the life of Dr. John Henry Holliday. These characters will captivate you with Old West jargon and courage as they live in a world of gambling, alcohol, prostitution and horses. The author's background in anthropology illuminates her carousing, caring, and courageous tamers of the Early West. Doc Holliday was born with a cleft palate. Corrective surgery while a child left no tell-tale signs except a charming crooked grin. This auspicious new lease on life seems a reverse metaphor for how the brightness of his life dwindled into an extended death from tuberculosis. Russell shows us the real man, not just the Doc Holliday from the OK Corral. He was educated, thoughtful, cultivated, and a competent dentist who cared about his patients. We discover the man we knew as a gunslinger understood Latin and French, adored Beethoven, played piano and read The Aeneid. His wheezy laugh, wracking cough, fluid-filled lungs, ulcerated throat and chest pain run like threads through the book. Even after taking to the dry frontier to improve his health, Doc seems always a breath away from death. The author masterfully delineates the truth about Doc Holliday from the myth. He is fascinating. Kate, his high-strung, often-inebriated fight-picking companion, genuinely loves Doc. It is refreshing to see a different side of Wyatt Earp, normally portrayed as a tough skinned lawman. He loves his disreputable, naughty horse and cherishes the woman in his life. He and Doc are brought together by a strong moral code over the death of an innocent boy of color. Bat Masterson and a Jesuit priest round out the main characters. Applaud this female writer for aptly capturing the world of men in Doc. Straightforward and punchy, much like the wild frontier, the writing is clear, crisp and replete with historical detail. You'll sit in saloons with these people, smell cigar smoke and wonder what's really in their poker hand. Chapter headings not only capture the spirit of the times, but give us hints into the plot movement: . Stacking the Deck . The Ante . Wild Card . Under the Table . Playing for Keeps A bit overpopulated and sometimes windy, Doc is a witty and enjoyable read, especially for fans of the raw American West. Mary Doria Russell hits the nail on the head again. If moved by John Henry Holliday's story, the author requests readers make donations to organizations such as the Smile Train, for surgical correction of cleft palates. Random House provided the advance release copy. The opinions expressed are unbiased and wholly that of the reviewer. Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
KiwiJR More than 1 year ago
Mary Doria Russell is one of my favorite writers; to say that she is brilliant is an understatement. Each of her books covers a different topic; her research is thorough and her writing is magical without being "chick" lit. She paints a picture with her words. I learned so much about Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers and everything I previously thought about them went right out the window. This book not only tells us about the lives of the aforementioned, but it also tells us a lot about what was happening out west after the Civil War. Just fascinating. Just an aside: Ms. Russell's book "A Thread of Grace" is one of my top two favorite books (the other being "The Gargoyle" by A. Davidson) and is absolutely astonishing. Everyone I recommend this book to is as impressed as I am. Please do yourself a hug favor and read "A Thread of Grace" as well as "Doc."
Chessace More than 1 year ago
This is realistic story telling. Especially liked the list up front of who was real, who fictional (although it wasn't hard to guess by the end). Only 6 speed bumps of factual errors, one of which was astounding given how many people previewed the book for errors. The character of Doc is so complete and absorbing that his "thoughts" in a dramatic scene near the end struck me as being totally out of his character (but women readers liked it). Highly recommended for book club discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have only stopped reading a book twice in my life. This book was one of the two. I tried and tried to get into it but after 200 pages I simply decided not to torture myself any longer. Characters were shallow and flat; story was all over the place. I do not recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have to be honest here and say this is my first Western novel so I had no idea what I was getting myself into and my first thought was if it got too much "shootem-up", I was closing the book and moving on. I finished the book and I was completely in awe of what I have been missing in this genre. Ruseell wrote with such compassion and forethought that I felt like I was getting a behind the scene look at American Westerns that I used to watch with my father and hear about from the neighbor boys. Growing up, you heard or watched on telly all about Westerns and you seen the fights, the robberies, the cowboys parading their fine horses through the towns, the shoot-outs and scuffles in the saloons but Russell's book takes a more quieter approach. She shows us what it really must have been like when all that hype settled down - when the camera stopped rolling. Those cowboys were a tough bunch but they were a close-knit community: watching each other backs and depending on each other. "Talk to me awhile," he said. "Tell me about....tell me about a day when you where happy." (Doc Holliday) I am going to use this quote - I think it might make people stop and think about what they have to be happy about and perhaps add some happiness back into their lives.
Sarah_Stegall More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a story about the ruthless killer, Doc Holliday, and the Gunfight at the OK Corrall, this is not your book. This novel about Doc Holliday's early life and his stay in Dodge City revolves around his friendships with the Earps and Kate Harony, a murder mystery, politics of the frontier, the practice of nineteenth-century medicine, and the despair of a man of culture forced to live among barbarians. Ms. Russell's prose is as elegant as Doc's silk shirts, but can become as melancholy as a weeping drunk. There's one scene near the end, involving Doc playing the piano, which brought me to tears. Some of the scenes between Wyatt and Doc had me laughing out loud. While some of Ms. Russell's characterization and events might be questioned by historians (and this is a very contentious field of American history), her delineation of these characters is as bold and daring as the men and women of the post-Civil War era itself. This is an instant classic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful and interesting book. Gives the reader a lot of insight into Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and their friends and acquaintances in Dodge City. It was very enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had me from the first page.  Absolutely fascinating and believable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Found out things didn't know about the old west and poor Doc, all of the characters were so well described and Bat Masterson from TV was not the same as the real one.
superbellman More than 1 year ago
Great book , and I usually would not pick a western . I admit being biased when it comes to books by Mary Doria Russel, as I have read and enjoyed all the books she has written. I like historical fiction, if it is well researched and the story is interesting as Doc is. The story takes place primarily in Dodge City Kansas after the civil war, but also describes Docs childhood out East. Doc Holliday, lived,in the time of tough sheriffs, prostitution , gambling as an occupation., along side of other historic and legendary men such as the Eurp brothers and Bat Masterson . There is not a usual subject or time period for MDR to write about and she pulls the Western off handily.
TheGB More than 1 year ago
If you liked (and who didn't?) Val Kilmers' Doc Holliday in the movie "Tombstone" you can 'hear' him again in this very enjoyable novel. A peach of a treat!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved loved this book.
OceanJL More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put the book down. The characters come to life in a way we never knew they lived. Doc Holiday lived on the edge! Nothing to dislike about this book and everything to enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. Characters are very well developed and you really get to know a lot about the times. Was facinated with the practice of dentistry by Doc.
Calvin-Clawson More than 1 year ago
I found Doc well written and full of colorful details. I learned a lot about the live if Doc Holliday and the Earps. Only complaint is it could have been longer.
lasMA More than 1 year ago
I read this book while traveling through Arizona. Having knowledge of the characters in the novel helps to appreciate the language, personality and interpretation of the times. I highly recommend this delightful and well written book. I will definetely read more by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
it is a very compelling book and I kept thinking about it even when I wasn't actively reading it. I expected something a little different than just a glimpse in the life of a famous historical figure, but that is all it is. It seems to be a well researched and very believable piece of historical fiction. I could almost feel the oppression of the searing heat of the prairie and smell the cattle and dust in the small town of Dodge City.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Educational & dramatic with a tragic love story thrown in. Doc was an intelligent, caring dentist besot with TB. He moves to Kansas from Georgia for some relief. He sets up a dental practice while Kate whores in Dodge city. He is an accomplished gambler and piano player. He drinks alcohol to quell his cough and chest pain. The Earp.brothers become his second family in the west while he yearns for the South. The author researched for this time period extensevily and made an intriguing story!
Boomer48 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this story of a Doc Holliday who was not like the movie version. If you like stories about legendary characters and the wild west, this story fits that description. Also, the background setting and secondary characters are detailed and keep the pages turning. There were plenty of people to dislike and some mysteries to clear up, too. This would be a very interesting book for a book club to read and discuss. Everyday life in the West doesn't play in this novel as it did in Gunsmoke and the differences would make lively discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tremendously interesting...about 60% actual history. Meanders from Georgia, Texas, Kansas, New York and more in the mid-to-late 1800's. Skillfully intertwines the stories of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and others with whom we're familiar from movies, television and books. Puts to rest many legends; tells it as it actually was. Is not a "shoot-em-up" cowboy novel, but a thoughtful, insightful, intelligent account of interesting people and events in U.S. history. Loved every page and highly recommend to readers of all persuasions.
Albionfaire More than 1 year ago
I can't remember when I've been so taken by a book and its characters. As a disclaimer, I am predisposed to anything Western, but I was not prepared for the emotion and power of "Doc". We all have heard and read about the O.K. Corral, but readers hoping for some insights into that extraordinarily brief shootout will be disappointed. This is the story of Doc himself and Tombstone, Arizona is a footnote in this tale. Ms. Russell is a very fine writer (I've read several other books of hers) and she seems to be improving with every book. This has the grit of "Deadwood" without the deliberate coarseness (and I do understand the rationale) for those who are devotees of that TV series, the ability to tell a tragic story without any saccharine and the skill to explain complex personalities effortlessly. I was all over the map while reading this, from howling with laughter to pondering social issues of the day to shedding very real tears of sympathy, particularly during the final chapters, and I cannot recommend this book more strongly. If there were six stars to rate this book, I'd be giving this book six.
Helen Bibler More than 1 year ago
Terrific read even if u don't read westerns.
Jules3 More than 1 year ago
What a beautifully written book!! I truly could not put it down and this is not the type of book I normally read. Read this book! You will learn so much!! Mary Doria Russell's description of the music Doc played brought me to tears. Looking forward to reading the rest of her books!
MadderByTheMinute More than 1 year ago
A look at the "real" man behind the legend. Probably a lot closer to the truth than what we see in the movies.
Murasake More than 1 year ago
This novel is a rather different look at the life of John Henry "Doc" Holliday, famous (or infamous) friend and ally of the famous (or infamous) Earp brothers. The shootout at the OK Corral is epilogue, not centerpiece. After telling the tale of Holliday's upbringing in Georgia and his education as a dentist on the recommendation of his doctor uncle, who felt that medicine was becoming the realm of quackery while dentistry was becoming ever more scientific, the book focuses on what is presented as his one happy summer as an adult: the summer he met the Earp brothers in Dodge City, Kansas. The new-minted dentist John Henry Holliday begins a promising young practice in Atlanta, but before too long comes to the painful realization that he's suffering from the same consumption (tuberculosis) that killed his mother. His uncle, Doctor Holliday, recommends that he move to the hot, dry southwest, and helps him locate a practice to join in Texas. All is well for a few, brief months--and then the Panic of 1873 happens. The dental practice can barely support its owner, and Holliday is out of a job. He gradually starts to support himself by gambling, and after a few years of sinking deeper and deeper into this life, he meets Kate Haroney, a smart, educated, former minor aristocrat who lost her entire family and position and is now supporting herself as a whore. This is a partnership that will last, off and on, for the next decade, and it's also what brings Doc Holliday to Dodge City, where he meets the Earp brothers. And this is the meat of the story that Russell is telling, the story of the summer when Doc thought consumption might be loosening its grip on him, starts up a dental practice again, and forges a friendship with the Earp brothers, especially Morgan and Wyatt. It's the summer when Morgan and Wyatt get a painful education in politics, and the summer that another figure who will someday be famous, Bat Masterson, is also in Dodge and starting to fabricate the stories that will be the cornerstone of his fame. Russell gets us convincingly inside these heads, especially Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and builds a compelling account of how and why they made the choices that led them to that fateful thirty seconds in the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. We also see the beginning of Bat Masterson's myth-making about them, especially Doc Holliday, and the great distance between reality and myth in the story of Holliday's career as gambler and gunslinger. One of the most touching strands in this story is Holliday's commitment to the positive good that professional dentistry can make in people's lives, freeing them from pain, even while it's clear to him that he'll never support himself with dentistry. In fact, it's his gambling that enables him to support his dentistry. Another, almost equally touching thread is Wyatt's rehabilitation of the horse Dick Naylor. While there are gunfights and brawls in Doc, this is not a story of western gunslinging derring-do. This is a thoughtful and compelling look at some major icons of the American west, before they were famous and when they never expected that a gunfight would become the central event of their lives. Highly recommended. I received a free galley of this book for review from the publisher.