10 books like The Year of Decision 1846

By Bernard DeVoto,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Year of Decision 1846. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Great Plains

By Walter Prescott Webb,

Book cover of The Great Plains

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.

The Great Plains

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,…


The Plains Across

By John D. Unruh,

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

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.

The Plains Across

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.


The Oregon Trail

By Francis Parkman,

Book cover of The Oregon Trail

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…

The Oregon Trail

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.


Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

By Dee Brown,

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

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.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

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…


Print the Legend

By Martha A. Sandweiss,

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

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.   

Print the Legend

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…


Last Stand at Saber River

By Elmore Leonard,

Book cover of Last Stand at Saber River

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.

Last Stand at Saber River

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…


Great Plains

By Ian Frazier,

Book cover of Great Plains

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. 

Great Plains

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,…


Rough-Hewn Land

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

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

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).

Rough-Hewn Land

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…


Weird Westerns

By Kerry Fine (editor), Michael K. Johnson (editor), Rebecca M. Lush (editor)

Book cover of Weird Westerns: Race, Gender, Genre

These fourteen essays explore the hybrid “weird west” genre, examining a range of texts including some by Native American authors, as well as TV series, films, fiction, roleplaying games, and comic books. It makes for an interesting read – and is thought-provoking in its conclusion that despite weird westerns challenging and destabilizing many of the old cliches, they have yet to “imagine an existence outside of colonial frameworks”. This has given me much food for thought, as it seems to me that frontiers (wherever found) are an intrinsic part of the western genre, and frontiers tend to imply conflict between the inhabitants and the invaders, between the new and the established. Maybe I’m wrong! In any case, this proves that we still have a long way to go before we’re done exploring all the possibilities of this intriguing genre! 

Weird Westerns

By Kerry Fine (editor), Michael K. Johnson (editor), Rebecca M. Lush (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

2021 Top Ten Finalist for the Locus Awards in Nonfiction

Weird Westerns is an exploration of the hybrid western genre-an increasingly popular and visible form that mixes western themes, iconography, settings, and conventions with elements drawn from other genres, such as science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Despite frequent declarations of the western's death, the genre is now defined in part by its zombie-like ability to survive in American popular culture in weird, reanimated, and reassembled forms.

The essays in Weird Westerns analyze a wide range of texts, including those by Native American authors Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet) and William Sanders…


Beyond the Hundredth Meridian

By Wallace Stegner,

Book cover of Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt famously described his first reading of Stegner’s book about John Wesley Powell: it felt like a brick had been thrown through a windowpane, transforming his view of a West he thought he knew. The same thing happened to me when I read the book while serving as a Capitol Reef seasonal naturalist in my 20s. No one else writes like Stegner, who was born on the frontier and grew into a scholar of that frontier. In this book, he takes us along on Powell’s harrowing 1869 river trip down the Colorado River. And then Stegner uses Powell’s growing understanding of our arid West to illuminate the very nature of that desert West. Utah Canyon Country lies at the heart of his story.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian

By Wallace Stegner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Beyond the Hundredth Meridian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the “dean of Western writers” (The New York Times) and the Pulitzer Prize winning–author of Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety, a fascinating look at the old American West and the man who prophetically warned against the dangers of settling it
 
In Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, Wallace Stegner recounts the sucesses and frustrations of John Wesley Powell, the distinguished ethnologist and geologist who explored the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, and the homeland of Indian tribes of the American Southwest. A prophet without honor who had a profound understanding of the American West, Powell warned long ago of…


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