BOOKS: DECONSTRUCTING THE DUKE

GARRY WILLS FAILS TO CAPTURE THE ESSENCE OF AN ICON

Why John Wayne? Because he is there. Or, more properly, because he is still there, coming in first or second in polls asking us to identify our favorite movie stars despite the fact that he has been dead 18 years.

In John Wayne's America (Simon & Schuster; 380 pages; $26) Garry Wills imagines that this must tell us something about the soul of postmodern America. And perhaps it does. But by the end of his confused and digressive meditation, this usually mordant cultural historian looks rather like a second heavy in a Wayne western--rubbing his jaw and spitting dust as the...

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