82 books like The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa

By Federal Writers Project,

Here are 82 books that The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa fans have personally recommended if you like The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Book cover of Joe Dew: A Glorious Life

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of Leora's Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression

From my list on surprising stories about the Great Depression.

Who am I?

I am the author of two books (the first book was Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II), a blogger, an Iowa historian, and a regular contributor to Our American Stories. I’ve woven letters and newspaper clippings, along with memoirs and family stories, into the narratives of the lives of Clabe and Leora Wilson. As their oldest granddaughter, I also enjoy giving programs, as well as TV and radio interviews, about the Wilson family.

Joy's book list on surprising stories about the Great Depression

Joy Neal Kidney Why did Joy love this book?

I was especially interested in the Great Depression years of this biography. Joe Dew graduated from Redfield, Iowa, two years after my mother graduated from the neighboring rival town of Dexter. Joe Dew’s father was a blacksmith, which was needed less and less during those times. Joe needed to find work. He had such drive and determination to find work, even eventually following the sweep of wheat harvesting from Texas and into the Pacific Northwest.

During Joe Dew's WWII years, he survived the Battle of the Bulge as a tank commander--with a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a Distinguished Service Cross. The G.I. Bill enabled him to finish college in Ames, Iowa, then enjoy a career with General Motors.

By Elaine Briggs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Joe Dew’s inspiring story is one of hard work, adventure, and family. Raised in rural Iowa in the 1920s, the son of a struggling blacksmith during the Great Depression, he learned to survive and thrive. After graduation, he traveled the country, riding the rails and finding work in the wheat fields of the Great Plains, and panning for gold in Idaho.Helping in the war effort from Alaska to the European Theater of WWII, he fought with the 741st Tank battalion. Joe risked his life to break through the Siegfried Line crossing into Germany and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for…


Book cover of This is Grant Wood Country

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of Leora's Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression

From my list on surprising stories about the Great Depression.

Who am I?

I am the author of two books (the first book was Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II), a blogger, an Iowa historian, and a regular contributor to Our American Stories. I’ve woven letters and newspaper clippings, along with memoirs and family stories, into the narratives of the lives of Clabe and Leora Wilson. As their oldest granddaughter, I also enjoy giving programs, as well as TV and radio interviews, about the Wilson family.

Joy's book list on surprising stories about the Great Depression

Joy Neal Kidney Why did Joy love this book?

Grant Wood's work coincided with the Great Depression. He was the state director of the Public Works of Art Project, an agency of the federal government which put artists to work. He created the designs for public murals, such as the ones in the library at Iowa State College (now University) at Ames, Iowa. Remarkably, Wood donated his time for the project. This book has many colored photos of Grant Wood's work, stories behind the scenes, and quotes by people who knew and worked with Iowa's favorite artist in bib overalls.

By Joan Liffring-Zug,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This is Grant Wood Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

art book


Book cover of Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of Leora's Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression

From my list on surprising stories about the Great Depression.

Who am I?

I am the author of two books (the first book was Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II), a blogger, an Iowa historian, and a regular contributor to Our American Stories. I’ve woven letters and newspaper clippings, along with memoirs and family stories, into the narratives of the lives of Clabe and Leora Wilson. As their oldest granddaughter, I also enjoy giving programs, as well as TV and radio interviews, about the Wilson family.

Joy's book list on surprising stories about the Great Depression

Joy Neal Kidney Why did Joy love this book?

Boxing was such a popular sport during the Great Depression. My grandparents’ family regularly listened to “the fights” on the radio. Dubbed “Cinderella Man” by writer Damon Runyon, James J. Braddock, with 24 losses, won one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing championship history. He defeated Max Baer on June 13, 1935, in Long Island City, New York, for the world title in a unanimous decision after a grueling 15 rounds.

The next day, Leora Wilson wrote her two sons who’d joined the Navy during the Depression, “Expect you may have heard the Braddock and Baer fight. I’m glad Braddock won–he needs the money for his family.” Not only that, but Braddock had been “on the dole” at one point, an underdog in many ways. He was so embarrassed at needing help to feed his three children that he paid back the money he’d received from the government. A…

By Jeremy Schaap,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A riveting tale of perseverance in the face of hardship, Cinderella Man is the chronicle of the boxer James J. Braddock, whose exceptional story of achievement against all odds was the subject of a major motion picture. Braddock, dubbed the Cinderella Man, staged the greatest comeback in fighting history, rising in the span of twelve months from the relief rolls to a face-off against the heavyweight champion, Max Baer.

Against the gritty backdrop of Depression-era New York, Schaap paints a vivid picture of the fight world in its golden age, evoking a time when boxing resonated with a country trying…


Book cover of The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Bill Lynch Author Of Mekong Belle: Love's Impossible Choice

From my list on time travel on lonely roads.

Who am I?

I grew up in a family of journalists. My great-grandfather, grand-aunt, and father were newspaper editors and master raconteurs. I followed in their footsteps, spending 50 years as a small-town newspaper editor. Among family, friends, and neighbors, I was expected to know the stories behind the headlines, and in so doing, I became a raconteur. In a good story, there is a fine line between fact and fiction. The novels I chose for a long road trip are as believable as the true stories I was told and ended up telling when it was my turn. It only takes asking “What if?” to cross the line from fact to fiction.

Bill's book list on time travel on lonely roads

Bill Lynch Why did Bill love this book?

I’d already bought the book when we decided to drive from our home in Sonoma, California, to visit friends who live in the San Juan Islands off the Washington Coast. I packed the book but also downloaded the Audible version. We started listening as we got on the road. I never opened the book.

It’s just a great story set in the time my parents were in high school and college. It was a world with which I was made familiar by their stories. The main character’s difficult early life resonates with anyone who has listened to the greatest generation talk about what it was like growing up during the Depression.

Yes, the action during the rowing was exciting, but I enjoyed the development of the characters, especially Joe Rantz, and his personal challenges and victories, more than all competition scenes.

By Daniel James Brown,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Boys in the Boat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times-bestselling story about the American Olympic rowing triumph in Nazi Germany-from the author of Facing the Mountain.

Soon to be a major motion picture directed by George Clooney

For readers of Unbroken, out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times-the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.

It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the…


Book cover of Somewhere to Belong

Catherine Richmond Author Of The Shelter of Each Other

From my list on communes and cults in the 19th century.

Who am I?

The Loess Hills of Iowa provide a great place to hike, with leg-stretching hills and diverse species of plants and animals, and a park with the unusual name Preparation Canyon. In 1853 a small band of Mormons built a commune called Preparation. Leader Charles Blancher Thompson kept his printing press busy, publishing over a thousand pages. Few of those pages told about those who lived there. The Shelter of Each Other is the story of the people of Preparation, brought to you by a writer whose imagination fills in blanks and connects the dots.

Catherine's book list on communes and cults in the 19th century

Catherine Richmond Why did Catherine love this book?

The Amana Colonies were the most successful communes in the United States, active from 1856 to 1932.

Elected boards groups of elders made decisions and mediated conflicts. Members worked in a variety of industries. Women managed large kitchens and dining rooms. Visitors, hired laborers, and homeless people were welcome.

Amana was settled by Germans; residents suffered from anti-German violence during World War I. 

Why did the Amana Colonies survive so long when the Preparation group and others lasted only a few years? Amana’s decisions were made by groups and Amana’s spiritual life was anchored in faith and worship.

By Judith Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Somewhere to Belong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Johanna Ilg has lived her entire life in Main Amana, one of the seven villages inhabited by devout Christians who believe in cooperative living, a simple lifestyle, and faithful service to God. Although she's always longed to see the outside world, Johanna believes her future is rooted in the community. But when she learns a troubling secret, the world she thought she knew is shattered and she is forced to make difficult choices about a new life and the man she left behind.

Berta Schumacher has lived a privileged life in Chicago, and when her parents decide they want a…


Book cover of The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa

Fred Delcomyn and James L. Ellis Author Of A Backyard Prairie: The Hidden Beauty of Tallgrass and Wildflowers

From my list on the beauty of tallgrass prairie.

Who are we?

The short answer is, a retired university professor (Fred) and the coordinator of Natural Areas for the University of Illinois (James). That answer, however, doesn’t give a clue as to how we came to write our book. Fred and his wife established a small three-acre prairie on their land in 2003. They then enlisted James and Grand Prairie Friends, the local conservation organization he headed at the time, to help manage the prairie. Eventually, Fred, who had photographically documented the growth of the prairie and the beauty to be found therein, proposed that he and James describe the prairie with photos so that others could also learn to enjoy it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fred's book list on the beauty of tallgrass prairie

Fred Delcomyn and James L. Ellis Why did Fred love this book?

A more detailed and scholarly book than Crosby’s, this book is a description of the origin, character, and fate of the tallgrass prairie in Iowa. It is essential reading for those who wish to understand what the Iowa prairie (and by extension the prairie of neighboring states as well) was like before being settled by Euro-Americans and converted to agricultural use in the 19th century, what is left of that prairie today, and conservation and restoration efforts to replace some of what was lost.

By Cornelia F. Mutel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In ""The Emerald Horizon"", Cornelia Mutel combines lyrical writing with meticulous scientific research to portray the environmental past, present, and future of Iowa. In doing so, she ties all of Iowa's natural features into one comprehensive whole.Since so much of the tallgrass state has been transformed into an agricultural landscape, Mutel focuses on understanding today's natural environment by understanding yesterday's changes. After summarizing the geological, archaeological, and ecological features that shaped Iowa's modern landscape, she recreates the once-wild native communities that existed prior to Euroamerican settlement. Next she examines the dramatic changes that overtook native plant and animal communities as…


Book cover of Ten Beautiful Things

Kaitlyn Odom Fiedler Author Of What Now? Finding Renewed Life in Christ After Loss

From my list on a biblical view of death and grief.

Who am I?

Navigating life with grief has been a lifelong journey for me ever since I was a young child. At 8 years old, I was in a car accident which took the lives of my parents and four of my siblings. Since then, I’ve faced a huge mountain in front of me – How do you move forward in life when you have lost everything? This journey led me to now share my story of childhood loss and healing in hopes of helping others. As a counselor, I’m a huge mental health advocate and love books which tackle hard emotions that help readers of all ages feel more understood and equipped for their journey ahead.

Kaitlyn's book list on a biblical view of death and grief

Kaitlyn Odom Fiedler Why did Kaitlyn love this book?

Griffin does a wonderful job in this beautiful children’s book.

She guides the reader through a heartfelt tale of a little girl moving to live with her grandmother. On the car ride, they both search for 10 beautiful things. This book will pull at the heartstrings as, together, they find beauty in little things around them on their car ride, and it ends with the pair naming the sweetest, most beautiful thing of all.

As someone who has experienced childhood loss (loss as a child), I highly recommend this beautiful story for any child going through a loss or big change in their life that might have them feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or closed off.

By Molly Griffin, Maribel Lechuga (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ten Beautiful Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A heartfelt story of changing perspectives, set in the Midwest. Ten Beautiful Things gently explores loss, a new home, and finding beauty wherever you are.

Lily and her grandmother search for ten beautiful things as they take a long car ride to Iowa and Lily's new home with Gran. At first, Lily sees nothing beautiful in the April slush and cloudy sky. Soon though, Lily can see beauty in unexpected places, from the smell of spring mud to a cloud shaped like a swan to a dilapidated barn. A furious rainstorm mirrors Lily's anxiety, but as it clears Lily discovers…


Book cover of A Song of Years

Laura Frantz Author Of A Heart Adrift

From my list on about home.

Who am I?

Having moved almost twenty times in my life, I have a passion for home – finding home, creating home, and enjoying home no matter where you land. My personal space is filled with books, my favorites being about homecomings and safe places of peace and restoration. Home fills me with joy and is a theme in each of the historical novels I write. Everyone should have the haven of a home, both here and now and eternally. 

Laura's book list on about home

Laura Frantz Why did Laura love this book?

Song of Years captures all of the struggle and angst of carving out a home from pure, unspoiled Iowa prairie by those bold pioneers who risked everything to do so. While reading, I became the heroine, Abby Deal, as she sacrificed and struggled to wrest a life and create a home from the frontier that challenged her and her family at every turn. Realistic, even epic, this 1939 novel is on my keeper shelf. 

By Bess Streeter Aldrich, Anne Reeve Aldrich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Song of Years as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The state of Iowa was still young and wild when Wayne Lockwood came to it from New England in 1851. He claimed a quarter-section about a hundred miles west of Dubuque and quickly came to appreciate widely scattered neighbors like Jeremiah Martin, whose seven daughters would have chased the gloom from any bachelor's heart. Sabina, Emily, Celia, Melinda, Phoebe Lou, Jeanie, and Suzanne are timeless in their appeal-too spirited to be preoccupied with sermons, sickness, and sudden death. However, the feasts, weddings, and holiday celebrations in Song of Years are shadowed by all the rigors and perils of frontier living.…


Book cover of Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

Russell C. Crandall Author Of Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

From my list on what the war on drugs is really about.

Who am I?

Over my two decades as a scholar of American foreign policy and international politics, I had multiple opportunities to serve as a Latin America foreign policy aide. Given that Latin America plays a central role in the U.S.-hatched modern war on drugs, much of my policymaking was directly or indirectly tied to drug policy. I thus wrote Drugs and Thugs above all to make sure that I had a good sense of the history of this seemingly eternal conflict, one that is “fought” as much at home as abroad. 

Russell's book list on what the war on drugs is really about

Russell C. Crandall Why did Russell love this book?

Reding’s book on the methamphetamine epidemic in small-town Ohio is distressing but essential. He is exceptional in showing rather than telling how meth is in so many ways the Great American Drug. It makes you work even more maniacally, for one. And the hollowing out of Middle America makes the drug’s proactive nature even more attractive in these forgotten towns and cities. It is painful that the meth scourge might have eased but, as is so often the case, other destructive substances have quickly replaced it. 

By Nick Reding,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize
Winner of the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism

Named a best book of the year by:
the Los Angeles Times
the San Francisco Chronicle
the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch
the Chicago Tribune
the Seattle Times

"A stunning look at a problem that has dire consequences for our country.”-New York Post

The dramatic story of Methamphetamine as it comes to the American Heartland-a timely, moving, account of one community's attempt to confront the epidemic and see their way to a brighter future.

The bestselling book that launched meth back into…


Book cover of What's Eating Gilbert Grape

Samuel W. Gailey Author Of Deep Winter: A Novel

From my list on marginalized and outsider characters.

Who am I?

I was raised—not born—in a small town in northeast Pennsylvania (population 379), which serves as the setting for two of my novels. Since I was not born in this community, I always felt like a bit of an outsider. Misunderstood and often overlooked. There is great isolation when growing up in a small community that’s barely on the map. But despite all this, I am drawn to rural life and its sometimes deceiving bucolic atmosphere. I believe that is why I both read and write suspenseful stories about not only small towns, but marginalized and outsider characters as well.

Samuel's book list on marginalized and outsider characters

Samuel W. Gailey Why did Samuel love this book?

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is the story of a young man trapped in a dying small town, stuck in a menial job, and tethered by obligations to his dysfunctional family. The biggest event on Gilbert’s horizon is the eighteenth birthday of Artie, his mentally impaired brother, who is lucky to still be alive. Then Gilbert’s world gets turned on its head when a free-spirited girl arrives in town.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape blends poignancy, the bonds and challenges of family responsibilities, and the struggles of dealing with mental health, all told through the unique lens of the titular Gilbert Grape.

By Peter Hedges,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What's Eating Gilbert Grape as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gilbert Grape, a resident of provincial Endora, Iowa, endures the eccentricities of his family and neighbors--including his mother, who is eating herself to death; his Elvis-fanatic sister; his retarded brother; and his married lover.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in presidential biography, Iowa, and Alaska?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about presidential biography, Iowa, and Alaska.

Presidential Biography Explore 17 books about presidential biography
Iowa Explore 35 books about Iowa
Alaska Explore 94 books about Alaska