Review: The Modern Cowboy

The Modern Cowboy The Modern Cowboy by John R. Erickson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There's a lot to like about Erickson's book in terms of getting a full and rich sense of the material culture, daily life, and challenges that embody cowboys' life--though as this is a book from 2004, it would be interesting to see how much more has changed since its republication. However, as a book to provide insight into life for modern cowboys working across the North American world, it seems to have a lot of strong knowledge and insight into what life looks like. This makes sense given that Erikson is a self-proclaimed cowboy and had been for many years (though admits he can't carry that title anymore since he owns land--a key difference he spells out between the day-workers and the land-owners). Beyond that, he relies on other nonfictional accounts and research to go beyond his experiences. In looking for a book to explain the world of the cowboy, one could certainly do well with this.

But Erikson can also become tedious in his writing. He seems to never miss a chance to take a hit at "East coast" folks or "city folk". He seems to have decided that they are all form-perfect to the cliche, which is fascinating because so much of his work in his book is to break down the stereotypes and misinformation about cowboys. That is, he wants a reading audience to better know and understand him but has no qualms about disregarding other people's lives routinely or assuming they look down upon him and other cowboys. There are long stretches where this view isn't present but when it comes out, the book loses its readers. It's one thing to want to convey the life and challenges of cowboys in modern America, it's another to want to take needless potshots at people he doesn't know and potential readers. Such disregard for readers comes early in the book when he clearly informs readers that the idea of using "he or she" or "they" when describing work is just silly because he's never met a woman cowboy; therefore, it's pointless to adjust the language accordingly. The reality is more likely that he has encountered women cowboys; it's just they passed well--something that has historically been known to happen throughout all professions. This coded misogyny also seeps into the ways he discusses women in general and what "they want". All this is unfortunate and results in a book that could have been more useful if it had just been better edited.

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