The best books about the beauty and power of the American West

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent most of my life in the western United States. Born and raised in northern Idaho, a professorial position attracted me to Tucson, Arizona, the long-time home of Edward Abbey. Cactus Ed said it best: “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders. Remaining silent about the destruction of nature is an endorsement of that destruction.” Upon reading books by Abbey and others writing about the American West, I became a defender of the idea of wilderness.


I wrote...

Killing the Natives: A Retrospective Analysis

By Guy McPherson,

Book cover of Killing the Natives: A Retrospective Analysis

What is my book about?

The goal of this book is to critically evaluate my first book-length work of cultural criticism, which was published on January 1, 2005. Fifteen years is a long time in the scientific world, particularly when Earth is experiencing a Mass Extinction Event, abrupt climate change, and ongoing assaults from the needs and desires of nearly eight billion people. We have added an additional 25 percent to the number of humans when I wrote the original text. Each of these people has needs and desires that place stress on the living planet.

In short, this book addresses what I wrote nearly two decades ago. I do so with a short comment at the end of each chapter, supported by evidence I include within the text.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Walking It Off: A Veteran's Chronicle of War And Wilderness

Guy McPherson Why did I love this book?

Peacock is one of two authors who make me want to put down the book and take a hike. I am an avid reader, and the ability of Peacock to make me put down his book is astonishing. Walking it Off is simultaneously a personal journey in light of the death of his friend Edward Abbey and also a pragmatic guide to hiking in the southwestern United States. This book reveals Peacock and his relationship with Edward Abbey, the desert anarchist.

By Doug Peacock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walking It Off as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When he wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang in 1975, Edward Abbey became the spokesperson for a generation of Americans angered by the unthinking destruction of our natural heritage. Without consultation, Abbey based the central character of eco-guerilla George Washington Hayduke on his friend Doug Peacock. Since then Peacock has become an articulate environmental individualist writing about the West's abundant wildscapes. Abbey and Peacock had an at times stormy, almost father and son relationship that was peacefully resolved in Abbey's last days before his death in 1989. This rich recollection of their relationship and the dry places they explored are recalled…


Book cover of Desert Solitaire

Guy McPherson Why did I love this book?

Abbey is one of two authors who make me want to put down the book and take a hike. I am an avid reader, and the ability of Abbey to make me want to take a hike instead of reading further is impressive. Desert Solitaire, Abbey’s account of serving as a park ranger in Arches National Monument, pays homage to wildlands everywhere. Abbey’s breakout book is a testimonial to his writing and, more importantly, to his critical thinking.

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Desert Solitaire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'My favourite book about the wilderness' Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

In this shimmering masterpiece of American nature writing, Edward Abbey ventures alone into the canyonlands of Moab, Utah, to work as a seasonal ranger for the United States National Park Service.

Living out of a trailer, Abbey captures in rapt, poetic prose the landscape of the desert; a world of terracotta earth, empty skies, arching rock formations, cliffrose, juniper, pinyon pine and sand sage. His summers become spirit quests, taking him in search of wild horses and Ancient Puebloan petroglyphs, up mountains and across tribal lands, and down the…


Book cover of The Journey Home: Some Words in the Defense of the American West

Guy McPherson Why did I love this book?

The Journey Home is a fitting sequel to Desert Solitaire in which Abbey makes a compelling case for saving what remains of the western United States. A long-time “desert rat,” Abbey lives his message of anarchism with a profound sense of humor. My exposure to Abbey’s writings while I was in college contributed to my love of the American West, where I grew up, and also contributed to my desire to pursue anarchism.

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Journey Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Journey Home ranges from the surreal cityscapes of Hoboken and Manhattan to the solitary splendor of the deserts and mountains of the Southwest. It is alive with ranchers, dam builders, kissing bugs, and mountain lions. In a voice edged with chagrin, Edward Abbey offers a portrait of the American West that we'll not soon forget, offering us the observations of a man who left the urban world behind to think about the natural world and the myths buried therein.

Abbey, our foremost "ecological philosopher," has a voice like no other. He can be wildly funny, ferociously acerbic, and unexpectedly…


Book cover of Angle of Repose

Guy McPherson Why did I love this book?

Stegner was one of several writers who influenced Edward Abbey, and therefore Doug Peacock. Published in 1971, Angle of Repose was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1972. The writing is efficient and as beautiful as the region it describes. Stegner’s love of the people and landscape in western North America rings true in this book. Stegner’s impact on Abbey and Peacock is as clear as his writing.

By Wallace Stegner,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Angle of Repose as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The novel tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease, Ward embarks nonetheless on a search to rediscover his grandmother, no long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier.


Book cover of The Blue Hen's Chick: An Autobiography

Guy McPherson Why did I love this book?

Guthie’s autobiography describes the wild, western United States from his perspective as a 64-year-old westerner. Born in 1901, Guthrie provides a compelling account of the rugged beauty of the West. Guthrie’s writing is lucid and compelling. I had read most of his books by the time I turned 30.

By A.B. Guthrie, Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Blue Hen's Chick as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"It was a fine country to grow up in. To find riches, a boy had only to go outside," writes A. B. Guthrie, Jr., aobut his childhood in Montana early in the twentieth century. This autobiography was originally published in 1965 when he was sixty-four and still had miles to go. It recounts lively adventures and reflects on a career that brought fame for The Big Sky (1947) and led to the Pulitzer Prize for The Way West (1949).

In an afterword David Petersen, who edited Big Sky, Fair Land: The Environmental Essays of A. B. Guthrie, Jr. (1988), describes…


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God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

By J.M. Unrue,

Book cover of God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

J.M. Unrue Author Of The Festival of Sin: and other tales of fantasy

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an old guy. I say this with a bit of cheek and a certain amount of incongruity. All the books on my list are old. That’s one area of continuity. Another, and I’ll probably stop at two, is that they all deal with ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances—those curveballs of life we flail at with an unfamiliar bat; the getting stuck on the Interstate behind a semi and some geezer in a golf cap hogging the passing lane in a Buick Le Sabre. No one makes it through this life unscathed. How we cope does more to define us than a thousand smiles when things are rosy. Thus endeth the lesson.

J.M.'s book list on showing that somebody has it worse than you do

What is my book about?

Nine Stories Told Completely in Dialogue is a unique collection of narratives, each unfolding entirely through conversations between its characters. The book opens with "God on a Budget," a tale of a man's surreal nighttime visitation that offers a blend of the mundane and the mystical. In "Doctor in the House," readers are plunged into the emotionally charged moment when an oncologist delivers a life-altering diagnosis to a patient. The collection then shifts to "Prisoner 8086," a story about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a prison volunteer and a habitual offender, exploring themes of redemption and human connection.

The heart of the book continues with "The Reunion," a touching narrative about high school sweethearts reuniting, stirring up poignant memories and unspoken feelings. "The Therapy Session" adds a lighter touch, presenting a serio-comic exchange between a therapist and a challenging patient. In "The Fishing Trip," a father imparts crucial life lessons to his daughter during an eventful outing, leading to unexpected consequences. "Mortality" offers a deeply personal moment as a mother shares a cherished, secret story from her past with her son.

The collection then takes a romantic turn in "The Singles Cruise," where two individuals find connection amidst shared stories on a cruise for singles. Finally, "Jesus and Buddha in the Garden of Eden" provides a satirical, thought-provoking encounter in the afterlife between two spiritual figures. The book concludes with "The Breakup," a nuanced portrayal of a young couple's separation, told from both perspectives, encapsulating the complexities of relationships and the human experience.

God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

By J.M. Unrue,

What is this book about?

Nine Stories Told Completely in Dialogue is a unique collection of narratives, each unfolding entirely through conversations between its characters. The book opens with "God on a Budget," a tale of a man's surreal nighttime visitation that offers a blend of the mundane and the mystical. In "Doctor in the House," readers are plunged into the emotionally charged moment when an oncologist delivers a life-altering diagnosis to a patient. The collection then shifts to "Prisoner 8086," a story about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a prison volunteer and a habitual offender, exploring themes of redemption and human connection.

The…


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