Thanks to dime store novels and Hollywood movies, the cowboy life has become a bloated myth that continues to endure. Even a stand-up president like Theodore Roosevelt, who spent two years bronco-busting in the American West, offered tales to the public so spellbinding they make Ronald Reagan’s imagined howlers look small fry by comparison. So how to puncture the iconography and tell it the way it was? B.A. Payton’s Cowboy: The Legend and the Legacy ($26.95 cloth 1-55054-544-2, 105 pp., Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre), with photos by Gary Fiegehen and design by Jim Skipp, is an excellent start, at once concise, comprehensive, and compelling. Payton outlines our fascination with cowboy lore and frontier mythology, padding the text with poem and song, before providing a strong primary history and fully fleshed portrayals of real working men. Even better are the book’s bountiful and bold illustrations, featuring archival black-and-white photographs, Fiegehen’s contemporary colour shots, and a glorious assortment of images featuring the wonderful embellishments of those dime store novels and Hollywood movies.