Reviews for Orphans Preferred

"Deconstructing folklore and unearthing new facts, Christopher Corbett has written a first-rate narrative history about the famed Pony Express riders. Orphans Preferred is one of those rare books that sets the record straight. And it's a marvelous read to boot."

-Douglas Brinkley, author of Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress

"If MBAs existed in 1860, they'd have advised Russell, Majors & Waddell that their business plan for a cross-continental courier service was a loser. But the firm's folly was the Old West's gain, creating one of its most myth encrusted mirages--the fabled Pony Express. In his rollicking account of the Express, Corbett wryly picks his way through the embellishments that surround its short year-and-a-half existence . . . He ambles through the afterlife of the Pony Express as entertainment, accumulating a gallery of newspaper hacks, cheap novelists, showman Buffalo Bill, filmmakers, and local history antiquarians who peddled truths and fabrications about it. . . Buffs of the West will virtually gallop to the checkout line."


"It is the mythmaking as much as the Pony Express itself that is Christopher Corbett's subject in his entertaining and informative Orphans Preferred. The book is not so much a history as it is an effort to peel away the layers of fabrication that obscure the real Pony Express and to distinguish the liars and fabulists from the mere embroiderers."

-The Baltimore Sun

"The legend overwhelmed the facts long ago, and journalist Christopher Corbett maintains a healthy respect for both in Orphans Preferred, his history of what one contemporaneous newspaper dubbed "the greatest enterprise of modern times." Though he puts such hyperbole aside, Corbett keeps a healthy awe for the Pony, never selling short the accomplishment of traveling all those miles across so much unforgiving terrain, but also winnowing out the more fabulous accounts to reconstruct the workings of the business, as well as the world in which it operated. . . . Throughout, Corbett remains a witty guide."

-The Onion

"We're talking Pony Express riders here, carrying high-priority mail in relays at top speed. . . . Corbett fishes fact from myth to tell their history. It's colorful and fun."

-National Geographic Adventure

"Veteran journalist Christopher Corbett examines this early experiment in cross-continental transportation, drawing distinctions between fact and fable and profiling the larger-than-life personalities who created and later perpetuated celebrated pop culture imagery surrounding "The Pony." Readers of American history in search of a fresh and unorthodox perspective should prove a natural audience for Orphans Preferred. "


"The old Pony Express is still with us. Every time you drive on Interstate 80 or ride an Amtrak train nearby on the Union Pacific line, you are traversing long stretches of it. All follow the first direct route to California. You can look out the window and imagine a swift horseman making dust for the horizon. Christopher Corbett's fine book makes that imagining easy."

-The Washington Times

"Thousands of Americans are participants in all sorts of extreme sports, from BASE jumping to para-skiing. While riding for the Pony Express wasn't exactly a sport, it certainly was extreme. A new book on the subject gives a fascinating account of one of America's most enduring eras."

Publisher's Weekly

"Orphans Preferred is a wide-ranging history cobbled together from known facts and conjecture, always written in energetic prose."

-Baltimore City Paper

"The story of the Pony Express is a whale of a Wild West tale, a peerless example of the place where a blend of truth and myth created heroic legacies. Despite its iconic status in American folklore, the truth about the Pony Express has been largely supplanted by fiction, transforming an unsuccessful and short-lived business venture into a legend. The fascination with the Pony Express revolves around the men who made it happen. Pony Express riders endured great hardships and braved danger, especially those who rode long distances through hostile territory during the Indian Wars. But the story of the Express is as much the story of the three men who founded it, and the drunkards and ruffians who manned the many stations between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Mark Twain, Buffalo Bill Cody, Kit Carson, and a host of other vividly drawn characters from the past also populate the chapters of Corbett's absorbing history. Separating fact from fiction, Orphans Preferred sheds new light on the courage and capitalist bluster that characterized this outsized scheme that, while doomed, has helped shape the mythos of the early American West."

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