John Wayne Wild West
(Skyhorse Publishing, $19.95)

A two-page photo spread in this handsome volume goes a long way toward explaining this book.

Pages 26 and 27 illustrate that wonderful moment in True Grit when Rooster Cogburn lays Mattie Ross’s huge Colt Dragoon, the gun she inherited from her murdered father, across her shoulder. Mattie tells Cogburn she intends to avenge her father if the law won’t. “Well, this’ll sure get the job done, if you can find a fence post t’ rest it on while you take aim,” he tells her.

The still is part of the gun section of the book, and it accompanies a concise, illustrated explanation of the history of the four-and-a-half pound Dragoon.

What author Bruce Wexler has done is use John Wayne as a springboard into a terrific primer on Western towns, weapons, women, food, horses, equipment and historic events. It works perfectly. Wexler doesn’t have to reach to bring Wayne in because the Duke really got around in his films. Trail drives, cattle drives, classic conflicts, the Indian Wars, the Alamo and the Civil War. As Rooster Cogburn, Wayne fought with the bushwackers in Missouri, and in 1940’s Dark Command, he fought against them. Wayne was a Union officer in 1959’s The Horse Soldiers and an ex-Confederate in 1956’s The Searchers.

Wexler knows his West and his Duke, and neither gets shorted here. What the book really needs is an index, but the quality of the writing, the maps and the color illustrations all make this a first-rate reference and a sheer pleasure to read.

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