The best books about the Ozarks

Brooks Blevins Author Of A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: The Old Ozarks
By Brooks Blevins

Who am I?

I can’t say that I was even conscious of having grown up in the Ozarks until stumbling upon a regional geography book in college. Once I learned that the rural community of my childhood was part of a hill country stretching from the outskirts of St. Louis into the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, I dedicated my life’s work to explaining (and demystifying) the Ozarkers – a people not quite southern, not quite midwestern, and not quite western.

I wrote...

A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: The Old Ozarks

By Brooks Blevins,

Book cover of A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: The Old Ozarks

What is my book about?

The Ozarks reflect the epic of the American people—natives and would-be colonial conquerors, the determined settlers and on-the-make speculators, the endless labors of hardscrabble farmers, and capitalism of visionary entrepreneurs. The Old Ozarks is the first volume of a monumental three-part history of the region. 

Brooks Blevins charts how these highlands of granite, dolomite, and limestone came to exist. From there he turns to the motivations behind the eagerness of many peoples to possess the Ozarks. Blevins places these settlers within the context of broader American history. But he also tells the varied and colorful human stories that fill the region's storied past—and contribute to the powerful myths that even today distort our views of the Ozarks. A sweeping history in the grand tradition, A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1: The Old Ozarks is essential reading for anyone who cares about the highland heart of America.

The books I picked & why

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The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks

By Donald Harington,

Book cover of The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks

Why this book?

It may be pure fiction, but Harington’s saga of the remote community of Stay More (home, of course, to the Stay Morons) is still the best, most entertaining history of the Ozarks in existence. Beneath the postmodern devices and 1970s-era subversiveness, Harington’s abiding love for the Ozarks and its people shines through. From the backcountry dialect to the intricacies of a century and a half of regional history, it remains – for my money – the best thing ever written about the Ozarks.

Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks: Schoolcraft's Ozark Journal, 1818-1819

By H. Schoolcraft,

Book cover of Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks: Schoolcraft's Ozark Journal, 1818-1819

Why this book?

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft may have been a condescending, greenhorn Easterner when he ventured through the sparsely settled Ozarks more than two centuries ago, but his descriptions of the terrain he traversed and the frontier settlements he saw are an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the history and geography of the region. Cultural geographer Milt Rafferty’s maps and annotations put us in the woods and on the streams with Schoolcraft every step of the way. 

The Upland South: The Making of an American Folk Region

By Terry G. Jordan-Bychkov,

Book cover of The Upland South: The Making of an American Folk Region

Why this book?

If you want to understand the Ozarks, you need to understand the generations of people who leapfrogged from Appalachia to the Ozarks – and sometimes on to the Texas hill country. This underappreciated little book by a top-notch geographer uses a variety of cultural markers to explore the roots and branches of Upland Southerners. It’s a rare thing for a scholar to do, and Jordan-Bychkov did it efficiently and expertly.

Give Us a Kiss

By Daniel Woodrell,

Book cover of Give Us a Kiss

Why this book?

Woodrell is best known for the ominous, lyrical Winter’s Bone, but I’m such a fan that my favorite Woodrell novel is always the most recent one I’ve re-read. So here’s Give Us a Kiss, his first foray into the wild and rural Ozarks of West Table and Howl County. The novel is also a hard-charging, nuanced look into the life of a mostly unsuccessful writer facing an inner struggle over just how far, if at all, he should get above his raising. It’s a concern for anyone caught between different worlds, and we are fortunate that the autobiographical sinews between author and protagonist were severed before Doyle Redmond spun out of control.

The Ozarks: An American Survival of Primitive Society

By Vance Randolph,

Book cover of The Ozarks: An American Survival of Primitive Society

Why this book?

It is doubtful that anyone has been more associated with an American region than Vance Randolph is with the Ozarks. Ornery and darkly romantic, Randolph was always attracted to people on the margins. Few were more marginal than the Ozarkers in the early twentieth century. While we must take a lot of Randolph’s “nonfiction” with a dose of salt, The Ozarks, originally published in 1931, was the first book-length documentary take on the region and its people. It set the stage for generations of Ozarks observations to come. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Ozarks, Missouri, and Arkansas?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Ozarks, Missouri, and Arkansas.

The Ozarks Explore 12 books about the Ozarks
Missouri Explore 23 books about Missouri
Arkansas Explore 15 books about Arkansas

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like With, The Death of Sweet Mister, and Where the Red Fern Grows if you like this list.