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Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Doc_by_Mary_Doria_Russell Doc by Mary Doria Russell

The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.

Beautifully educated, born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday is given an awful choice at the age of twenty-two: die within months in Atlanta or leave everyone and everything he loves in the hope that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health.

Read more . . .

Young, scared, lonely, and sick, he arrives on the rawest edge of the Texas frontier just as an economic crash wrecks the dreams of a nation. Soon, with few alternatives open to him, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally; he is also living with Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung Hungarian whore with dazzling turquoise eyes, who can quote Latin classics right back at him. Kate makes it her business to find Doc the high-stakes poker games that will support them both in high style. It is Kate who insists that the couple travel to Dodge City, because “that’s where the money is.”And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really begins—before Wyatt Earp is the prototype of the square-jawed, fearless lawman; before Doc Holliday is the quintessential frontier gambler; before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.
Random House; First Edition edition (May 3, 2011)

Book Club Ideas

Invitations and Decorations

Invitations for your books club party can be homemade by using a heavy text paper and making your own cute western shaped template: stars for sheriff badges, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, spurs, horses, or horseshoes. If you don’t want to do-it-yourself, check out these adorable retro party invitations.
Western InvitesDecorate your table with red and white checkered tablecloths, lassos, wild flowers in mason jars, and bandannas. You can even purchase some weathered or antique looking paper and make a batch of wanted posters featuring your guests.
Cowboy Root Beer

Load up on the Western-themed Party decorations and supplies.


The Westerns – Music And Songs From Classic Westerns

Book Club Menu

My Doc book club menu is inspired by Johnny’s funeral wake.

Father Alexander von Angensperg’s invitation to the wake read: On occasion, a good Kentucky bourbon may be considered therapeutic. If you’d rather not drink alone, please join the friends of John Horse Sanders at Demonico’s, 7 P.M. — J. H. Holliday

Father Alexander was impressed by Delmonico’s menu. Kate recommended the Pork Tenderloin, Doc’s favorite, and the Cabbage Strudel. Also, included on the menu were Potato Dumplings and Neapolitan Cake.

Doc Meal

My Neapolitan Cake isn’t quite the type of Neapolitan Cake offered on the 1880’s Delmonico menu; so, if you are looking for a more traditional recipe, check at this scrumptious recipe at

Neapolitan Cake

Serve root beer, sasparilla soda, or lemonade for non-alcoholic refreshment; and brandy and Kentucky bourbon for fire water.

Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.95 stars ( 9,602 ratings)
Amazon: 4.4 stars (540 ratings)
LibraryThing: 4.13 stars (368 ratings)
My Rating: 4.5 stars The mythic Doc Holliday, the Earp brothers, and other Dodge City legends come to life in this Wild West romp. Mary Doria Russell does a fantastic job delving into the complexities of these men and their women. I’m not a huge fan of westerns (I O.D.’d on Louis L’Amour as a kid) but I was very curious about Mary Doria Russell writing a western, which is not her usual genre. I am so glad that curiosity led me to Doc, a meticulously researched, delicious read! I loved it!

Discussion Questions

Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.

1. Doc Holliday spent nearly all of his 36 years struggling with a series of life-threatening medical conditions. How do you think this affected his personality and the ways that others saw him?
2. Young Dr. Holliday arrived in Texas just as the Crash of 1873 wrecked the nation’s economy. What parallels did you see to our own times? Do you know young people whose plans have been similarly derailed by the Great Recession?
3. How did your feelings about Kate Harony change as the novel went on? Was her relationship with Doc dysfunctional, or do you think they were “a comfort and a support” to one another? What about Mattie and Wyatt? Bessie and James? Alice and Bob Wright?
4. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are often portrayed as best friends, but Russell places Morgan Earp at the center of the novel’s relationships. Why do you think that so many movies and books overlook Morgan?
5. John Henry Holliday was a skilled and gentle dentist, an accomplished pianist, a loyal friend, and an educated man who was often generous, and habitually courteous. He was also easily offended, quickly angry, a heavy drinker, a spendthrift, and a sarcastic snob. Do you think you would have disliked him in real life? Read more . . .

6. The novel touches on many legal and moral issues that are still debated today (prostitution, gambling, abortion, drug and alcohol abuse, gun violence, etc.). Did your opinions about regulation, legalization or prohibition of such behaviors become more nuanced as you read?
7. In the South, “a gentleman is judged by the way he treats his inferiors.” Whom did John Henry Holliday consider his inferiors? Do you think that changed when he went West? What’s the difference between courtesy and respect? What role does race play in the novel?
8. Nearly all the women in the novel were prostitutes at some point in their lives. Doc says that’s because “some man failed them.” Do you believe that? What alternatives did women have in the 1870s? When did that begin to change?
9. Everyone in Dodge has come from someplace else. Given the realities of the frontier, would you have gone West, or would you have tried to stay in the East in the 1870s?
10. Margaret Mitchell said that the character Melanie in Gone With The Wind was based on John Henry Holliday’s childhood sweetheart Martha Anne Holliday, who later became the Catholic Sister of Charity, Sister Mary Melanie. She never mentioned Doc directly, but which character(s) do you think might have been based on John Henry Holliday?
(Discussion Questions from )Random House

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The Author

Mary Doria Russell was born in Chicago in 1950. She studied Cultural Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Social Anthropology at Northeastern University/Boston, and Biological Anthropology at the University of Michigan.
Mary Doria Russell has been married to Don Russell since 1970 and they have one son, Dan, born in 1985.
The works of Mary Doria Russell have received innumerable awards and recognition. View Reviews, Awards, Honors at

Other Works by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria RussellThe Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria RussellA Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell Children of God by Mary Doria RussellChildren of God by Mary Doria Russell


Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…

Here is an interesting question posed on Mary Doria Russell’s blog:

Did Doc Holliday really fix Wyatt Earp’s teeth? Find the Mary’s reply on her blog.

John Henry Holliday

Kate Horony

Kate Horony

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for Doc? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.

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