Ann Kirschner’s Favorite Reads

MAR14-BYWLAnn Kirschner, university dean of Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York, is a strong and determined historian who finds inspiration from her subjects—and inspires us with their life stories.

In her first of two biographies, so personal and poignant, Sala’s Gift: My Mother’s Holocaust Story, she chronicled her mother’s incredible tale of survival as a slave for five years in seven Nazi work camps. Her most recent, just re-released in paperback, Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp, is also the story of a strong, determined, young Jewish woman, whose metamorphosis from a merchant’s daughter in San Francisco to entertainer, actress and wife of Wyatt Earp’s, is brought to life through Kirschner’s research and travels in search of Josephine. In doing so, she has set a new standard for biographies of women who helped build the West. Kirschner traveled throughout the country in search of Josephine, as far as the Arctic streets of Nome, Alaska, and the desert banks of the Colorado River of Earp, California. Who will she write about next? Kirschner doesn’t know yet, but she remains inspired by the stories of individuals who are swept up in history and how their lives are changed by events they cannot control. She recommends these five classic novels to inspire our greater understanding of the West, law and justice, the role of women and the individual in society, the struggle of civilization and the frontier, and why the O.K. Corral is still talked about.

1. Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner, Doubleday): Awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Wallace Stegner’s masterpiece weaves a Faulknerian tale of four generations of family, from the frontier West to the present, examining masterfully how marriage—and love—can endure and thrive, or collapse and fail, under the weight of adversity.

2. Gunman’s Rhapsody (Robert B. Parker, Berkley): Grand Master mystery writer Robert B. Parker’s first Western novel tackles one of the great criminal cases in American history, the Earp-Clanton feud and the shoot-out behind the O.K. Corral. Parker’s powerful prose brings the reader right onto the streets of territorial Tombstone.

3. The Spoilers (Rex Beach, Harper & Brothers Publishers): Rex Beach was a best-selling novelist at the turn of the 20th century. His novel about Nome, Alaska, when the Earps were there during the gold rush, put myself into that land, and gave me an essence into Josephine’s character.

4. The Ox-Bow Incident (Walter Van Clark, Random House): Very few novels approach the level of pathos of frontier justice and the failure of vigilantism on the Western frontier than Walter Van Clark’s literary classic.

5. Doc (Mary Doria Russell, Random House): Mary Doria Russell’s well researched novel about Doc Holliday in Dodge City in 1878, and the development of his friendship with Wyatt Earp, evocatively provides the reader with a deep sense of the chaos and challenges of daily life in the early days of the Kansas cattle town.

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