Here in the United States we may not have looming cathedrals and giant pyramids, but we do have the incredible lore of the Wild West and its people.
In her book “Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait,” Karen Holliday Tanner examines one of the larger-than-life figures of the West, John Henry Holliday, better known as “Doc.” Being a distant cousin of Holliday’s, Tanner was given access to family documents and memories that previous biographers and historians were unable to utilize. The result is an interesting, albeit light, account of the life and death of one of the most well-known figures in Western lore.
For those who know little about Doc Holliday except that he fought at the O.K. Corral, this book is a good place to learn more about him. Tanner’s writing is elementary, but this makes for a quick read and does not distract from the story. The use of family memorabilia and pictures, including diary entries, make the entire story seem more genuine.
Best of all, the book has a great amount of trivia. For example, did you know Holliday had a birth defect? And did you know that Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind,” was distantly related to the Holliday family? Unless you are a Western history buff, this is probably news to you, and there’s a lot more where that came from.
However, if you are a history buff, I have a feeling this book may disappoint you. It seems that Tanner, perhaps out of family loyalty, may have gone a little easy on Holliday. Yes, he may have been formally charged for murder only once, but he was undoubtedly involved in the deaths of many men. He was a very sick man, but he did travel across the West with the Earp faction intent on revenge.
Tanner wants her readers to believe that Holliday’s motivation, a combination of loyalty and revenge, excuses most of his actions. I think other historians and the family members of the dead men might see otherwise.
Regardless of these problems, “Doc Holliday” makes for a great read. Almost 200 pages of notes and bibliography allow readers the opportunity to check some of the information for themselves. If read critically, while remembering that a family member wrote the book, it should delight the reader. Learning that Holliday was operated on by Crawford Williamson Long, M.D., the “Father of Ether,” is a great treat.
“Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait” is published by University of Oklahoma Press, and the paperback edition can be purchased for $14.95 online and at book stores everywhere.