Hooray for used books on the internet!

In my quest for research materials for future Western books, I’ve had great luck locating scarce, rare and hard-to-find books and information at Amazon.com and the individuals and stores selling through that portal.  These are books that simply can’t be had for love or money through local bookstores.  Even many libraries have divested themselves of them, because there simply wasn’t enough demand for them to justify the shelf space they were taking up.  However, for writers and those interested in the period, it’s a gold mine out there.

The latest example arrived this morning, accompanied by a dirty look from the poor Post Office driver who had to lug the (very heavy) box to my front door.  It’s the complete 26-volume set of ‘The Old West‘ from Time-Life Books.  (I’ve ordered the Master Index to the series separately.)  Originally published in the 1970’s, it’s a pretty decent reference source for the period, not just in its text but in the hundreds upon hundreds of authentic photographs that show the reality of life in those days in all its grittiness.  You can’t get that anywhere else, not even on the Internet, without a heck of a lot of searching.  The series concentrated it all into one convenient location, and I paid about $4 per volume!  That’s what I call a real bargain.

The same has applied to books on specific subjects (for example, ‘The Gunfighter – Man or Myth?‘, ‘Language of the Railroader‘, ‘The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900‘, and so on).  Many are available used for only a few cents per volume;  others for a few dollars.  Hugely expensive reference works such as ‘The Value of a Dollar 1860-2014‘ ($155 for a new copy of the current 5th edition) can be had used for less than a third of that sum, and in an older edition (still perfectly usable for my needs) for just two cents!

I notice that many thrift shops all over the country, including branches of national chains such as Goodwill, are now using Amazon.com to advertise their used books. In many cases they’ll offer them for just 1c apiece, trusting in Amazon’s $3.99 standard shipping charge to make a dollar or two on each sale.  Some individuals I know are thinning their libraries in the same way.  Others are using web sites such as Abebooks, Alibris, Bookfinder, etc.  When I can’t find what I want on Amazon.com, I’ll usually find it on one or more of those competitors.

I don’t buy light reading or fiction in this way – I’ve spent a lot of time and effort cutting down my library to a manageable size, and I don’t want it expanding again!  I’ll stick to e-books for light reading.  Nevertheless, when it comes to reference books, this is a great (and very economical) way to gather resources.  I’m having a lot of fun.



  1. I remember the commercials for the Time Life "The Old West" books!

    "Then there was John Wesley Hardin, who once shot a man… just for snoring too loudly!"

  2. Don't overlook the Internet Archive (www.archive.org). Libraries have scanned a lot of their out of copyright books. You can find gems from all eras.

    Not to mention, old yearly compilations of like Scribner's Magazine which has a wide range of articles on different topics. But you have to peruse the TOC yourself.

    Articles such as this one on surveying military small arms in and about 1890. It has a great description of the Martini-Henry rifle used by the English in the Boer War.

    England has lately adopted a small bore-0.303 inch calibre-modified Lee magazine rifle-a Lee with most of the strong points of the mechanism modified out-after making a long series of most amusing steps of development in order to reach the conclusion that this arm was suited to her needs. For some years she has been more than content with her famous 0.45 inch calibre single-loading Martini-Henry rifles and Boxer cartridges-guns almost as bad in principle of breech mechanism as our own Springfilelds, and cartridges even worse than the United States regulation ones- and in her late "wars with peoples who wear not the trousers," her soldiers have gallantly fired on the enemy when they knew full well what a horrible punishment they were to receive from the brutal recoil of their weapons, and have borne their torture with true English grit. An English officer informed the writer that the practice was a great aid to gallantry in battle in South Africa, for "when a fellow has been so brutally pounded by his own rifle half a hundred times, he don't so much mind having an assegai as big as a shovel stuck through him; it s rather a relief, don't you know."


    I also found the descriptions in Gen. Sherman's memoirs to be very vibrant. Prior to the war, he had assignments in Florida and a long period in occupied California during the Mexican-American War. The latter really opens up ones eyes to California before the advent of water management.

  3. I wish I'd known what you were looking for. I've got the Time-Life set and a host of other works about the old west, including several biographies. Bat Masterson… several others, including the log of a trapper written by an individual who read a book about the West and was so disgusted by the inaccuracies he went out and wrote his own. Heavy duty!

  4. As to the shooting exploits of the era, might I suggest Elmer Keith's autobiography, "Hell, I was THERE!"; as a boy
    Keith learned much of his long-range pistol work at the knee of Confederate guerilla veterans, shooting in long-range Turkey shoots with Cap and ball revolvers, much of the "Josey Wales" pattern. And John Bianchi, well-known holster maker, wrote of the leather gear of the time in "Blue Steel and Gun Leather". Hope this may help your reasearches!

  5. I confess to a certain amount of guilt felt over what I inflict on my postal people.
    At least they do their deliveries here in trucks to curb side mail boxes.
    But packages get carried to my door.
    Small, dense, quite heavy packages.
    For I reload, and bulk purchase by mail order is the least expensive way to go.

  6. Just consider it helping the cardio health of your postal employees, Uncle Lar! ��

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