The Ride of Her Life: Book summary and reviews of The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts

The Ride of Her Life

The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America

by Elizabeth Letts

The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts X
The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts
Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

The triumphant true story of a woman who rode her horse across America in the 1950s, fulfilling her dying wish to see the Pacific Ocean, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Horse and The Eighty-Dollar Champion.

In 1954, sixty-three-year-old Maine farmer Annie Wilkins embarked on an impossible journey. She had no money and no family, she had just lost her farm, and her doctor had given her only two years to live. But Annie wanted to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. She ignored her doctor's advice to move into the county charity home. Instead, she bought a cast-off brown gelding named Tarzan, donned men's dungarees, and headed south in mid-November, hoping to beat the snow. Annie had little idea what to expect beyond her rural crossroads; she didn't even have a map. But she did have her ex-racehorse, her faithful mutt, and her own unfailing belief that Americans would treat a stranger with kindness.

Annie, Tarzan, and her dog, Depeche Toi, rode straight into a world transformed by the rapid construction of modern highways. Between 1954 and 1956, they pushed through blizzards, forded rivers, climbed mountains, and clung to the narrow shoulder as cars whipped by them at terrifying speeds. Annie rode more than four thousand miles, through America's big cities and small towns. Along the way, she met ordinary people and celebrities—from Andrew Wyeth (who sketched Tarzan) to Art Linkletter and Groucho Marx. She received many offers—a permanent home at a riding stable in New Jersey, a job at a gas station in rural Kentucky, even a marriage proposal from a Wyoming rancher. In a decade when car ownership nearly tripled, when television's influence was expanding fast, when homeowners began locking their doors, Annie and her four-footed companions inspired an outpouring of neighborliness in a rapidly changing world.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Thanks to deeply sourced research and her own travels along Wilkins' route, Letts vividly portrays an audacious woman whose optimism, courage, and good humor are to be marveled at and admired. Upbeat and touching, Wilkins' story is the perfect pandemic escapist read." - Booklist (starred review)

"Letts inspires in this miraculous true story of one woman's trek from Maine to California on horseback...Letts's attention to detail and clear admiration of her 'funny, quirky, and bold' subject light up the narrative and make it hard to put down. This story has it all: bravery, determination, and a whole lot of heart." - Publishers Weekly

"This engaging folk-hero biography, which follows Wilkins throughout her grand adventure, also touches on the cultural history of mid-20th-century America...A heartwarming and nostalgic book to appeal to horse lovers and fans of the author's previous books." - Kirkus Reviews

"This poignant, inspiring story is not just about a woman choosing to live instead of die but also about an America that no longer exists. Annie Wilkins will never leave your heart. Her determination and homespun common sense make her a heroine for the ages. And thanks to this remarkable book, she'll never be forgotten again." - Melanie Benjamin, author of The Children's Blizzard

"Elizabeth Letts once again hits it out of the park with this triumphant tale of Annie Wilkins, 'the last of the saddle tramps.' A love story on so many levels—from the menagerie that was with her every step of the way, to the kindness of strangers who opened their homes to help Annie complete this ride of her life—this book will tear at your heartstrings from beginning to end. I loved it, and so will you!" - Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse

"Annie Wilkins was an American original, and The Ride of Her Life gives her the tribute she deserves. Elizabeth Letts has created an indelible account of hope, loyalty, generosity, and sheer grit—and the power of a woman doing something just because she wants to do it." - Matthew Goodman, author of Eighty Days

This information about The Ride of Her Life was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Betty Taylor

Stole My Heart
This book is officially one of my all-time favorites. While it is nonfiction, it reads like a novel. Letts did extensive research, and it shows. I cannot say enough good things about this book.

In 1954, Annie Wilkins, 63-years old, was about to lose her home in Minot, Maine since she could not pay the back taxes. No money, no family, and her medical condition was such that she had been told she only had two years to live. So, she bought an older horse, loaded her belongings onto it and set out for California with her dog. She wanted to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. At that time there were no printed maps so she could plot her entire trip, so she took it state by state, not always taking the shortest route. She pushed through blizzards, flash floods, desert heat. As the modern interstate highways were just beginning to be built, the three travelers often had to share the road with speeding cars and trucks. There were times I was not sure she would make it to her destination.

The best part of the book for me was the relationship between her four-legged traveling companions: her little dog Depeche Toi, her horse Tarzan, and later the addition of Rex, a Tennessee walker. Their personalities were as well developed as the human characters in most books. I loved them!

I learned quite a bit of history along her journey: the origin of our interstate highway system, the early days of medical insurance (used as an incentive to get workers), the birth of the TV Western, the two great migrations to the West, how local jails were receptive to allowing travelers to spend the night in a cell, and Art Linkletter’s connection to Annie. Some may find that boring, but it is written in such a way that it flowed easily with the story.

Annie could not have made the journey without the kindness of strangers along the way. People allowed her to stay in their homes, bedded her animals, gave her food and medical help. I have to admit to feeling a bit nostalgic for an innocent America that no longer exists. She became a celebrity and was interviewed by the media all along her route. She took on the distinction of being the “last saddle tramp.” Annie truly had the wanderlust. Annie kept diaries along the way and the letters she received. These documents were used in the author’s research.

Overall, this book stole my heart. If you love adventure or love sweet animals, you should read this book.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Elizabeth Letts Author Biography

Photo: Nora Alalou

Elizabeth Letts was born in Southern California where she spent all of her time on the back of a horse when she wasn't reading a book. She graduated from Yale with a major in history and then joined the Peace Corps. After her Peace Corps service, she studied at the Yale School of Nursing where she trained as a certified nurse-midwife. She began publishing books while working and raising four children. Her books have been Indie Next, Library Reads and Junior Library Guild selections, and a Goodreads Reader's Choice Finalist. She's been honored with the 2017 PEN USA Award for Research Non-Fiction, the Daniel P Lenehan Award for Media Excellence from the United States Equestrian Foundation, and her books have reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller lists. She lives in southern California ...

... Full Biography
Link to Elizabeth Letts's Website

Other books by Elizabeth Letts at BookBrowse
  • Finding Dorothy jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more biography/memoir...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.25 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: We Had to Remove This Post
    We Had to Remove This Post
    by Hanna Bervoets
    It's not about money. Kayleigh, the protagonist and narrator of We Had to Remove This Post, a newly ...
  • Book Jacket: River of the Gods
    River of the Gods
    by Candice Millard
    The Nile River has provided vital resources for millennia, serving as a source of water, food and ...
  • Book Jacket: Horse
    Horse
    by Geraldine Brooks
    Geraldine Brooks creates a powerful backstory for 19th-century thoroughbred racehorse Lexington, ...
  • Book Jacket: Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance
    Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance
    by Alison Espach
    Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance will make you ache for a loss you didn't experience as you relate...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Hamnet
by Maggie O'Farrell
"Of all the stories...about Shakespeare’s life, [Hamnet] is so gorgeously written that it transports you."
The Boston Globe

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden
    by Zhuqing Li

    A beautifully woven family memoir that coalesces into a vivid history of two very different Chinas.

  • Book Jacket

    Jackie & Me
    by Louis Bayard

    Master storyteller Louis Bayard delivers a surprising portrait of a young Jackie Kennedy as we've never seen her before.

Win This Book!
Win Where the Crawdads Sing

Win a signed copy of Where the Crawdads Sing

In celebration of the movie release on July 15, we have three signed copies to give away.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T O Thing W H T F I F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.