The best books about why the ever-evolving American West was, is, and always will be the “Wild West”

Laurie Marr Wasmund Author Of My Heart Lies Here
By Laurie Marr Wasmund

Who am I?

Raised in the American West, I have watched the explosive growth in Colorado with dismay. In my lifetime, metro Denver has grown from a population of about 500,000 people to more than 5.5 million. The Colorado of large ranches and wide, open spaces is disappearing. I have named my publishing company “lost ranch books,” in honor of the ranch where I grew up, which was sold and developed with cookie-cutter houses. I’ve now set out to recapture historic Colorado by writing about it. My award-winning books center on Colorado’s and the American West’s history, for not only is it fascinating and, often, troubling, but it still resonates today.


I wrote...

My Heart Lies Here

By Laurie Marr Wasmund,

Book cover of My Heart Lies Here

What is my book about?

In 1913, the United Mine Workers of America led a strike against John D. Rockefeller that would end in war. In this novel of the Ludlow Massacre, Christian Scott is torn between her dedication to her brother, Alex, who clings to his Scottish heritage, and her love for Pearl, an orphan whose flight from abuse and poverty lands her on the Scotts' doorstep. At the same time, Christian secretly joins with a passionate Greek man on a dangerous course of resistance against the coal company and the brutal Colorado National Guard that threatens to destroy everythingand everyone—she loves.

The books I picked & why

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Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre

By Zeese Papanikolas,

Book cover of Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre

Why this book?

The Ludlow Massacre in Trinidad, Colorado in 1914 is a shameful event in Colorado, U.S., and labor history. Zeese Papanikolas has created a portrait of the United Mine Workers of America’s battle for labor rights in the southern coalfields. Drawn from interviews and letters of survivors and witnesses, he captures the Greek immigrant experience in the United States. He also relates the story of the charismatic Greek organizer of the UMWA, Louis Tikas, who became a martyr in the battle for the union. Buried Unsung inspired me so much that I used it as a reference for my novel, in which I explore the bitterness of the strike and the tragedy of those whose lives were forever altered by the greed and cruelty of those in power.

Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre

By Zeese Papanikolas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Louis Tikas was a union organizer killed in the battle between striking coal miners and state militia in Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914. In Buried Unsung he stands for a whole generation of immigrant workers who, in the years before World War I, found themselves caught between the realities of industrial America and their aspirations for a better life.

Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad

By David Haward Bain,

Book cover of Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad

Why this book?

This is a big book, more than 700 pages, but it is worth every word. Bain focuses not on the workers who built the railroads, but the machinations, corruption, and political hijinks of those who dreamed up, financed, and managed the companies of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific. It’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys—or even if there are any good guys. Bain manages to make the multiple historical figures in his book memorable and easily identifiable, which not all historians achieve. He also infuses his telling with a sly humor that catches the reader off-guard and, at times, made me laugh aloud.

Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad

By David Haward Bain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

After the Civil War, the building of the transcontinental railroad was the nineteenth century's most transformative event. Beginning in 1842 with a visionary's dream to span the continent with twin bands of iron, Empire Express captures three dramatic decades in which the United States effectively doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national identity. From self--made entrepreneurs such as the Union Pacific's Thomas Durant and era--defining figures such as President Lincoln to the thousands of laborers whose backbreaking work made the railroad possible, this extraordinary narrative summons an astonishing array of voices to give new…

Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917

By Michael Punke,

Book cover of Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917

Why this book?

Punke’s book chronicles a story of heroism and company greed that isn’t that far in the past of America’s labor battles. It tells of a fire that spread through the underground tunnels of the copper mines belonging to J.D. Rockefeller’s Anaconda company and others. The book centers on the men trapped underground who exhaust every possible option in a dire bid to survive, including some ingenious methods and some which hasten their demise. Punke touches as well on political, labor, and business wranglings that put the workers at risk. He also follows Butte’s history to present day, demonstrating that the Montana city has never quite recovered from its past as a copper city.

Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917

By Michael Punke,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Revenant -- basis for the award-winning motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio -- tells the remarkable story of the worst hard-rock mining disaster in American history.

A half-hour before midnight on June 8, 1917, a fire broke out in the North Butte Mining Company's Granite Mountain shaft. Sparked more than two thousand feet below ground, the fire spewed flames, smoke, and poisonous gas through a labyrinth of underground tunnels. Within an hour, more than four hundred men would be locked in a battle to survive. Within three days, one hundred and…

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

By Marc Reisner,

Book cover of Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Why this book?

Water, water everywhere—but not in the American West. I first read Reisner’s book soon after its publication in 1986, when it presented a haunting, frightening future for the western United States that is being realized today. The book reveals the inadequacy of the management of water in the western states that began as soon as there was settlement, and it takes an especially hard look at the treaties surrounding the Colorado River, which has all but disappeared in the past few years, causing panic at the Hoover Dam and in Las Vegas, Arizona, and Mexico. Reisner amply demonstrates why major cities should not be built in semi-arid and arid climes—and still, the western states’ populations continue to explode. 

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

By Marc Reisner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"The definitive work on the West's water crisis." --Newsweek

The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecological and economic disaster. In his landmark book, Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city's growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau…

Riding the White Horse Home: A Western Family Album

By Teresa Jordan,

Book cover of Riding the White Horse Home: A Western Family Album

Why this book?

Jordan’s memoir strikes close to my heart: parents, like mine, who encourage their children to better their lives by leaving their homes, going to college, working at fulfilling jobs, and building loving families. But where does that leave the family ranch? As in my own family, Jordan’s parents sell it when there is no one to return and take over the hard, often unrewarding work. In this beautifully written, poignant work, Jordan explores her ancestors, neighbors, and her own time on the ranch, and she makes the reader feel just how deep her grief is over the loss of her heritage and, especially, the land. Be ready to cry.

Riding the White Horse Home: A Western Family Album

By Teresa Jordan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Riding the White Horse Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The daughter and granddaughter of Wyoming ranchers, Teresa Jordan gives us a lyrical and superbly evocative book that is at once a family chronicle and a eulogy for the land her people helped shape and in time were forced to leave. Author readings.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the American West, political corruption, and Wyoming?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the American West, political corruption, and Wyoming.

The American West Explore 99 books about the American West
Political Corruption Explore 28 books about political corruption
Wyoming Explore 26 books about Wyoming

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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