Riding the Rough String: Reflections on the American West, by Toby Thompson

Riding the Rough String: Reflections on the American West
From one of the most highly-regarded journalists in America comes this unique series of profiles, meditations, essays, and explorations. For more than fifty years, Toby Thompson has been considering what it means to live and work in the West. Starting from a foundation of literary portraiture in which he profiles some of the most engaging writers in America—Gretel Ehrlich to Thomas McGuane, William Kittredge to Hunter S. Thompson, Tim Cahill to Gary Snyder—his wide-ranging curiosity embraces subjects as diverse as the history of the famous barroom lithograph, Custer’s Last Fight, the deeper meaning of Montana pickup trucks, wild nights of Livingston, Montana, in the 1970s, and the making of the film A River Runs Through It.

For anyone interested in the literature and culture of the American West, Riding the Rough String is an essential publishing event.

Book Information

Dimensions: 6 x 9
Price: $19.95
Release Date: July 15, 2012


Author Toby ThompsonThe West had suffered businessmen grudgingly, from its earliest trappers, who systematically depleted wildlife, to miners who created boomtowns while wrecking the countryside, to cattlemen who fenced with barbed wire or crisscrossed with railroads that land which had provided graze for migrational herbivores and hunting ground for nomadic tribes for eons. Tourism had been big business since Theodore Roosevelt opened Yellowstone Park as America’s first western playground in 1903; but until recently one could not say the Northern Rockies had been threatened by art…The art which threatened Big Sky most thoroughly was the theatricality of style. Everyone, stepping back, sought a revamped ethos. For most, commitment skated the surface. But ice was thin. No one wanted Paradise Valley desecrated to another Aspen. Hip attracted unhip (the falsely committed), and unhip encouraged speculation. Business had done its best to unhinge the West, cowboys were both first and last perpetrators.

About Toby Thompson

Toby Thompson is the author of three previous books: Positively Main Street: Bob Dylan’s Minnesota, Saloon and The ‘60s Report. He has written for publications as diverse as Vanity Fair, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Gray’s Sporting Journal, GQ, Men’s Journal, Sports Afield, Playboy, Outside, Big Sky Journal, Western Art & Architecture, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many others. He teaches creative nonfiction in the MFA program at Penn State. He lives in Livingston, Montana and Cabin John, Maryland.


“Toby Thompson is a writer and journalist of the old school, a standup guy who knows music and literature and walks the walk and understands the human heart. I’m honored to be included in his work.”
­— James Lee Burke

“The mountains and rivers, the high plains and the good Montana people (and the funny and the not so good or funny)—the dead-on info, the stories, that’s the main thing, the stories)—Toby Thompson has it right. Riding the Rough String is a fine sport and an all-day pleasure.”
­— William Kittredge, Author of Hole in the Sky

“Toby Thompson knows Montana’s bars, books, bridges, and backcountry. I’ll read anything he writes.”
­— Tim Cahill, Author of Hold the Enlightenment

“Like the rest of the gang, Toby Thompson played it smart and went west. His sharp eye and interviewer’s ear caught every nuance. Riding the Rough String sets it all down with verve and assurance.”
­— William Hjortsberg, Author of Jubilee Hitchhiker