100 books like Our Towns

By James Fallows, Deborah Fallows,

Here are 100 books that Our Towns fans have personally recommended if you like Our Towns. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Travels with Charley in Search of America

Eyal Halfon Author Of They Were Here Before Us: Stories from Our First Million Years

From my list on traveling the world from your armchair.

Why am I passionate about this?

Long before I became a filmmaker and many years before I knew what pre-history meant, I was a restless traveler. I was an adventurer and a hiker, fascinated by maps and mountain peaks and constantly searching for the best place for a coffee break. In my list, I have tried to combine my passion for traveling with what is really important in life: people, friends, and travel companions.

Eyal's book list on traveling the world from your armchair

Eyal Halfon Why did Eyal love this book?

I wish I could be there, in the back seat of Steinbeck’s pickup truck…with a 10-year-old French poodle named Charlie.

Steinbeck's travelogue is a farewell to the America he knew and an observation of a country that is changing before his eyes. What a joy it could have been to join this great writer (and the poodle) if only for a part of his 10,000-mile road trip across the USA at the beginning of the 60s.

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Travels with Charley in Search of America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An intimate journey across America, as told by one of its most beloved writers

To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light-these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.

With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the…


Book cover of Blue Highways

Kayla Anderson Author Of Moon Northern California Road Trip: Drives along the Coast, Redwoods, and Mountains with the Best Stops along the Way

From my list on embarking on epic adventures from your armchair.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in Northern California, right on the banks of the Sacramento River. While I didn’t realize it growing up, it was an epicenter for outdoor adventures. Along with skiing, snowboarding, hiking, wakeboarding, and camping, I always read a lot. My dad was worried that I would have no sense of direction because I was always in the back of our van or RV reading a book. That led to writing…and I had my first article published in a wakeboarding magazine when I was 15 years old. Traveling always took a backburner to reading, but now it’s front and center of my writing. 

Kayla's book list on embarking on epic adventures from your armchair

Kayla Anderson Why did Kayla love this book?

This is classic literature in the realm of American travel.

I had no idea that “blue highways” existed, and even though Heat-Moon went cross-country back in the 1970s in his van equipped with his igloo cooler and makeshift bed (not like the $100k fancy campers you find today), the type of people you meet and experiences you have in this amazing country are still relevant today.

In Blue Highways Revisited, I was shocked to read how long it took for this book to get published and the stacks of printed-out drafts he had of it (I think it was like four feet high). If there are any travel writing classes taught as part of a creative writing program, then Blue Highways better be on the list. 

By William Least Heat-Moon,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Blue Highways as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is an unforgettable journey along our nation's backroads.
William Least Heat-Moon set out with little more than the need to put home behind him and a sense of curiosity about "those little towns that get on the map -- if they get on at all -- only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon; Simplicity, Virginia; New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi."
His adventures, his discoveries, and his recollections of the extraordinary people he encountered along the way amount to a revelation…


Book cover of Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States

Ryan Bernsten Author Of 50 States of Mind: A Journey to Rediscover American Democracy

From my list on nonfiction about the great American road trip.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Midwest-based speaker, writer, and theatre-maker. I received my Creative Writing Master's from the University of Oxford where I was given a grant to travel to all 50 states to research my first book, 50 States of Mind: A Journey to Rediscover American Democracy and started the companion podcast 50 States of Mind. I'm a contributor for The Infatuation and have been published in USA Today, The Fulcrum, and The Oxford Political Review. You may have seen me chatting with Helen Mirren as a Slytherin contestant on Harry Potter: Tournament of Houses. I’m currently the Senior Managing Editor at The Trevor Project, overseeing editorial strategy to end suicide among LGBTQ young people.

Ryan's book list on nonfiction about the great American road trip

Ryan Bernsten Why did Ryan love this book?

With America's increasingly divisive political climate around LGBTQ issues, Real Queer America takes on renewed importance as Samantha Allen explores the resilient LGBTQ communities in red states.

Allen takes readers on a road trip through often-overlooked regions of the United States and challenges preconceived notions by showing LGBTQ communities thriving in places like Mississippi, Utah, and Indiana. I was inspired by Allen’s ability to curate personal storytelling alongside journalistic interviews with queer community leaders.

Allen strikes the perfect balance between travelogue and memoir – through her vulnerability in writing about her own coming out journey in America, she allows the reader to better understand what fueled the interest in red state queer communities and conveys the idea that the personal is always political.

By Samantha Allen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Real Queer America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she's a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn't changed is her deep love of Red State America, and of queer people who stay in so-called "flyover country" rather than moving to the liberal coasts.

In Real Queer America, Allen takes us on a cross-country road-trip stretching all the way from Provo, Utah to the Rio Grande Valley to the Bible Belt to the Deep South. Her motto for the trip: "Something gay every day." Making pit…


Book cover of The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America

Patrick Forsyth Author Of Smile Because It Happened: Antidotes to Melancholy in Thailand, the Land of Smiles

From my list on feeding your lust for travel.

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked for many years in business consultancy before branching into other genres, including fiction. Through working regularly in Singapore I was able to travel around the region, finding I loved that part of the world. I came to regard Thailand as the jewel of Southeast Asia. I continue to visit and aim for my light-hearted travel writing to encourage others to enjoy the area and be ambitious in their travel plans. I regard my book as an invitation to share my love of a unique place and was delighted when one reviewer described my writing of it as “Brysonish.”

Patrick's book list on feeding your lust for travel

Patrick Forsyth Why did Patrick love this book?

Any recommendation about travel writing must surely include Bill Bryson. I love his writing, and I reckon this, his first book, is still the best.

I love the idea–brought up in small-town America he revisits the tours by car his family took as holidays. I love his descriptions and especially his ability to spot absurdities in a way that can have the me laughing aloud. It is a book that had me moving on to read everything he wrote thereafter.

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to'

And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres.…


Book cover of Journey to the United States Of North America

Carrie Gibson Author Of El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America

From my list on Hispanic writers everyone should know.

Why am I passionate about this?

Carrie Gibson is a London-based writer who grew up in the US and spends as much time as she can in Latin America and the Caribbean. She started out as a journalist, working at UK newspapers, including the Guardian and the Observer, before diving into a PhD and historical research on European colonialism and its legacy in the Americas. She is the author of two books and continues to contribute to media outlets in the UK and US.

Carrie's book list on Hispanic writers everyone should know

Carrie Gibson Why did Carrie love this book?

I had never heard of Lorenzo de Zavala until I started researching El Norte, and his story deserves to be much more widely known. He was born in Mexico when it was still under Spanish rule, and later became involved in Mexican independence. He also participated in the formation of the breakaway Republic of Texas (Tejas) in 1836, and he served as its first vice-president. Before that period of his life, however, he took a tour of the United States. He started in New Orleans in 1830, working his way north and east. This book describes that trip and his observations about the United States. It is one of the earliest travel accounts of the US written by a Mexican, and it provides a fascinating perspective from someone whose life intersected with pivotal political moments in both countries.

By Lorenzo de Zavala, Wallace Woolsey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journey to the United States Of North America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in Paris in 1834, Journey to the United States of America \/ Viaje a los Estados Unidos del Norte América, by Lorenzo de Zavala, is an elegantly written travel narrative that maps de Zavala’s journey through the United States during his exile from Mexico in 1830. Embracing U.S., Texas, and Mexican history; early ethnography; geography; and political philosophy, de Zavala outlines the cultural and political institutions of Jacksonian America and post\-independence Mexico. de Zavala’s commentary rivals Alex de Tocqueville’s classic travel narrative, Democracy in America, which was published in Paris one year after de Zavala’s. The narrative presents…


Book cover of Division Street: America

Peter Laufer Author Of Up Against the Wall: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border

From my list on the middle of america from New Jersey to Oakland.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a child, I moved with my family. I've moved for school. And I am not sure I could resurrect how many times my family moved for my journalism work. These books help me try to understand my wanderlust. Peter Laufer is an independent journalist, broadcaster, and documentary filmmaker working in traditional and new media. He is the James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.

Peter's book list on the middle of america from New Jersey to Oakland

Peter Laufer Why did Peter love this book?

The oral historian and radioman Studs Turkel takes us around American without leaving his Chicago via Division Street America. Sparsely contextualized by his interstitial commentary, Turkel exercises his embracing interviewing skills to bring poignant stories of the non-celebrity class into sharp, relevant focus. This same type of unornamented approach earned a Nobel Prize in literature for Belarussian journalist Svetlana Alexievich and her Chernobyl.

By Studs Terkel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Division Street, Studs Terkel's first book of oral history, established his reputation as America's foremost oral historian and as "one of those rare thinkers who is actually willing to go out and talk to the incredible people of this country" (in the words of Tom Wolfe).

Viewing the inhabitants of a single city, Chicago, as a microcosm of the nation at large, Division Street chronicles the thoughts and feelings of some seventy people from widely varying backgrounds in terms of class, race, and personal history. From a mother and son who migrated from Appalachia to a Native American boilerman, from…


Book cover of The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Mark Fenster Author Of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture

From my list on understanding conspiracy theories.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a law professor who, among other things, writes about the culture and law of secrecy. I’ve written two books: Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, the second edition of which was published in 2008, and The Transparency Fix: Secrets, Leaks, and Uncontrollable Government Information (2017). I hold a J.D. from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. from the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I teach at the University of Florida.

Mark's book list on understanding conspiracy theories

Mark Fenster Why did Mark love this book?

The most influential book on conspiracy theories, by any measure, published in 1966. Its title shouts Hofstadter’s thesis: A longstanding strain in American politics is marginal, dangerous, and a manifestation of political paranoia. Although countless op-ed writers have reduced his thesis to equate conspiracy theory to a paranoid mind, Hofstadter offers in the book’s first half more than simple social psychological analysis of the far right of the 1950s and 1960s, which included Joe McCarthy, Barry Goldwater, and the John Birch Society.

One of the preeminent mid-twentieth century U.S. historians, Hofstadter wrote wonderfully, engaged in big ideas, and if his work ultimately needs updating and deserves critique, Paranoid Style set the terms for a debate that continues today about conspiracy theories’ role in our political order.

By Richard Hofstadter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Paranoid Style in American Politics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This timely reissue of Richard Hofstadter's classic work on the fringe groups that influence American electoral politics offers an invaluable perspective on contemporary domestic affairs.In The Paranoid Style in American Politics, acclaimed historian Richard Hofstadter examines the competing forces in American political discourse and how fringe groups can influence — and derail — the larger agendas of a political party. He investigates the politics of the irrational, shedding light on how the behavior of individuals can seem out of proportion with actual political issues, and how such behavior impacts larger groups. With such other classic essays as “Free Silver and…


Book cover of The Government-Citizen Disconnect

Kevin H. Wozniak Author Of The Politics of Crime Prevention: Race, Public Opinion, and the Meaning of Community Safety

From my list on racism and the politics of public investment.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since I first visited a prison during college and was shocked by its horrific conditions, I’ve been fascinated with America’s punitiveness—our tolerance for harsh, dehumanizing punishments. I pursued a Ph.D. in criminology in order to better understand the politics of crime and justice. I am constantly searching for “political space” within which to pursue meaningful criminal justice reform without provoking a punitive backlash. I was previously an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and I am now a lecturer in criminology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.

Kevin's book list on racism and the politics of public investment

Kevin H. Wozniak Why did Kevin love this book?

I love The Government-Citizen Disconnect because it examines the relationship between social policy and politics. 

Mettler demonstrates that over 90% of Americans receive financial benefits from the government, but most of these are submerged in the tax code (like the home mortgage interest deduction). People who only receive submerged benefits believe that the government does little to improve their personal lives. In contrast, the more antipathy they feel toward people who receive visible government benefits (like food stamps), the more they also express cynical, negative attitudes toward government in general.

Since White Americans are more likely to receive submerged benefits than Americans of color, this pattern fuels racialized “us vs. them” attitudes when, in fact, the government financially buffers most Americans from the full costs of the free market in a variety of ways.

By Suzanne Mettler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Government-Citizen Disconnect as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Americans’ relationship to the federal government is paradoxical. Polls show that public opinion regarding the government has plummeted to all-time lows, with only one in five saying they trust the government or believe that it operates in their interest. Yet, at the same time, more Americans than ever benefit from some form of government social provision. Political scientist Suzanne Mettler calls this growing gulf between people’s perceptions of government and the actual role it plays in their lives the "government-citizen disconnect." In The Government-Citizen Disconnect, she explores the rise of this phenomenon and its implications for policymaking and politics.

Drawing…


Book cover of An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012

Phil Halton Author Of Blood Washing Blood: Afghanistan's Hundred-Year War

From my list on the War in Afghanistan.

Why am I passionate about this?

Phil Halton has worked in conflict zones around the world as an officer in the Canadian Army and as a security consultant and has extensive experience in Afghanistan. He is the author of two novels and a history. He holds a Master's Degree in Defence Studies from Royal Military College of Canada, and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from Humber College. 

Phil's book list on the War in Afghanistan

Phil Halton Why did Phil love this book?

Martin was a British Army officer who learned to speak fluent Pashto, and spent long hours talking with and gaining the trust of various players in Helmand Province. Based on those discussions, he has put together the only oral history of the conflict there available in any language. By starting in 1978, he clearly shows that the fighting thirty years later had much deeper roots, and that more often than not, the causes of conflict were not apparent to Western eyes.

By Mike Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Intimate War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An Intimate War' tells the story of the last thirty-four years of conflict in Helmand Province, Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. In the West, this period is often defined through different lenses -- the Soviet intervention, the civil war, the Taliban, and the post-2001 nation-building era. Yet, as experienced by local inhabitants, the Helmand conflict is a perennial one, involving the same individuals, families and groups, and driven by the same arguments over land, water and power.

This book -- based on both military and research experience in Helmand and 150 interviews in Pashto -- offers…


Book cover of Uncertain Ground: Citizenship in an Age of Endless, Invisible War

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh Author Of American Estrangement: Stories

From my list on ways to fit in in America.

Why am I passionate about this?

Other than the fact that I grew up in the United States, the son of a Jewish-American mother, an Iranian-born father, a thirteen-letter unpronounceable letter last name, the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis, and parents who were both members of the Socialist Workers Party, which advocated for a working-class revolution along the lines of the Russian Revolution—I am a typical American. I like hamburgers, Martha Stewart, and the New York Yankees. Trace elements of my upbringing can still be found in my memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, my two short story collections, and my worldview, which I’m still working on in therapy. 

Saïd's book list on ways to fit in in America

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh Why did Saïd love this book?

Nothing is more American than making war in other countries, and Phil Klay’s collection of essays investigates that line between those Americans who fight in our current wars and those who get to stay home and eventually forget that there’s even a war taking place somewhere. Klay knows about what he writes. He’s a former marine who was stationed in Iraq, and while not seeing combat himself, he did see firsthand the complex relationship between occupied and occupier. Upon his return home, he was plunged into an even more surreal place: a country that had long since stopped paying attention. Bonus reading: Klay’s National Book Award-winning short story collection, Redeployment, where you can see how fiction becomes transmuted into nonfiction and vice versa.

By Phil Klay,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment and Missionaries, an astonishing fever graph of the effects of twenty years of war in a brutally divided America.

When Phil Klay left the Marines a decade ago after serving as an officer in Iraq, he found himself a part of the community of veterans who have no choice but to grapple with the meaning of their wartime experiences—for themselves and for the country. American identity has always been bound up in war—from the revolutionary war of our founding, to the civil war that ended slavery, to the two world wars that…


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