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We Underestimate How Entrepreneurial the Americans Were in the 1800s



(p. C6) Jim DeFelice's "West Like Lightning," a history of the Pony Express, begins with an anxious young rider waiting to take the news to California that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president. The delivery service lasted only about 18 months, but its revolutionary speed left an indelible mark on the country. Many, including Mark Twain, marveled at riders' courage and the spectacle of their switching horses every 10 miles or so for a fresh burst of speed.


. . .


In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Historians, God bless them, they do a lot of debunking of legends. They can sometimes come off as schoolmarms. The reality is, those legends are fun. They're the exciting part. I separate fact and fiction, but I love those stories -- and underneath them, there's a much deeper truth. There's a reason we value these 19- and 20-year-old kids pushing themselves against the elements.

I knew there would be some debunking involved. What I didn't know was how true a lot of those stories turned out to be. If I were a Pony Express rider, I'd be bragging about how fast I made it. These guys didn't brag about that -- they bragged about how far they went. They were bragging about endurance and dealing with the elements. That impressed me, the resilience.

I also think sometimes we underestimate -- and I'm guilty of this -- just how entrepreneurial and into technology people were in the past. We think we're cool because we can fly somewhere and be there tomorrow. But for these guys, 10 days was huge. If you gave them something in downtown New York, it would be in San Francisco two weeks later. At the time, that would be like going from dial-up to the fastest speeds we have today.



For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer, " Making Good Time and Even Better Tales." The New York Times (Monday, May 21, 2018): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 20, 2018, and has the title "Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: Making Good Time With the Pony Express." The first paragraph and the bold question are John Williams. The paragraphs following the bold question, are Jim DeFelice's answer.)


The book discussed in the interview quoted above, is:

DeFelice, Jim. West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. New York: William Morrow, 2018.






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