The most recommended books on the Mexican–American War

Who picked these books? Meet our 12 experts.

12 authors created a book list connected to the Mexican–American War, and here are their favorite Mexican–American War books.
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Book cover of La Frontera: El Viaje Con Papa / My Journey with Papa

Nicki Cornwell Author Of Christophe's Story

From my list on asylum-seeking and displaced children and war.

Why am I passionate about this?

Two books that I read as a young child were very important to me. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss made me think about riches, poverty, and the power that rich people have to make stupid rules; and poor people have no choice but to obey them. The Japanese Twins from Lucy Fitch Perkins' series on twins from different cultures gave me a life-long interest in cultural differences. Not only did they think differently, depending on their culture, they also had different skin colours. Later I learned about racism when I worked with unhappy displaced children and interpreted for asylum-seekers. I write from a child's perspective, making books accessible to all ages.

Nicki's book list on asylum-seeking and displaced children and war

Nicki Cornwell Why did Nicki love this book?

I learned from this story why families make the difficult decision to split up and send a father and a child on a dangerous journey for a better life. This family lives in Mexico, facing hunger and destitution. The father and his son became migrants. They walked to America, knowing that they could be split up or one of them die.

In this book, I learned about the Mexican-American War, and the atrocious US policy of splitting migrant children from their parents.

By Deborah Mills,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Join a young boy and his father on a daring journey from Mexico to Texas to find a new life. They'll need all the resilience and courage they can muster to safely cross the border - la frontera - and to make a home for themselves in a new land. AGES: 8 to 10 AUTHORS: Alfredo Alva is a stonemason from La Ceja, Mexico. He and his family live in Texas, where he designs architectural details from stone for local architects. He met Deborah Mills while working on a local architecture project, and they worked together to write his story…

Book cover of The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Craig Fehrman Author Of Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote

From my list on written by American presidents.

Why am I passionate about this?

Craig Fehrman spent ten years writing Author in Chief, his book on presidents and the books they wrote. When readers would learn about his research, they'd always ask -- "Are any of them worth reading?" The answer turned out to be a definitive yes! Presidential books have won elections, redefined careers, and shaped America's place in the world. It's easy to eye-roll at modern political volumes, but for most of American history, books have been our popular culture -- and presidential books have changed our nation. Here are a few of the books that will reward readers today. 

Craig's book list on written by American presidents

Craig Fehrman Why did Craig love this book?

Grant’s book is deservingly celebrated as the best presidential book, even if it's mostly a work of military history. Still, my favorite parts are the character descriptions. They show a surprising side of Grant: as a reader, he was America’s first full-blown fiction-loving president, and his obsession with novels clearly influenced his own writing. If you have the Library of America edition, you can quickly turn to the book’s sketch of Lincoln (page 469), which captures that president’s graciousness, and the sketch of Robert E. Lee (page 732), which captures Grant’s.

By Ulysses S. Grant, John F. Marszalek,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"This fine volume leaps straight onto the roster of essential reading for anyone even vaguely interested in Grant and the Civil War. The book is deeply researched, but it introduces its scholarship with a light touch that never interferes with the reader's enjoyment of Grant's fluent narrative."-Ron Chernow, author of Grant

Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs, sold door-to-door by former Union soldiers, were once as ubiquitous in American households as the Bible. Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Henry James, and Edmund Wilson hailed them as great literature, and countless presidents, including Clinton and George W. Bush, credit Grant with influencing their own…

Book cover of The Squatter and the Don

Carrie Gibson Author Of El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America

From my list on Hispanic writers everyone should know.

Why am I passionate about this?

Carrie Gibson is a London-based writer who grew up in the US and spends as much time as she can in Latin America and the Caribbean. She started out as a journalist, working at UK newspapers, including the Guardian and the Observer, before diving into a PhD and historical research on European colonialism and its legacy in the Americas. She is the author of two books and continues to contribute to media outlets in the UK and US.

Carrie's book list on Hispanic writers everyone should know

Carrie Gibson Why did Carrie love this book?

María Amparo Ruiz de Burton lived through one of the most tumultuous periods of history in California. She was born in Baja California to an elite family but moved to Mexican Alta California, as it was then known, during the Mexican-American War, marrying US army captain Henry Burton and becoming a US citizen. Ruiz de Burton watched California’s transformation under US rule, and this 1885 novel uses fiction to lay bare the very real problem of land dispossession of the Mexican Californians (known as Californios) and the arrival of ‘squatters’ from the eastern US who were claiming contested property. Ruiz de Burton is considered to be one of the earliest Mexican-American female authors to write in English, and this work illustrates how Alta California’s transition to statehood upended the lives of many people who had lived there under Spanish and Mexican rule.

By Maria Amparo Ruiz De Burton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Squatter and the Don, originally published in San Francisco in 1885, is the first fictional narrative written and published in English from the perspective of the conquered Mexican population that, despite being granted the full rights of citizenship under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, was, by 1860, a subordinated and marginalized national minority.

Book cover of Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847

Doug Hocking Author Of Terror on the Santa Fe Trail: Kit Carson and the Jicarilla Apache

From my list on Santa Fe Trail for history buffs.

Why am I passionate about this?

Historian Doug Hocking grew up on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation of New Mexico. He knows her peoples, towns, and trails. He has completed advanced studies in history, his first love, anthropology, and historical archaeology. Since retiring as an armored cavalry officer, Doug has owned his own business. With this background he has insight into America’s great commercial road, the Santa Fe Trail, and into battles and soldiering. He understands Apache lives as few others do.

Doug's book list on Santa Fe Trail for history buffs

Doug Hocking Why did Doug love this book?

Teenaged and highly observant Susan spent her honeymoon on the Santa Fe Trail with her husband a Santa Fe trader as they accompanied the Army of the West on its invasion of Mexico. She provides a woman’s perspective and much more. At a time when very few women have trailed to New Mexico, Susan wrote of the amazing things she encountered giving us a woman’s perspective. 

By Susan Shelby Magoffin, Stella M. Drumm (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In June 1846 Susan Shelby Magoffin, eighteen years old and a bride of less than eight months, set out with her husband, a veteran Santa Fe trader, on a trek from Independence, Missouri, through New Mexico and south to Chihuahua. Her travel journal was written at a crucial time, when the Mexican War was beginning and New Mexico was occupied by Stephen Watts Kearny and the Army of the West.

Her journal describes the excitement, routine, and dangers of a successful merchant's wife. On the trail for fifteen months, moving from house to house and town to town, she became…

Book cover of The Year of Decision 1846

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

From my list on western migration before the Civil War.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

A thrilling if bumpy ride through 1846, as DeVoto tracks multiple stories of Americans who headed west at the start of the great migration. Like Webb’s Great Plains, this book — published in 1942 — is a little dated in places, but DeVoto’s vivid descriptions and strong opinions make it highly enjoyable. The general subject is the “period when the manifold possibilities of chance were shaped to converge into the inevitable,” writes DeVoto. More plainly, the book is about "some people who went west in 1846." Many of them died on the way. Some found fortune. Altogether, they left behind extraordinary history.

By Bernard DeVoto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Year of Decision 1846 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Year of Decision 1846 tells many fascinating stories of the U.S. explorers who began the western march from the Mississippi to the Pacific, from Canada to the annexation of Texas, California, and the southwest lands from Mexico. It is the penultimate book of a trilogy which includes Across the Wide Missouri (for which DeVoto won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes) and The Course of Empire. DeVoto's narrative covers the expanding Western frontier, the Mormons, the Donner party, Fremont's exploration, the Army of the West, and takes readers into Native American tribal life.

Book cover of In the Rogue Blood

Alden Bell Author Of The Reapers Are the Angels

From my list on in the tradition of William Faulkner.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a writer, I’ve been deeply influenced by Southern literature—especially the work of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. Even though I’m not from the South myself, I am drawn to Southern writers’ immodesty. I believe much of contemporary literature is too timid. It is about the mundane, the everyday.  It does not elevate; instead, it diminishes.  Much of the literature of the South is biblical in its sensibilities.  It is unafraid to deal with the big universal issues with language that is equally big and universal.  It does not pander to modesty or postmodern selfconsciousness. It is audacious. It’s the kind of writing that made me want to write.

Alden's book list on in the tradition of William Faulkner

Alden Bell Why did Alden love this book?

Mixing Faulkner’s gothic language with McCarthy’s sense of history, Blake writes a story of two brothers torn apart by circumstance and their experiences in the Mexican-American War.  Blake captures that sense of aimless wandering that echoes Faulkner’s stories—the rootless characters meandering across the country, not only unsure of their destinations but maybe even indifferent to them. To me, one of the most profound twists in the book is that the brothers don’t seem to care which side of the war they participate in. They are itinerants whose purpose in the world is simply circumstantial; they are instruments of universal forces that they neither question nor understand. 

By James Carlos Blake,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The offspring of a whore mother and a homicidal father, Edward and John Little are driven from their home in the Florida swamplands by a sching parent's treacheries, and by a shameful, horrific act that will haunt their dreams for the rest of their days. Joining the swelling ranks of the rootless--wandering across an almost surreal bloodland populated by the sorrowfully lost and defiantly damned--two brothers are separated by death and circumstance in the lawless "Dixie City" of New Orelans, and dispatched by destiny to opposing sides in a fierce and desperate territorial struggled between Mexico and the United States.…

Book cover of The Dead March: A History of the Mexican-American War

Stephen B. Neufeld Author Of The Blood Contingent: The Military and the Making of Modern Mexico, 1876–1911

From my list on 19th Century Mexico’s military history.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion for Mexican and military history came from many sources. Wandering in my 20s in Europe and Asia honed my appreciation for the historical experience. Good friends in the Canadian military made me curious about the odd rituals and strange subcultures they inhabited. As I moved from Calgary to Vancouver to Tucson I devolved from degree to degree, studying deviance, military history, Mexican culture, and finally finishing a dissertation that combined these elements into one work. And now I happily get to inflict all of this history on my students in California.  

Stephen's book list on 19th Century Mexico’s military history

Stephen B. Neufeld Why did Stephen love this book?

This work combines excellent writing with impeccable research from a scholar I deeply respect. Guardino’s take on this war is persuasive and somewhat controversial, at least in Mexican circles, due to his analysis showing endemic supply issues at the heart of military failures in the face of a US invasion. He shows how the war goes horribly wrong for Mexico in a New Military History style approach that examines society using the army as a lens.  

By Peter Guardino,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Bolton-Johnson Prize
Winner of the Utley Prize
Winner of the Distinguished Book Award, Society for Military History

"The Dead March incorporates the work of Mexican a story that involves far more than military strategy, diplomatic maneuvering, and American political intrigue...Studded with arresting insights and convincing observations."
-James Oakes, New York Review of Books

"Superb...A remarkable achievement, by far the best general account of the war now available. It is critical, insightful, and rooted in a wealth of archival sources; it brings far more of the Mexican experience than any other work...and it clearly demonstrates the social…

Book cover of A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico

Andrew Lipman Author Of The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast

From my list on the rise and fall of empires in North America.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a born-and-bred New Englander and I teach history at Barnard College, Columbia University. I have always loved sailing and the ocean, so I’m fascinated with the early modern Age of Sail. My focus is the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Atlantic World, when the histories of the Americas, Europe, and Africa became permanently entangled. My first book, The Saltwater Frontier, won the Bancroft Prize in American History in 2016. My second book, The Life and Times of Squanto, is hitting bookshelves in Fall 2024. 

Andrew's book list on the rise and fall of empires in North America

Andrew Lipman Why did Andrew love this book?

This is a delightful, novelistic read on the U.S.-Mexico War.

When the United States invaded Mexico on thin pretenses in 1846, it resulted in a massive annexation of territory while, at the same, sparking a genuine anti-war protest movement. Amy Greenberg puts Henry Clay, James K. Polk, and Abraham Lincoln at the center of the story. Her book sheds new light on the origins of the Civil War and the evolution of American empire.

By Amy S. Greenberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Our 1846 war with Mexico was a blatant land grab provoked by President James Polk. And while it secured the entire Southwest and California for America, it also exacerbated regional tensions over slavery, created the first significant antiwar movement in America, and helped lead the nation into civil war. A Wicked War is the definitive history of this conflict that turned America into a continental power. Amy Greenberg describes the battles between American and Mexican armies, but also delineates the political battles between Democrats and Whigs—the former led by the ruthless Polk, the latter by the charismatic Henry Clay, and…

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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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…