10 books like The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa

By Federal Writers Project,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa. Shepherd is a community of 6,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Joe Dew

By Elaine Briggs,

Book cover of Joe Dew: A Glorious Life

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.

Joe Dew

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.


This is Grant Wood Country

By Joan Liffring-Zug,

Book cover of This is Grant Wood Country

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.

This is Grant Wood Country

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.


Cinderella Man

By Jeremy Schaap,

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

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…

Cinderella Man

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.


The Boys in the Boat

By Daniel James Brown,

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

It’s been years since I read this book, but I remember vividly the thrill of this unlikely crew of kids from working-class families in Washington state shocking Hitler by beating his rowing team on his home turf at the Olympics, an extravaganza designed to display German superiority. Add to that, the nine-man crew’s earlier upset victories against the American Ivy League teams that dominated one of the most popular American sports in the days before television, and you’ve got the makings of a wonderful underdog-come-from-behind story. Which it is, in the hands of this author, and is why I’m recommending two books by him. Brown builds drama by explaining who these kids were, the daunting personal challenges some of them faced, and how, in the hands of the right coaches and a talented boat-builder, these “nobodies” became world champions.

The Boys in the Boat

By Daniel James Brown,

Why should I read it?

3 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…

The End of Vandalism

By Tom Drury,

Book cover of The End of Vandalism

Tom Drury has been called “the greatest writer you’ve never heard of” and when you discover his work, you’ll feel a thrill similar to the joy of knowing the gems hiding in plain sight throughout the Midwest (Get it? Plain sight?). The End of Vandalism, Drury’s first novel (you could read any of them- they’re all great, but start with this one as the same characters reappear in future books), takes place in a fictional Iowa town and follows the lives of three of its residents, who are involved in a love triangle. Drury writes real, beautiful, complicated, and thoroughly Midwestern characters. Although Grouse County is fictional, it could just as easily be a real place. And if you find you need more Iowa, read Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (this is my sneaky way of recommending more than 5 books).

The End of Vandalism

By Tom Drury,

Why should I read it?

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


An Old Settler's Story

By Larry Dean Reese,

Book cover of An Old Settler's Story: Pioneer Life in Iowa: The Story of John Blake Jolliffe and his Wife Jane Etta Metcalf Jolliffe

For their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1917, a couple gathered their family for a celebration. During the day, they share their Iowa pioneering stories. What wonderful details about living arrangements, hardships in travel, hard-to-believe hordes of grasshoppers, blizzards, even a probable encounter with Jesse James. Written as a novel but based on historical events, his dear slim book also includes several photographs.

An Old Settler's Story

By Larry Dean Reese,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Old Settler's Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Man from the Train

By Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James,

Book cover of The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

The baseball writer and analyst Bill James sets out to trace the path of a serial ax murderer who left a bloody trail across the US in the early 20th century. Starting with the well-chronicled deaths of eight people in Villisca, Iowa, in 1912, he reveals the signature connections between this crime and dozens of others committed over a period of 15 years from Washington State to Florida, crimes for which innocent people were put to death. A mind-boggling feat of research.

The Man from the Train

By Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An Edgar Award finalist for Best Fact Crime, this "impressive...open-eyed investigative inquiry wrapped within a cultural history of rural America" (The Wall Street Journal) shows legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applying his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national…

Methland

By Nick Reding,

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

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. 

Methland

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's Eating Gilbert Grape

By Peter Hedges,

Book cover of What's Eating Gilbert Grape

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.

What's Eating 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.

Ten Beautiful Things

By Molly Griffin, Maribel Lechuga (illustrator),

Book cover of Ten Beautiful Things

Ten Beautiful Things is a gorgeous picture book with a gentle tone and much to say. It follows a little girl and her grandma as they go on a road trip together. The ride is long, and at first there seems to be little to admire about the trip. But then Grandma suggests they intentionally seek out ten beautiful things as they roll through sprawling landscapes. A terrific reminder for children and adults alike that so many of our experiences are a matter of perspective.

Ten Beautiful Things

By Molly Griffin, Maribel Lechuga (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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


5 book lists we think you will like!

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