THE WANING OF THE WEST by Stan Steiner, edited by Emily Skretny Drabanski (St. Martin’s Press: $9.95). This collection of essays, interviews and oral histories by the late writer/social historian focuses on the contrast between the myth and reality of the American West. Steiner argues that throughout history, the inhabitants of the West have looked backward rather than forward: “The pioneer tried to associate with a spatial past (the East he had left); the modern Westerner tries to associate with a chronological past (his ancestors, the pioneers). Neither is able to do so completely, but his politics and social views are shaped by that insistence.” After discussing the popular vision of the West as the realm of blue-eyed, straight-shootin’ cowboys, Steiner describes the less glamorous but more interesting people who actually settled western North America, a diverse group that included not only eastern pioneers and Native Americans but also Spanish Jews, black cowboys and Chinese laborers. (Who contributed more to the image of the West than the Jewish dry-goods peddler, Levi Strauss?) An affectionate but stringent re-examination of one of America’s most cherished myths.