Under the Big Sky


Under the Big Sky

A Biography of A. B. Guthrie Jr.

Jackson J. Benson

336 pages
35 images


May 2009


$29.95 Add to Cart

November 2012


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Author of The Big Sky series, The Way West, and the screenplay for the classic Shane, among many other timeless stories of frontier mountain men, icon of Western literature A. B. “Bud” Guthrie Jr. brought a blazing realism to the story of the West. That realism, which astounded and even shocked some readers, came out of the depth of Guthrie’s historical research and an acuity that had seldom been seen in the work of Western novelists. In Under the Big Sky, the latest in his celebrated series of biographies of Western writers, Jackson J. Benson details the life and work of this true giant on the Western literary landscape.
The small Montana town that figures in several of Guthrie’s books is clearly patterned after the town where he grew up, Choteau, on the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains. Benson illuminates the critical details of Guthrie’s upbringing and education, the influence of his intellectually inclined father, his work as a newspaperman in Kentucky, and his time at Harvard University. Animated by the observations of friends, family, and fellow authors, this intimate account offers rare insight into the life and work of a remarkable writer and into the making of the literary West.

Author Bio

Jackson J. Benson is an emeritus professor of English at San Diego State University. He is the author of several books, including The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer: A Biography; The Ox-Bow Man: A Biography of Walter Van Tilburg Clark; and Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work (available in a Bison Books edition).


"A welcome biography of the Western novelist and environmentalist."—Kirkus Reviews

“In this caring yet objective account of the novelist’s life, Jackson J. Benson uncovers the passions and demons in Guthrie’s life away from the desk, lending the biography meaning for general readers as well as writers.”—Washington Post


"Guthrie was a man of ideas who was quick to question and eager to learn what prompted settlers to step outside the confines of their secure lives. Benson's biography follows Guthrie's own personal quest for transcendence."—ForeWord

“A thorough, well-written, lively, and authoritative account of A. B. Guthrie Jr.’s life.”—Richard W. Etulain, Oregon Historical Quarterly

“One measure of a writer’s biography is the degree to which it expands one’s appreciation of the author’s work and increases the pleasure of reading it. Good biographies should also give readers insight into the people being written about: why they were who they were, why they became who they became. Under the Big Sky succeeds on all counts.”—Bloomsbury Review

"[Under the Big Sky] is a good picture of the man overall, one whose brother Chick described as 'a smart aleck and a wise guy.' But one who gave us all an enduring history of the West through fiction."—Pete Warzel, Montana Quarterly

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations  

1. “By George, I’m Free!”    

2. A Smart Aleck and a Wise Guy    

3. Alone in a Small and Self-Contained City    

4. Marriage, Family, and Separation

5. The First Novel and Plans for the Big One   

6. The Big Break--the Nieman Fellowship  

7. The Big Sky Triumph and Tracking The Way West     

8. To Hollywood and Shane and the Move to Montana    

9. Bucking the Myth: These Thousand Hills

10. Down in the Dumps--Drink and Divorce 

11. Living with Janie and Courting Carol 

12. The Old Man and the Young Woman Wed  

13. Arfive and Speaking to the Young--Earth Day

14. The Twin Lakes Imbroglio and Building the “Barn” 

15. “What Happened to Boone?”

16. Fair Land, Fair Land: The End of the Trail 

17. Afterword: Fishing the Pishkun 

Notes and Documentation


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