100 books like The Year of Decision 1846

By Bernard DeVoto,

Here are 100 books that The Year of Decision 1846 fans have personally recommended if you like The Year of Decision 1846. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Great Plains

Jim Rasenberger Author Of Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-Shooter That Changed America

From my list on western migration before the Civil War.

Who am I?

Jim Rasenberger is a writer and author of four books - Revolver, The Brilliant Disaster; America, 1908, and High SteelHe has contributed to the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, and other publications. A native of Washington, DC, he lives in New York City.

Jim's book list on western migration before the Civil War

Jim Rasenberger Why did Jim love this book?

Originally published in 1932, this remains one of the most accessible and thought-provoking books ever written about the American West. Webb’s work rises to the level of literature, especially when describing early encounters by white Americans with the landscape and native people they met west of the 98th meridian. Few writers have captured so vividly the expansion of America from the humid and forested east to the arid west of the Great Plains. Some of Webb’s conclusions may feel a little dated, but this remains a very compelling and rewarding book.

By Walter Prescott Webb,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This classic description of the interaction between the vast central plains of America and the people who lived there has, since its first publication in 1931, been one of the most influential, widely known, and controversial works in western history. Arguing that "the Great Plains environment. . .constitutes a geographic unity whose influences have been so powerful as to put a characteristic mark upon everything that survives within its borders," Webb singles out the revolver, barbed wire, and the windmill as evidence of the new phase of civilization required for settlement of that arid, treeless region. Webb draws on history,…


Book cover of The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60

Jim Rasenberger Author Of Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-Shooter That Changed America

From my list on western migration before the Civil War.

Who am I?

Jim Rasenberger is a writer and author of four books - Revolver, The Brilliant Disaster; America, 1908, and High SteelHe has contributed to the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, and other publications. A native of Washington, DC, he lives in New York City.

Jim's book list on western migration before the Civil War

Jim Rasenberger Why did Jim love this book?

Posthumously published in 1970 by the University of Illinois Press, this is a must-have for anyone interested in the early years of the western migration. Unruh — who died young shortly after completing the manuscript performs the essential task of assembling credible data about emigrants and Native Americans, and — most importantly — about their encounters with each other. Popular myths and Hollywood movies notwithstanding, Unruh makes clear that Native Americans seldom caused emigrants much harm. Indeed, emigrants of the 1840s were more likely to shoot themselves and each other by accident than require a gun for self-defense.

By John D. Unruh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in History and the winner of seven awards, including the John H. Dunning Prize of the American Historical Association, the Ray A. Billington Book Award of the Organization of American Historians, and the National Historical Society Book Prize.


Book cover of The Oregon Trail

Kevin Kiely Author Of A Horse Called El Dorado

From my list on surviving danger and seeing your dream come true.

Who am I?

This is very simple as to why there is passionate engagement with the themes listed within each of the five titles chosen. It's about engagement with the story which immediately comes from strongly identifying with the characters and events. The ‘identity factor’ is vital in drawing the reader in, and it's the mystery when writing a story or book which doesn’t begin with a prescribed plan. The mystery is really what creates the story and its characters, wanting to see what happens on the next page. With the reader, after having read a few pages, feeling the compulsion to read on, fully committed, emotionally involved, intrigued, and passionately caught up in the story.

Kevin's book list on surviving danger and seeing your dream come true

Kevin Kiely Why did Kevin love this book?

I began to read this book in childhood because it was in our house (sent as a present from an Aunt living in America) and it intrigued me by the title and the illustrations of buffalos, coyotes, bears, the landscape, rivers, canyons, and the covered wagons in a circle with people and their belongings, bedding down by campfires under the starry skies […] The episodes easily captured my attention. Parkman is documenting the first settlers crossing the Mid-West Plains towards the Rockies. This is really ‘a page turner’ and classic of travelogue adventure, even though I had never heard the genre term ‘travelogue’ on first reading. It also reads like a fantasy and provides the reader who has never been to the United States with a longing to go there. Books are parallel to life and in this case for me, I did reach the Origen Trail, walked some of…

By Francis Parkman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Keen observations and a graphic style characterize the author's remarkable record of a vanishing frontier. Detailed accounts of the hardships experienced while traveling across mountains and prairies; vibrant portraits of emigrants and Western wildlife; and vivid descriptions of Indian life and culture. A classic of American frontier literature.


Book cover of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

Greg Shed Author Of Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving

From my list on Native American history.

Who am I?

Greg Shed is a self-taught California illustrator specializing in Americana. In addition to commercial work and portraits, he has illustrated more than a dozen children’s books—several of which are about American history. A dedicated researcher, Greg has traveled from the Plymouth colony to the American prairie in search of authenticity and details. He has consulted with Native American craftsmen on the manufacture of native period attire. He is known for capturing golden light in his paintings, which often depict Native American cultures, wildlife, and landscapes.

Greg's book list on Native American history

Greg Shed Why did Greg love this book?

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a broad, well-researched tale of the indigenous people of the American West, chronicling the destruction of their way of life and their relocation to reservations amid the gradual encroachment of western civilization across the continental United States in the 19th Century. Describing the tribes and their leaders, Dee Brown captures the hardships and persecution of Native Americans, evoking an appreciation for their legacy and compassion for their plight. This book ignited my passion for painting the visual diversity and unique differences of various native nations.

By Dee Brown,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The American West, 1860-1890: years of broken promises, disillusionment, war and massacre.

Beginning with the Long Walk of the Navajos and ending with the massacre of Sioux at Wounded Knee, this extraordinary book tells how the American Indians lost their land, lives and liberty to white settlers pushing westward. Woven into a an engrossing saga of cruelty, treachery and violence are the fascinating stories of such legendary figures as Sitting Bull, Cochise, Crazy Horse and Geronimo.

First published in 1970, Dee Brown's brutal and compelling narrative changed the way people thought about the original inhabitants of America, and focused attention…


Book cover of Print the Legend: Photography and the American West

Mick Gidley Author Of The Grass Shall Grow: Helen Post Photographs the Native American West

From my list on American photography.

Who am I?

I am a hopeless photographer. But I have a passion for looking at photographs, for trying to understand how good ones work. They are not just momentary slices of life but structured artefacts, sometimes technically interesting, that in myriad ways reflect the society that produced them. I studied aspects of US cultural history at three universities. After devoting the first part of my academic career to American literature, in the second half – during which, supported by wonderful fellowships, I spent much time rooting in archives – I gave myself up to American photography. I have learnt much from each of the books I commend here. 

Mick's book list on American photography

Mick Gidley Why did Mick love this book?

Print the Legend, the product of profound scholarly immersion in archival sources, manages to both offer a wealth of totally new information on the ways photographs have represented the West and give a superior account of themes and figures already extensively studied. Paradoxically, much of its excitement is due not so much to the way Sandweiss reads the photographs themselves – though we can all learn from her in this respect – but the way she reads the written texts (what she rightly terms “the legend”) that contextualized them. I am personally much indebted to Sandweiss’ treatment of the photographers who worked for the various government surveys and, most of all, to her nuanced readings of how Native Americans were seen over time.   

By Martha A. Sandweiss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Print the Legend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A compelling story of how the new medium of photography and the new American frontier came of age together-illustrated with scores of stunning images

This prize-winning book tells the intertwined stories of photography and the American West-a new medium and a new place that came of age together in the nineteenth century.

"Excellent . . . rewarding . . . a provocative look at the limits of photography as recorder of history-and its role in perpetuating myth."-Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News

"A sophisticated and engaging exploration of photography and the West . . . A really handsome work."-James McWilliams, Austin…


Book cover of Last Stand at Saber River

Stan R. Mitchell Author Of Little Man, and the Dixon County War

From my list on the Wild West.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the Wild West since I was a little boy, playing Cowboy vs Indian with a plastic six-shooter and bow-and-arrow set. I grew up watching movies and reading books about the Wild West, and probably that sense of adventure and necessary courage required in such settings helped build the foundation that led me to join the Marines. It took guts to move out West. (Or desperation.) But either way, the settling of the Wild West is one of our core American stories. To me, the stories of the West are even more enthralling today than they were even fifty years ago.

Stan's book list on the Wild West

Stan R. Mitchell Why did Stan love this book?

This book is such a classic Western plot.

A confederate soldier, Paul Cable, returns from the Civil War to find Union men have taken over his farm. Cable thinks his fighting is over, but he couldn’t be more wrong.

The book is tense and moves quickly. It’s also short, yet packs a punch far above its weight. Highly recommend.

By Elmore Leonard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Last Stand at Saber River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A nail-biting, tough-talking classic western from the author of GET SHORTY and JACKIE BROWN.

In LAST STAND AT SABER RIVER, a Civil War veteran returns home to find a Yankee's private army living on his land, while another enemy waits to strike...

Paul Cable has fought - and lost - for the Confederacy but when he returns home he finds that his own war is far from over. The Union Army and two brothers - and a beautiful woman - have taken over Cable's spread and are refusing to give it back. But Cable is determined that no one is…


Book cover of In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West 1528-1990

Charlotte Hinger Author Of Nicodemus

From my list on African Americans in the West after the Civil War.

Who am I?

I’m a multi-award-winning novelist and Kansas historian. Through reading letters written by African Americans in Kansas, I realized that black people were a major political force. In fact, with the settlement of Nicodemus, for the first time in American history, enough black people had gathered in one place to dominate political decisions and prevail over the white community. No one had told the story of the three black powerhouses who shaped politics on a county, state, and national level. I was thrilled when University of Oklahoma Press published my academic book. It won second place in the Westerner’s International Best Book contest.

Charlotte's book list on African Americans in the West after the Civil War

Charlotte Hinger Why did Charlotte love this book?

The scope of Racial Frontier is enormous. I was impressed with the timeline (1528-1990) and Taylor’s analysis of the relationships of black people with American Indians and immigrants from various regions. There’s an excellent chapter on black towns in the west. The book explores racial prejudices and challenges and triumphs in urban cultures. Racial Frontier broadened my understanding of the perilous journey of black people beyond Kansas to California and states in between. Not all were interested in owning land and Taylor provides a comprehensive overview of African Americans in occupations requiring specialized skills. 

By Quintard Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Search of the Racial Frontier as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A landmark history of African Americans in the West, In Search of the Racial Frontier rescues the collective American consciousness from thinking solely of European pioneers when considering the exploration, settling, and conquest of the territory west of the Mississippi. From its surprising discussions of groups of African American wholly absorbed into Native American culture to illustrating how the largely forgotten role of blacks in the West helped contribute to everything from the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation ruling to the rise of the Black Panther Party, Quintard Taylor fills a major void in American history and reminds us…


Book cover of Great Plains

Greg M. Peters Author Of Our National Forests: Stories from America's Most Important Public Lands

From my list on people who love outdoors and want to learn more.

Who am I?

I love being outdoors and I’ve been fortunate to spend much of life under the open sky, both professionally and personally. Learning about the landscapes I’ve visited on my outdoor adventures or helped protect through my professional conservation and writing work is both fulfilling and inspiring. Skilled writers deepen my understanding of the diverse, intricate, and complicated natural world. Whether I’m reading to better understand the policies and histories that have shaped our public lands or about the adventurers who inspire me to get out there, I always find immense value and enjoyment when reading about the landscapes we share. 

Greg's book list on people who love outdoors and want to learn more

Greg M. Peters Why did Greg love this book?

If you combined a personal essay with a compelling travelogue and wove in thoroughly researched history, you’d get Ian Frazier’s book The Great Plains. Frazier’s excellent writing immediately pulled me into his rambles across one of the least visited, and least understood, portions of our country. I learned so much about the Great Plains without even trying by simply reading this great book. If you’re already a fan, or if you’ve never really considered the Great Plains, this book will enlighten and inspire you to learn more and maybe even visit this sprawling, and important, American landscape. 

By Ian Frazier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

National Bestseller

Most travelers only fly over the Great Plains--but Ian Frazier, ever the intrepid and wide-eyed wanderer, is not your average traveler. A hilarious and fascinating look at the great middle of our nation.

With his unique blend of intrepidity, tongue-in-cheek humor, and wide-eyed wonder, Ian Frazier takes us on a journey of more than 25,000 miles up and down and across the vast and myth-inspiring Great Plains. A travelogue, a work of scholarship, and a western adventure, Great Plains takes us from the site of Sitting Bull's cabin, to an abandoned house once terrorized by Bonnie and Clyde,…


Book cover of Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

Sam L. Pfiester Author Of Solomon's Temple: Musjid-i-Suleiman

From my list on earth history.

Who am I?

For most of my career as an oil explorationist I have worked with geologists, an exceptional group of men and women who, from observing earth’s surface as it is configured today, can decipher earth’s history. By understanding how rocks were originally formed and how in subsequent millennia rocks have been buried, transported warped, eroded, re-deposited, and altered by high pressures, high temperatures, hot water, and all the tectonic forces of nature that have formed the surface as we see it today, they believe, really believe, that they can visualize the subsurface.  It’s a fascinating four-dimensional detective story. 

Sam's book list on earth history

Sam L. Pfiester Why did Sam love this book?

Meldahl’s book describes more than 100 million years of North America’s history. For laymen, it is the best geologic field guide to understanding the tectonic forces and subsequent erosion which formed the western United States. The photos, maps, and illustrations depict how the rivers, mountains, and plains are where they are and why. Anyone who drives from California to the Great Plains, or in reverse, should carry this book in your car. Even though millions of people love history, few understand earth’s history, which stares in the face of all of us and, for those who are curious, reveals “the hidden poetry of our mutable earth” (Richard Fortey).

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rough-Hewn Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Unfold a map of North America," Keith Heyer Meldahl writes, "and the first thing to grab your eye is the bold shift between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains." In this absorbing book, Meldahl takes readers on a 1000-mile-long field trip back through more than 100 million years of deep time to explore America's most spectacular and scientifically intriguing landscapes. He places us on the outcrops, rock hammer in hand, to examine the evidence for how these rough-hewn lands came to be. We see California and its gold assembled from pieces of old ocean floor and the relentless movements…


Book cover of Calamity: The Many Lives of Calamity Jane

Lynn Downey Author Of Dudes Rush In

From my list on the women of the American West.

Who am I?

I have loved the history of the West since I was a child, as my family has lived here for over a century. I devoured historical fiction about pioneer girls in grammar school (including the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder), and as I got into college, I expanded my reading universe to include books about women’s roles in the West, and the meaning of this region in overall American history. This concept is what drew me to study the cultural influence of dude ranching, where women have always been able to shine -- and where I placed the protagonist of my first novel.

Lynn's book list on the women of the American West

Lynn Downey Why did Lynn love this book?

If you’re a fan of Deadwood or, going further back, the 1953 Doris Day movie, Calamity Jane, you will be fascinated by Jones’s book about the buckskin-wearing Martha Jane Canary, a.k.a. Calamity Jane. Details about her life are either sparse or exaggerated, so Jones tells us what the frontier legend has symbolized, both in her own time and in ours. Dressing like a man made her stand out and made her the object of both derision and decades of bad biographies. She still serves as a symbol of the way that women could defy expectations in the West, and Jones’s book gives us a Calamity Jane we can root for.

By Karen R. Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A fascinating new account of the life and legend of the Wild West's most notorious woman: Calamity Jane

"In this vivid and compelling biography, Karen Jones recovers the remarkable creativity of Martha Jane Canary, who helped to invent the mythic West by reinventing herself. As Calamity Jane, she told wild tales of adventure and blurred the lines between legend and history, male and female, and truth and possibility."-Alan Taylor, author of The Internal Enemy

Martha Jane Canary, popularly known as Calamity Jane, was the pistol-packing, rootin' tootin' "lady wildcat" of the American West. Brave and resourceful, she held her own…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the American West, the Mexican–American War, and the American Civil War?

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