The most recommended books about the American West

Who picked these books? Meet our 121 experts.

121 authors created a book list connected to the American West, and here are their favorite American West books.
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Book cover of Conagher

Emily Hayse Author Of These War-Torn Hands

From my list on capturing the poignant beauty of the American West.

Who am I?

Ever since I can remember, I've been captivated by the American West. Was it that cowboys were brave and if you had integrity it was most certainly put to the test? Was it that everyone rode horses and I was a horse crazy girl? Whatever it was that struck me, it stayed. I have treasured the West ever since, through books, film, art, and most recently, a fantasy western trilogy of my own. 

Emily's book list on capturing the poignant beauty of the American West

Emily Hayse Why did Emily love this book?

Louis L'Amour wrote dozens of novels about the West but this one I loved because of the sweet wistfulness that was contrasted with the harsh reality of frontier living. Evie Teal is a widow whose husband rode out for cattle and never came back, leaving her alone in the wilderness with two children and only guesses as to how he could have died. Conn Conagher is a poetry-loving, quiet cowboy who hasn't much but his integrity and good name. Neither thinks the other could possibly be interested in them, and the quiet, understated love story just draws you in. 

By Louis L'Amour,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As far as the eye can see is a vast, empty horizon. Evie Teale has finally accepted that her husband won’t be coming home. To make ends meet she runs a temporary stage station. But though she is diligent and careful, Evie must prepare for the day when the passengers no longer come and she must protect her children in an untamed country where’s it’s far easier to die than to live.

Miles away, another solitary soul battles for survival. Conagher is a lean, dark-eyed drifter who is not about to let a gang of rustlers push him around. While…

Book cover of A Cowboy for Keeps

Amanda Cabot Author Of The Spark of Love

From my list on to forget you’re living in the 21st century.

Who am I?

Like Thomas Jefferson, I cannot live without books. And, while I read in a variety of genres, from early childhood on, my favorite stories were the ones that began with “once upon a time.” My fascination with historicals started with one of my father’s few books from his childhood, The Cave Twins, which introduced me to a world far different from suburban America. For me, the appeal of historicals is the opportunity to learn about another era and to escape from the modern world. And so, if you want to escape from what seems like an endless pandemic, I invite you to explore the worlds six talented authors have created.

Amanda's book list on to forget you’re living in the 21st century

Amanda Cabot Why did Amanda love this book?

Like many authors, I’m a very picky reader and frequently abandon books after reading less than 10 percent. Over the past year or so, I’ve found myself abandoning more and more historicals because of poor writing, anachronisms, or unrealistic characters. I was beginning to despair of finding a book that met my standards, and then I opened A Cowboy for Keeps. Not only did Hedlund’s story meet my standards, it exceeded them. Her beautiful writing and vivid descriptions immersed me in the Old West, and the story itself was so riveting that while I wanted to see what happened next, part of me hated the idea of turning the last page. This is an outstanding historical romance.

By Jody Hedlund, Jody Hedlund,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Greta Nilsson's trip west to save her ailing little sister, Astrid, could not have gone more wrong. First, bandits hold up her stagecoach, stealing all her money. Then, upon arriving in Fairplay, Colorado, she learns the man she was betrothed to as a mail-order bride has died. Homeless, penniless, and jobless, Greta and her sister are worse off than when they started.

Wyatt McQuaid is struggling to get his new ranch up and running and is in town to purchase cattle when the mayor proposes the most unlikely of bargains. He'll invest in a herd of cattle for Wyatt's ranch…

Book cover of Jubal Sackett

Wayne Grant Author Of Longbow

From my list on historical fiction with compelling heroes.

Who am I?

I was a science fiction guy as a young man but stumbled upon a historical fiction novel as a young Lieutenant serving in the Army in Germany. It was a book about Robert the Bruce and the first in a trilogy that traced the rise of Bruce to the throne of Scotland. The author brought that story to life in a way no straight history text could and I was hooked. Inspired, I took two weeks' leave from the Army and drove from Bavaria to Scotland to visit the battlefield of Bannockburn! Since then I’ve become an avid reader of both historical fiction and more scholarly works of history and have thrilled to the exploits of great characters, both real and fictional.

Wayne's book list on historical fiction with compelling heroes

Wayne Grant Why did Wayne love this book?

My favorite novel from one of my favorite historical fiction writers. Louis L’Amour is best known for his many western novels, but his earlier Sackett tales harken back to the days when Europeans were first settling the edge of the great North American continent. No one writes swashbuckling, daring-do adventure stories better than L’Amour, but what makes this book really stand out is his hero, Jubal Sackett. Jubal, the youngest son of the adventurer Barnabas Sackett, has his father’s wanderlust and yearns to see new lands that lie to the west of his home in the mountains of North Carolina. 

He sets out alone, is befriended by Keotah, a Kickapoo warrior, and together they cross the Mississippi and venture out onto the great grass prairie the Natchez tribe calls “the far-seeing land.” Jubal’s a bit of a mystic, but it’s his competence, courage, and integrity that keeps him alive in…

By Louis L'Amour,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Jubal Sackett, the second generation of Louis L'Amour's great American family pursues a destiny in the wilderness of a sprawling new land.

Jubal Sackett's urge to explore drove him westward, and when a Natchez priest asks him to undertake a nearly impossible quest, Sackett ventures into the endless grassy plains the Indians call the Far Seeing Lands. He seeks a Natchez exploration party and its leader, Itchakomi. It is she who will rule her people when their aging chief dies, but first she must vanquish her rival, the arrogant warrior Kapata. Sackett's quest will bring him danger from an…

Book cover of The Innocents

Amy M. Reade Author Of Cape Menace: A Cape May Historical Mystery

From my list on mysteries that make you wish you had a time machine.

Who am I?

I’ve been a lover of historical mysteries ever since I realized it’s possible to read mystery fiction and learn history at the same time. Every time I pick up a mystery set in the past, whether it’s the ancient past, the more recent past, or somewhere in between, I know I’m going to be intrigued and challenged by a great story and come away with a greater understanding of the people, culture, customs, and events of that time period. It’s a win-win. I write historical mysteries because I want to share with readers what I’ve learned about a particular time or place in a way that’s compelling and engaging. 

Amy's book list on mysteries that make you wish you had a time machine

Amy M. Reade Why did Amy love this book?

This first-in-series book takes place in 1868 in the American West, a place I would visit in my time machine (I wouldn’t stay because I’m not a fan of dust and dirt and there was plenty of that in the early American West, but that’s on me).  

Abigail (Abi) MacKay is a Pinkerton detective who has to do her job twice as well as any man to prove she deserves the position. Nat Quinn and Jake Conroy are leaders of the payroll train-robbing gang known as The Innocents. Nat and Jake are supposed to be the sworn enemies of the Pinkertons, but as luck would have it, Abi and the two men are forced to team up after the men save her life and she promises to help them find the person who murdered a friend of theirs.  

But once their collaboration is over, what’s going to happen? Abi is…

By C. A. Asbrey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Pinkerton Detective Abigail MacKay is a master of disguises—and of new crime-solving technology! But she’ll have to move fast to stay a step ahead of Nat Quinn and Jake Conroy.

Nat and Jake are the ringleaders of The Innocents, a western gang that specializes in holding up trains carrying payrolls—and Nat is pretty savvy when it comes to using the new sciences of 1868 in committing his crimes.

Charismatic Nat and handsome Jake are on the run, and they’ve always gotten away before—before Abi. But when Abi is caught by another band of outlaws during the chase, there’s no other…

Book cover of The Life of Daniel Boone

Robert Ray Morgan Author Of Boone: A Biography

From my list on the world of Daniel Boone.

Who am I?

I have always had an interest in the American frontier and the Native peoples. But while researching the novel Brave Enemies and Boone: A Biography I spent years studying and visiting places where the stories occur, and using archives and libraries. However, the most important consideration is storytelling, rewarding the reader with a good story.

Robert's book list on the world of Daniel Boone

Robert Ray Morgan Why did Robert love this book?

In this volume Belue has done the almost impossible task of transcribing the text of Draper’s unpublished manuscript of Boone’s life. Draper spent his career collecting documents and interviews about Boone and the settlement of the Ohio Valley, but never managed to finish the work. Only those who have tried to read Draper’s manuscripts can appreciate the heroic task Belue has accomplished. I relied extensively on this volume.

By Lyman C. Draper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Draper, the first secretary of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, collected more than 500 volumes of material on the famed frontiersman Daniel Boone. His biography of Boone remained unfinished for 100 years until Ted Franklin Belue, a widely read scholar of early Americana, added his authoritative editing. This long-awaited work is filled with little-known information on Boone and his family, long hunters, the Shawnee, the fur trade, and frontier life in general.

Book cover of The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky

Stephen Trimble Author Of The Capitol Reef Reader

From my list on Utah Canyon Country.

Who am I?

Long ago, in college in Colorado, I discovered Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire—the classic that grew from journals he kept while a ranger at Utah’s Arches National Park. I’d grown up in the West, visiting national parks and revering park rangers. Abbey gave me the model—live and write in these wild places. After graduating, I snagged jobs myself as a seasonal ranger/naturalist at Arches and Capitol Reef national parks. I was thrilled. Since then, I’ve spent decades exploring and photographing Western landscapes. After working on 25 books about natural history, Native peoples, and conservation, Capitol Reef still remains my “home park” and Utah Canyon Country my spiritual home.  

Stephen's book list on Utah Canyon Country

Stephen Trimble Why did Stephen love this book?

Ellen Meloy just might be my favorite Utah writer. She’s smart and witty. She’s laugh-out-loud funny. She’s self-deprecatory and never preachy. She gets her natural history right. And her writing is gorgeous. She died far too young, at 58, in 2004, and I miss her. As she wanders outward across Bears Ears National Monument from her home in Bluff, Ellen’s musings apply equally to the slickrock spine of the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef. So I was determined to include her in my own book. I chose an excerpt from The Anthropology of Turquoise—a terrific piece on sensual canyon country wildflowers, “slickrotica.” In her book, Ellen follows turquoise to the ends of the earth, but she always brings us back to her home territory in the canyons. 

By Ellen Meloy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this invigorating mix of natural history and adventure, artist-naturalist Ellen Meloy uses turquoise—the color and the gem—to probe deeper into our profound human attachment to landscape.

From the Sierra Nevada, the Mojave Desert, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Bahamas to her home ground on the high plateaus and deep canyons of the Southwest, we journey with Meloy through vistas of both great beauty and great desecration. Her keen vision makes us look anew at ancestral mountains, turquoise seas, and even motel swimming pools. She introduces us to Navajo “velvet grandmothers” whose attire and aesthetics absorb the vivid palette of…

Book cover of When You & I Were Young, Whitefish

Kirby Larson Author Of Hattie Big Sky

From my list on Montana during WWI.

Who am I?

I am a history-phobe turned history fanatic thanks to a snippet of a family story about my great-grandmother. Casual interest morphed into a focused passion when I learned that she truly had homesteaded-- all by herself and in her late teens-- in eastern Montana in 1917. Her accomplishment inspired four years of research and writing, resulting in my first historical novel, Hattie Big Sky, which earned a Newbery Honor award and spent weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. More importantly, that bit of family lore revealed my purpose as a writer and I have since devoted my career to bringing the past alive for today’s young readers.

Kirby's book list on Montana during WWI

Kirby Larson Why did Kirby love this book?

Dorothy M. Johnson wrote three short stories that were made into Western movies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; The Hanging Tree; and A Man Called Horse. But this collection is a light-hearted visit to her childhood, growing up near Glacier National Park. A quick but delightful read to balance out some of the chewier reading I’ve suggested.

By Dorothy M. Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When You & I Were Young, Whitefish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[When You and I Were Young, Whitefish is] a lighthearted look into the life of a growing Western town in the early twentieth century. These fresh, jaunty tales of youth radiate good humor." -American West

Book cover of Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip Through the Land Art of the American West

Amy Dempsey Author Of Destination Art: Art Essentials

From my list on Destination Art.

Who am I?

I am an art historian and the author of various books about modern art, including Styles, Schools & Movements: The Essential Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art and three editions of Destination Art. I coined the phrase ‘Destination Art’ in order to discuss artworks in which location is an integral ingredient, as is the journey to find them. I had noticed projects like these happening all over the world, but often in a quiet way. They needed someone to shine the light on them – so I did! My goal is to educate, enthuse and excite – and to continue my mission of spreading the word about intriguing and inspiring art projects. 

Amy's book list on Destination Art

Amy Dempsey Why did Amy love this book?

This is Hogan’s account of her road trip in search of famous, almost mythical, land art pieces, such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. Travelling on her own she found some of the artworks – and a lot out about herself. Brave? Foolish? Probably both. But for the reader, certainly an entertaining and informative chronicle of her travels and discoveries.

By Erin Hogan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Erin Hogan hit the road in her Volkswagen Jetta and headed west from Chicago in search of the monuments of American land art: a salty coil of rocks, four hundred stainless steel poles, a gash in a mesa, four concrete tubes, and military sheds filled with cubes. Her journey took her through the states of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. It also took her through the states of anxiety, drunkenness, disorientation, and heat exhaustion. "Spiral Jetta" is a chronicle of this journey. A lapsed art historian and devoted urbanite, Hogan initially sought firsthand experience of the monumental earthworks…

Book cover of The Cowgirls

Tracey Hanshew Author Of Oklahoma Rodeo Women

From my list on cowgirls and ranching women.

Who am I?

I grew up around ranch and rodeo life, having always been fascinated by it, attended several rodeos each year. Watching Jonnie Jonckowski ride bulls and Martha Josey break records wining barrel races—they were an inspiration. When an opportunity arose for me to build a career around researching and writing about cowgirls, rodeo, and cattlewomen, it was a dream come true.  Hope you enjoy the books about them that I’ve recommended.

Tracey's book list on cowgirls and ranching women

Tracey Hanshew Why did Tracey love this book?

Cowgirls evoke a variety of images: Wild West show shootist, rodeo athletes, working ranch women, and pin-ups. Many stories, dime novels, and a plethora of fiction about the cowgirl confuse her true history and are in many ways responsible for why we have so many interpretations of her. In The Cowgirls, Joyce Gibson Roach unravels the folklore to give us the history of the cowgirl, the good, and the “lady rustlers,” to explain her longevity as heroic cattlewomen who hold our attention and fascination even today. Roach’s narrative is as entertaining as it is informative and is a history any fan of the cowgirl should read.

By Joyce Gibson Roach,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An important chapter in the history and folklore of the West is how women on the cattle frontier took their place as equal partners with men. The cowboy may be our most authentic folk hero, but the cowgirl is right on his heels. This Spur Award winning book fills a void in the history of the cowgirl.

While Susan B. Anthony and her hoop-skirted friends were declaring that females too were created equal, Sally Skull was already riding and roping and marking cattle with her Circle S brand on the frontier of Texas. Wearing rawhide bloomers and riding astride, she…

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…