The best books on the history of the American West

Who am I?

Born and raised in Ohio, the “First West,” I was trained by top historians of the American West at the University of Toledo where I received my doctorate in American History. I’ve worked as a university and research fellow, a writer in the business world, and a professor of history and department chair at Lourdes University. I left my teaching and administrative career to become a full-time writer. Along with Unlikely General, my recent books have included The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Indians and Interrupted Odyssey: Ulysses S. Grant and the American Indians. Currently, I’m writing a dual biography of William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh.


I wrote...

Unlikely General: Mad Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America

By Mary Stockwell,

Book cover of Unlikely General: Mad Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America

What is my book about?

What made Anthony Wayne an “unlikely general”? He was not President Washington’s first choice to lead an army against the Ohio tribes in 1792. A womanizer, drinker, and spend-thrift, he had just been removed from Congress for voter fraud. Even worse, he had suffered a physical and mental breakdown fighting in Georgia during the Revolution’s final year. But no general was more dedicated to his country or to Washington than Wayne.

Unlikely General follows America’s most scandalous general from the moment Washington appointed him as the army’s commander to his victory over the Indians at Fallen Timbers. The book also describes Wayne’s life through flashbacks that reveal how he gave up his youth, his family and friends, his health and fortune to defend a people who, having forgotten everything he had done for them, remembered him only for his nickname: “Mad Anthony.”

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The European Discovery of America: Volume 1: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600

Mary Stockwell Why did I love this book?

Even before the New World was discovered, people dreamt of a legendary place west of the Atlantic. In his beautiful book, The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages, Samuel Eliot Morison tells the story of the many adventurers from Western Europe, starting with Saint Brendan and ending with Sir Walter Raleigh, who risked everything to find this place. Morison did this not just by studying every primary source he could find on these men, but by sailing his own boat or flying in a small airplane over the same routes they took. To this day, I can’t hear names of explorers like Leif Ericson, Jacques Cartier, or Martin Frobisher without wondering, “How could they have been brave enough to climb into their tiny ships and launch into the unknown?”

By Samuel Eliot Morison,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The European Discovery of America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The late Samuel Eliot Morison, a former U.S. Navy admiral, was also one of America's premier historians. Combining a first-hand knowledge of the sea and transatlantic travel with a brilliantly readable narrative style, he produced what has become nothing less than the definitive account of the great age of European exploration. In his riveting and richly illustrated saga, Morison offers a comprehensive account of all the known voyages by Europeans to the New World
from 500 A.D. to the seventeenth century. Together, the two volumes of The European Discovery of America tell the compelling stories of the many intrepid explorers…


Book cover of Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier

Mary Stockwell Why did I love this book?

In Westward Expansion, Ray Allen Billington takes up the story of the American West where Morison left off. This is a sweeping narrative with Billington acting as a travel guide across the successively moving frontiers beyond the Atlantic Coast. He leads us to the crest of the Appalachians, and then over Ohio and down to Tennessee toward the Mississippi. Next, we race to the Pacific and then come back over the Rockies before finally heading onto the Great Plains west of the Mississippi. Yet Westward Expansion is more than a travelogue. In its pages, we travel with everyone who ever lived on these many frontiers: farmers, workers, soldiers, Indians, immigrants, townspeople. The list goes on and on. It’s America’s story with every triumph and tragedy bound up in constant motion. 

By Ray Allen Billington, Martin Ridge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Westward Expansion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When it appeared in 1949, the first edition of Ray Allen Billington's 'Westward Expansion' set a new standard for scholarship in western American history, and the book's reputation among historians, scholars, and students grew through four subsequent editions. This abridgment and revision of Billington and Martin Ridge's fifth edition, with a new introduction and additional scholarship by Ridge, as well as an updated bibliography, focuses on the Trans-Mississippi frontier. Although the text sets out the remarkable story of the American frontier, which became, almost from the beginning, an archetypal narrative of the new American nation's successful expansion, the authors do…


Book cover of The Frontiersmen

Mary Stockwell Why did I love this book?

The best history books have a “you are there” quality, meaning you feel like you are actually living side by side with the people in the past. No one does this better than Allan Eckert, especially in The Frontiersmen, a tale of the battle for the Ohio Country, known as America’s “First West.” In this monumental work, Eckert combines the best research methods of a historian with the best writing techniques of a novelist. The result is a vivid account of the struggle between American frontiersmen, like Simon Kenton, and Indian warriors, like Tecumseh, to win Ohio for their people. This is no abstract fight, but is instead a life and death struggle between flesh and blood heroes. Everybody I have ever met who has read this book loves it!

By Allan W. Eckert,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Frontiersmen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The frontiersmen were a remarkable breed of men. They were often rough and illiterate, sometimes brutal and vicious, often seeking an escape in the wilderness of mid-America from crimes committed back east. In the beautiful but deadly country which would one day come to be known as West Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, more often than not they left their bones to bleach beside forest paths or on the banks of the Ohio River, victims of Indians who claimed the vast virgin territory and strove to turn back the growing tide of whites. These frontiersmen are the subjects…


Book cover of The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance

Mary Stockwell Why did I love this book?

Historians have written moving accounts of the discovery and settlement of the American West, but Alvin Josephy in The Patriot Chiefs tells the same story from the “other side,” meaning from the point of view of the many Indian chiefs who tried to stop the advance of first, the American colonies, and then, the American nation. One by one, their lives and their struggles light up before the reader. Although I read the book years ago, Josephy’s vivid portraits of Hiawatha, King Philip, Popé, Pontiac, Tecumseh, Osceola, Black Hawk, Crazy Horse, and Chief Joseph stay alive in my imagination to this very day. Their stories, like those of every daring explorer and hardy pioneer who made their way west, must be remembered as part of the great story of America.

By Alvin M. Josephy Jr.,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A valuable chronicle of the greatness and majesty of the Indian chiefs."-Christian Science Monitor

Told through the life stories of nine Indian chiefs, this narrative depicts the American Indian effort to preserve a heritage and resist the changes brought by the white man. Hiawatha, King Philip, Pope, Pontiac, Tecumseh, Osceola, Black Hawk, Crazy Horse, and Chief Joseph each represent different tribal backgrounds, different times and places, and different aspects of Indian leadership. Soldiers, philosophers, orators, and statesmen, these leaders were the patriots of their people. Their heroic and tragic stories comprise an integral part of American history.

"Josephy tells his…


Book cover of The Grapes of Wrath

Mary Stockwell Why did I love this book?

John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, is the story of the American West once the excitement of discovery and settlement finally ended. It is a tale of the damage done to the Great Plains, the last frontier, as told through the eyes of the Joads, an Oklahoma farm family forced west to California during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. This book is so memorable because it’s not one story but three. The first describes the beauty of the Great Plains; the second describes the political and economic decisions that harmed the Great Plains; and the third describes the struggle of the Joads who are caught in the middle of the destruction. The book reminds me how precious the land is, and how we must work together to protect it.

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Grapes of Wrath as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags, I don't want him satisfied.'

Shocking and controversial when it was first published, The Grapes of Wrath is Steinbeck's Pultizer Prize-winning epic of the Joad family, forced to travel west from Dust Bowl era Oklahoma in search of the promised land of California. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and powerlessness, yet out of their struggle Steinbeck created a drama that is both intensely human and majestic in its scale and moral vision.


You might also like...

Aggressor

By F.X. Holden,

Book cover of Aggressor

F.X. Holden

New book alert!

What is my book about?

It is April 1st, 2038. Day 60 of China's blockade of the rebel island of Taiwan. The US government has agreed to provide Taiwan with a weapons system so advanced, it can disrupt the balance of power in the region. But what pilot would be crazy enough to run the Chinese blockade to deliver it?

Aggressor is the first novel in a gripping action series about a future war in the Pacific, seen through the eyes of soldiers, sailors, civilians, and aviators on all sides. Featuring technologies that are on the drawing board today and could be fielded in the near future, Aggressor is the page-turning military technothriller you have been waiting for!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the American West, American Indians, and explorers?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the American West, American Indians, and explorers.

The American West Explore 121 books about the American West
American Indians Explore 213 books about American Indians
Explorers Explore 92 books about explorers