West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express

West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express

The #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of American Sniper brings the Pony Express to life in this rich and rollicking new history

"One can hear horse hooves pounding across the prairie and sense the fear and courage and excitement." —Tom Clavin, author of Dodge City

On the eve of the Civil War, three American businessmen launched an audacious plan to create a financial empire by transforming communications across the hostile territory between the nation’s two coasts. In the process, they created one of the most enduring icons of the American West: the Pony Express. Daring young men with colorful names like “Bronco Charlie” and “Sawed-Off Jim” galloped at speed over a vast and unforgiving landscape, etching an irresistible tale that passed into myth almost instantly. Equally an improbable success and a business disaster, the Pony Express came and went in just eighteen months, but not before uniting and captivating a nation on the brink of being torn apart. Jim DeFelice’s brilliantly entertaining West Like Lightning is the first major history of the Pony Express to put its birth, life, and legacy into the full context of the American story.


The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company—or “Pony Express,” as it came to be known—was part of a plan by William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell to create the next American Express, a transportation and financial juggernaut that already dominated commerce back east. All that stood in their way were almost two thousand miles of uninhabited desert, ice-capped mountains, oceanic plains roamed by Indian tribes, whitewater-choked rivers, and harsh, unsettled wilderness.

The Pony used a relay system of courageous horseback riders to ferry mail halfway across a continent in just ten days. The challenges the riders faced were enormous, yet the Pony Express succeeded, delivering thousands of letters at record speed. The service instantly became the most direct means of communication between the eastern United States and its far western territories, helping to firmly connect them to the Union.


Populated with cast of characters including Abraham Lincoln (news of whose electoral victory the Express delivered to California), Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill Cody (who fed the legend of the Express in his Wild West Show), and Mark Twain (who celebrated the riders in Roughing It), West Like Lightning masterfully traces the development of the Pony Express and follows it from its start in St. Joseph, Missouri—the edge of the civilized world—west to Sacramento, the capital of California, then booming from the gold rush. Jim DeFelice, who traveled the Pony’s route in his research, plumbs the legends, myths, and surprising truth of the service, exploring its lasting relevance today as a symbol of American enterprise, audacity, and daring.

Title:West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express
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About Jim DeFelice

My latest book, CODE NAME: JOHNNY WALKER was hailed by Kirkus Review as a “fiery, insightful memoir from the former Iraqi translator who fought alongside U.S. Special Forces during the recent war in Iraq.” They also “a harrowing personal journey of courageous self-empowerment during wartime.” called it an “invaluable insider’s perspective of Iraq.

    West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express Reviews

  • Joseph Williams

    Listened to the audio. Reader is perfect for this topic.The author offers an expansive history of the Pony Express contextualizing it within its time. There are often many side tangents, but I found t...

  • Jeff

    This new release follows the trail of the Pony Express, an easy (for the reader) and quite fun journey from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California and beyond. DeFelice makes stops at several ...

  • Joyce

    An interesting microhistory of the surprisingly short-lived Pony Express. Although I listened, I don't recommend the audio which had too many mispronunciations, too many proper names and place names m...

  • Kim McGee

    The Pony Express was a doomed idea from the start but some how this hair brained scheme connected the country from St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California in record time. In 1860 it could take si...

  • Matthew

    It is obvious from the beginning of this very well researched and thorough monograph that it is more of a labor of love by DeFelice than it is actually a pure history of the Pony Express. That being s...

  • John

    This highly readable popular history of the legendary Pony Express is a piece-together from many sources, both solid and, as DeFelice admits, dubious. Since the mail service lasted only a little over ...

  • Randall Harrison

    DON'T FORGET TO READ THE SOURCE MATERIAL AT THE END OF THE BOOK!!To me, this story is more an historical survey of the western US around the time of the Pony Express than a complete, thorough telling ...

  • Diana

    I'm really struggling with how to rate this book. I think I was at a disadvantage of listening to the audiobook, as this book's structure did not lend itself well to the audiobook format (though the n...

  • Kath

    This was an interesting book about an 18-month period in US History. Beginning with what was probably the Pony Express' famous dispatch, the election of Abraham Lincoln, DeFelice breaks down the histo...

  • Coral

    A lively read about the Pony Express. It's amazing how something that was so short-lived has become such a romanticized, mythologized presence in American history.This was a very enjoyable read though...