The best Southwestern United States books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about Southwestern United States and why they recommend each book.

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The Pot Thief Who Studied the Woman at Otowi Crossing

By J. Michael Orenduff,

Book cover of The Pot Thief Who Studied the Woman at Otowi Crossing

The Pot Thief Who Studied the Woman at Otowi Crossing (A Pot Thief Murder Mystery) is a fun, quick read. Our pot dealer (not the kind you smoke) owns a shop in Albuquerque's Old Town. "Hubie" as he is called, digs for pottery on public lands to sell in his shop. I enjoyed his university meetings and the hierarchy at the University of New Mexico. When things got heated among the profs, he dove into a book until the collegiate clashing was over. Fond of margaritas, and who isn't, I got a kick out of how much mystery solving he could do at this favorite bar. My characters share that trait by stopping by The Shed in Santa Fe with regularity.

Who am I?

The American Southwest never gets old. Exploring any of the Ancestral Pueblo sites is like walking back in time. Anasazi Medium takes the reader there. I love the land and the culture that has brought us to the present. My character, Santa Fe reporter Rachel Blackstone, reflects this. She is sarcastic at times, can be funny, and has her poignant moments as she copes with a “talent” she never wanted. In Anasazi Medium, I concocted a mixture of mystery, Hopi traditions and a journalist’s eye to entertain and inform. What resulted is a climate mystery in the most water-challenged state in the U.S. and a high adventure read. 


I wrote...

Anasazi Medium

By G.G. Collins,

Book cover of Anasazi Medium

What is my book about?

Ancient peoples enlighten contemporary humankind in a mystery as old as time. Rachel Blackstone, a Santa Fe reporter, is recruited by the spirit world to prevent a cataclysm: the end of the Fourth World of the Hopi. As earthquakes rumble and a supervolcano threatens to blow, it becomes imperative she discovers the root of all evil. Can she stop the greedy men intent on plundering Mother Earth and killing those who would stop them? The survival of an unaware civilization depends on Rachel getting it right. 

Brujo

By Jann Arrington Wolcott,

Book cover of Brujo: Seduced by Evil

Jann Arrington Wolcott’s Brujo: Seduced by Evil features Lee Lindsay as the intrepid reporter. The action takes place in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After a co-worker is killed in a suspicious car crash, Lee is sent to complete his assignment. The man she meets in a remote village casts a spell over her. Flashbacks to a former life begin to haunt her as the brujo (male witch) stalks her and her family. As someone who knows Santa Fe well, I liked how Wolcott used Santa Fe locations and local color to enhance the narrative. Lee’s friendship with the artist who knew something about brujos was the best part for me; a true friend who risked it all.

Who am I?

The American Southwest never gets old. Exploring any of the Ancestral Pueblo sites is like walking back in time. Anasazi Medium takes the reader there. I love the land and the culture that has brought us to the present. My character, Santa Fe reporter Rachel Blackstone, reflects this. She is sarcastic at times, can be funny, and has her poignant moments as she copes with a “talent” she never wanted. In Anasazi Medium, I concocted a mixture of mystery, Hopi traditions and a journalist’s eye to entertain and inform. What resulted is a climate mystery in the most water-challenged state in the U.S. and a high adventure read. 


I wrote...

Anasazi Medium

By G.G. Collins,

Book cover of Anasazi Medium

What is my book about?

Ancient peoples enlighten contemporary humankind in a mystery as old as time. Rachel Blackstone, a Santa Fe reporter, is recruited by the spirit world to prevent a cataclysm: the end of the Fourth World of the Hopi. As earthquakes rumble and a supervolcano threatens to blow, it becomes imperative she discovers the root of all evil. Can she stop the greedy men intent on plundering Mother Earth and killing those who would stop them? The survival of an unaware civilization depends on Rachel getting it right. 

A Laboratory for Anthropology

By Don D. Fowler,

Book cover of A Laboratory for Anthropology: Science and Romanticism in the American Southwest, 1846-1930

Read this book along with the other handsomely published book, Hidden Scholars, and we have a pair that opens up the idealized Southwest and the ideology of White Supremacy behind it. Schemes and sufferings, deals and derring-do abounded in the territory that now boasts our U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Laguna Pueblo citizen Deb Haaland. Don Fowler and his wife Catherine Fowler are themselves archaeologists/ethnographers in the Southwest borderland, my longtime good friends and colleagues, with an eye for arresting details and a story-telling style that make this book a gripping account of how the Romantic Ruins and fascinating Pueblos were created out in America's desert.


Who am I?

Observant of the world around me, and intellectual, I discovered my ideal way of life at age 16 when I read Kroeber's massive textbook Anthropology, 1948 edition. Anthropologists study everything human, everywhere and all time. Archaeology particularly appealed to me because it is outdoors, physical, plus its data are only the residue of human activities, challenging us to figure out what those people, that place and time, did and maybe thought. As a woman from before the Civil Rights Act, a career was discouraged; instead, I did fieldwork with my husband, and on my own, worked with First Nations communities on ethnohistorical research. Maverick, uppity, unstoppable, like in these books.


I wrote...

Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession

By Alice Beck Kehoe,

Book cover of Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession

What is my book about?

Girl Archaeologist recounts Alice Kehoe’s life, begun in an era very different from the twenty-first century in which she retired as an honored elder archaeologist. She persisted against entrenched patriarchy. A senior male professor attempted to quash Kehoe’s career by raping her. Her Harvard professors refused to allow her to write a dissertation in archaeology. Universities paid her less than her male counterparts. Her husband refused to participate in housework or childcare. Working in archaeology and in the histories of American First Nations, Kehoe published a series of groundbreaking books and articles. Although she was denied a conventional career, through her unconventional breadth of research and her empathy with First Nations people she gained a wide circle of collaborators and colleagues. 

The New Wolves

By Rick Bass,

Book cover of The New Wolves: The Return of the Mexican Wolf to the American Southwest

Rick Bass is an absolute American treasure and it’s difficult to choose between this book about Mexican gray wolf recovery or his equally enthralling book The Ninemile Wolves. The New Wolves covers a sometimes overlooked part of the story of wolf recovery in the US. More often than not, people think about Yellowstone and the return of gray wolves to Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho when they think about reintroduction efforts. The saga of Lobos in the Southwest is a poignant and important one to remember and Rick Bass’ skilled prose will stay with you too.


Who am I?

Michelle Lute is a conservation scientist and advocate with fifteen years’ experience in biodiversity conservation on public and private lands around the globe. She dedicates her professional life to promoting human-wildlife coexistence through effective public engagement, equitable participatory processes, and evidence-based decision-making. Michelle is the National Carnivore Conservation Manager for Project Coyote whose mission is to promote compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.


My project is Project Coyote

What is this project about?

Project Coyote seeks to change negative attitudes toward coyotes, wolves and other misunderstood predators by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding, respect and appreciation. Our representatives, advisors and supporters include scientists, educators, ranchers and citizen leaders who work together to change laws and policies to protect native carnivores from abuse and mismanagement, advocating coexistence instead of killing. You can help us end cruel and senseless killing contests nationwideWatch the film Wildlife Killing Contests to learn about this important issue and share it to educate, expose, and end wildlife killing contests! Then sign the petition to stop this unconscionable practice on our federal public lands!


Finally, to learn more about why coyotes matter, read Coyote America by Project Coyote Ambassador Dan Flores. "Coyote America is the illuminating five-million-year biography of this extraordinary animal, from its origins to its apotheosis. It is one of the great epics of our time."

Ladies of the Canyons

By Lesley Poling-Kempes,

Book cover of Ladies of the Canyons: A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest

The title of this marvelous group biography is a play on the title of the film and comic book series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and suits the characters perfectly. Natalie Curtis, Carol Stanley, Alice Klauber, and Mary Cabot Wheelwright left their safe and secure lives and found a calling in the Southwest in the early 20th century. Along the way, they met important Hopi and Navajo leaders, as well as western enthusiasts like Theodore Roosevelt. This book is a marvelous read because the author weaves their lives together in ways that show how much they had in common, as well as how individual each woman was.


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.


I wrote...

Dudes Rush In

By Lynn Downey,

Book cover of Dudes Rush In

What is my book about?

In 1952, restless war widow Phoebe McFarland decides to leave her home in San Francisco to spend six months on her sister-in-law’s dude ranch in Tribulation, Arizona, called the H Double Bar. But Tribulation soon lives up to its name when secrets from the town’s past collide with a shocking revelation of her own, leading Phoebe down a trail to both discovery and danger.

Dudes Rush In is my first novel, written after over 35 years of publishing non-fiction works about California and the West. It combines my love of western history, the unique culture of dude ranching, and my desire to amplify the lives of women of the West.

A Canticle for Leibowitz

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.,

Book cover of A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz truly has all three aspects of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian set in a three-part cycle. My middle school English teacher gave it to me to read since I was bored with what she was teaching. I cannot thank her enough. Canticle has a fascinating premise: six centuries before the story begins, a worldwide atomic apocalypse occurred. Blaming the scientists and thinkers, survivors, dubbing themselves “Simpletons,” hunted and killed off academics, scientists, and other people with knowledge.

Leibowitz founded a monastery in the Utah desert to preserve what knowledge they could. He is being considered for sainthood for his efforts 600 years before, when a young monk of his order discovers a trove of ‘relics’ in a bomb shelter which are attributed to Leibowitz. These include a grocery list and blueprints which the monk copies as a medieval illumination. The monks' interpretations of the items found in…


Who am I?

After years of teaching English at alternative schools, I decided to write a book for students who don’t like to read, especially girls. One reason they don’t read is they often don’t see themselves represented in the characters. I wanted to hook them with characters they know. Lizzie, my impulsive, passionate protagonist, is a composite of many students. Sadly, her basic story, a single-parent family, substance abuse issues, poverty, and kids raising their siblings (and sometimes their parents), is tragically common. Turns out, All Is Silence appeals to friends and relatives who know these kids and want to understand them, and adults who were these kids themselves.


I wrote...

All is Silence

By Robert L. Slater,

Book cover of All is Silence

What is my book about?

What if death forgot you? Lizzie, a suicidal teenager, barely navigates her life. Then everything falls apart. In a land deserted by a bat-virus pandemic eerily like Covid, she lacks reasons to live until a shocking turn of events reveals a phone number. Calling pulls her dangerously cross-country to meet a stranger she thought was dead. There’s plenty of food, gas, space… but fear, anger, and lust for power still control the patterns of human life.

This is a coming-of-age, realistic Young Adult apocaloptimistic novel was written for the angry, sad Children of the Children of the 80s, teenagers who grew up on their parents’ Hair Metal, John Hughes’ movies, and pizza. (And their parents who aren’t too old to recognize themselves as teens…)

Parrot Blues

By Judith Van Gieson,

Book cover of Parrot Blues: A Neil Hamel Mystery

Divorce lawyer Neil Hamel always seems to do more PI work than law. In Parrot Blues (A Neil Hamel Mystery) by Judith Van Gieson, she tries to locate a missing woman—and an indigo parrot. Oddly, the husband seems more concerned about the bird than his wife, who may be on her way out of the marriage anyway. But with the parrot as the only witness, it’s a tough case to crack. There’s plenty of New Mexico history and vistas to satisfy, but I found the information about birds and smuggling to be eye-opening. Her relationship with the “Kid” adds to Neil’s character. She’s her own woman, doing things her way. That alone gained my respect.

Who am I?

The American Southwest never gets old. Exploring any of the Ancestral Pueblo sites is like walking back in time. Anasazi Medium takes the reader there. I love the land and the culture that has brought us to the present. My character, Santa Fe reporter Rachel Blackstone, reflects this. She is sarcastic at times, can be funny, and has her poignant moments as she copes with a “talent” she never wanted. In Anasazi Medium, I concocted a mixture of mystery, Hopi traditions and a journalist’s eye to entertain and inform. What resulted is a climate mystery in the most water-challenged state in the U.S. and a high adventure read. 


I wrote...

Anasazi Medium

By G.G. Collins,

Book cover of Anasazi Medium

What is my book about?

Ancient peoples enlighten contemporary humankind in a mystery as old as time. Rachel Blackstone, a Santa Fe reporter, is recruited by the spirit world to prevent a cataclysm: the end of the Fourth World of the Hopi. As earthquakes rumble and a supervolcano threatens to blow, it becomes imperative she discovers the root of all evil. Can she stop the greedy men intent on plundering Mother Earth and killing those who would stop them? The survival of an unaware civilization depends on Rachel getting it right. 

A Wyatt Earp Anthology

By Roy B. Young, Gary L. Roberts, Casey Tefertiller

Book cover of A Wyatt Earp Anthology: Long May His Story Be Told

Within these pages lie the latest gems of research that expands our knowledge of Wyatt Earp’s life events and character. Each of these contributions by a variety of authors is considered a revelation in the field of Earpiana. Readers cannot know the whole story of Earp without these long-lost chapters of Western history.


Who am I?

I am a teacher of primitive survival skills. As a young boy, I was fascinated with the concept of courage. At seven, I read the pseudo-biography of Wyatt Earp, a wonderfully written account of a courageous man. This book began my lifelong interest in Mr. Earp. Eventually, I met many of the giants in Western history research and accompanied them into the field. After 65 years of collecting the facts, I wanted to use my novelistic skills to portray the life and times of Wyatt Earp as best as the record shows.


I wrote...

The Long Road to Legend: Wyatt Earp, an American Odyssey Book One

By Mark Warren,

Book cover of The Long Road to Legend: Wyatt Earp, an American Odyssey Book One

What is my book about?

Wyatt Earp is arguably the most famous lawman of the Old West, but most writers have missed the key aspects of his personality. He was neither stubborn nor courageous. Something else drove him to survive a remarkable array of life and death confrontations. This book reveals the genesis of his no-nonsense attitude that instilled fear, respect, envy, or loathing in others. Farmer, stage driver, freight hauler, railroad laborer, boxer, town constable, brothel bouncer, buffalo hunter, and city marshal—these were the hats he wore in his formative years. Earp never earned the successes he craved, but his friends were loyal in the extreme.

Book two, Born to the Badge, covers the Kansas years. Book three, A Law Unto Himself, follows Earp’s violent troubles in the Arizona Territory.

Hidden Scholars

By Nancy J. Parezo,

Book cover of Hidden Scholars: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest

Out of the feminist movement in American archaeology came this thick testament to the number and importance of women archaeologists and ethnographers who worked in the American Southwest before the U.S. Civil Rights Act made discrimination illegal. As a woman who had been ignored and even brutally put down by men archaeologists, reading of these hardworking, persistent, and some of them brilliant women thrilled me. Over and above the revelations of great researchers who often collaborated with First Nations people, the book is a treasure of stories about pioneer conditions in the Southwest, discoveries of famous ruins, and early anthropologists breaking through into native communities.  


Who am I?

Observant of the world around me, and intellectual, I discovered my ideal way of life at age 16 when I read Kroeber's massive textbook Anthropology, 1948 edition. Anthropologists study everything human, everywhere and all time. Archaeology particularly appealed to me because it is outdoors, physical, plus its data are only the residue of human activities, challenging us to figure out what those people, that place and time, did and maybe thought. As a woman from before the Civil Rights Act, a career was discouraged; instead, I did fieldwork with my husband, and on my own, worked with First Nations communities on ethnohistorical research. Maverick, uppity, unstoppable, like in these books.


I wrote...

Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession

By Alice Beck Kehoe,

Book cover of Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession

What is my book about?

Girl Archaeologist recounts Alice Kehoe’s life, begun in an era very different from the twenty-first century in which she retired as an honored elder archaeologist. She persisted against entrenched patriarchy. A senior male professor attempted to quash Kehoe’s career by raping her. Her Harvard professors refused to allow her to write a dissertation in archaeology. Universities paid her less than her male counterparts. Her husband refused to participate in housework or childcare. Working in archaeology and in the histories of American First Nations, Kehoe published a series of groundbreaking books and articles. Although she was denied a conventional career, through her unconventional breadth of research and her empathy with First Nations people she gained a wide circle of collaborators and colleagues. 

House of Rain

By Craig Childs,

Book cover of House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest

Meanwhile, in the American Southwest we have the Great House civilization of the “Anasazi” -- more correctly, the Ancestral Puebloan people -- renowned for creating Chaco Canyon and many other great cultural centers. (Chaco and its inhabitants figure strongly in my third book, Eagle and Empire.) Craig Childs’ book makes this area, and its peoples, and the sheer extent of their civilization, come alive. It’s a beautiful and evocative work of archeological detective work and exploration.


Who am I?

My twin passions are science and history, and I try to have it both ways by writing a mix of alternate history and hard SF. I grew up in Yorkshire, England, enjoyed lots of family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall and other Roman-rich areas, and acquired degrees in Physics and Astrophysics from Oxford, but I’ve lived in the US for over half my life and now work for NASA (studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects). My novella of a Roman invasion of ancient America, A Clash of Eagles, won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History and formed the starting point for my Clash of Eagles trilogy from Del Rey, and Hot Moon, my alternate-Apollo thriller set entirely on and around the Moon, will be published by CAEZIK SF & Fantasy in 2022.


I wrote...

Clash of Eagles: The Clash of Eagles Trilogy Book I

By Alan Smale,

Book cover of Clash of Eagles: The Clash of Eagles Trilogy Book I

What is my book about?

The Roman Empire has survived in its classical form until 1218 AD, and has now discovered North America. Transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean to Nova Hesperia, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of worlds, cultures, and warriors.

Gaius Marcellinus and his 33rd Legion expect easy victories over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of the Mississippi River the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has imagined. As Marcellinus learns more about the Mississippian mound-building culture he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the people of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats Roman and Native assail them, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.

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