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JOHN WAYNE’S AMERICA: THE POLITICS OF CELEBRITY, by Garry Wills, Simon & Schuster, 380 pages, $26.

Wills, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lincoln at Gettysburg, explains why 18 years after John Wayne’s death, the actor remains one of America’s most beloved movie stars. With the aid of documentary and film archives, the private papers of Wayne’s film directors, photographs, newspaper clippings, and interviews with costars, the book offers insight into the life of the actor born Marion Morrison, who, although he disliked horses and “had to remind himself to say ‘ain’t,’ ” changed his name, took up riding, and exchanged his suits and ties for buckskin and moccasins. The author explores Wayne’s larger-than-life persona; the screen roles in which he so convincingly portrayed the model of the American soldier that he received a gold medal from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, despite never having served in the military; and the devotion of his fans, who felt that Wayne stood for an America that was fast disappearing.