The best books on the USA Mexico border

20 authors have picked their favorite books about the USA Mexico border and why they recommend each book.

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The Unarmed Truth

By John Dodson,

Book cover of The Unarmed Truth: My Fight to Blow the Whistle and Expose Fast and Furious

Dodson was an officer for the ATF working along the border with Mexico. He stumbled across the scandal behind Operation Fast and Furious, and rather than keeping quiet, he took the risky step of whistleblowing on covert operations by US government agencies in collusion with the drug gangs of Mexico, and the death of Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry.

The Unarmed Truth

By John Dodson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A hard-hitting inside account of the Fast and Furious scandal—the government-sponsored program intended to “win the drug war” by providing and tracking gun sales across the border to Mexico—from whistle-blower and ATF agent John Dodson.

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, John Dodson pulled bodies out of the wreckage at the Pentagon. In 2007, following the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech, John Dodson walked through the classrooms, heartbroken, to cover up the bodies of the victims.

Then came Arizona. The American border.

Ten days before Christmas, 2010, ATF agent John Dodson awoke to the news he had dreaded…


Who am I?

I became passionate about the Mexico/US border question after meeting someone who is now a close friend, a Mexican academic who introduced me to some of the issues. She helped me write Saint Death as a way to explore the politics of ultra-capitalism, in the form of multinational business, and the action of drug cartels.


I wrote...

Saint Death

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Book cover of Saint Death

What is my book about?

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re both as good as dead.

Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santa Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

Death and the Idea of Mexico

By Claudio Lomnitz,

Book cover of Death and the Idea of Mexico

I wanted to include a book here on ‘Holy Death’ herself, Santa Muerte, but there simply isn’t a good one. There’s a terrible one published by a once respectable academic publisher, but I can’t recommend it. Instead, there are some passages on Santa Muerte in this huge and significant piece of work: Lomnitz’s encyclopedic book digs into Mexico’s deep roots to explore the long relationship the country has with Death, of which the still growing ‘cult’ of Santa Muerte is but one emanation.

Death and the Idea of Mexico

By Claudio Lomnitz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Death and the Idea of Mexico is the first social, cultural, and political history of death in a nation that has made death its tutelary sign. Examining the history of death and of the death sign from the sixteenth-century holocaust to contemporary Mexican American identity politics, anthropologist Claudio Lomnitz’s innovative study marks a turning point in understanding Mexico’s rich and unique use of death imagery. Unlike contemporary Europeans and Americans, whose denial of death permeates their cultures, the Mexican people display and cultivate a jovial familiarity with death. This intimacy with death has become the cornerstone of Mexico’s national identity.…


Who am I?

I became passionate about the Mexico/US border question after meeting someone who is now a close friend, a Mexican academic who introduced me to some of the issues. She helped me write Saint Death as a way to explore the politics of ultra-capitalism, in the form of multinational business, and the action of drug cartels.


I wrote...

Saint Death

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Book cover of Saint Death

What is my book about?

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re both as good as dead.

Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santa Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

Blood Meridian

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

In my opinion, the best novel written in the last fifty years. The violence would be too much in the hands of a lesser writer and there is no greater living writer in English than McCarthy. McCarthy perfectly captures the nihilism of war, and how that nihilism later comes back to haunt war’s survivors.

Blood Meridian

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Blood Meridian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is an epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America's westward expansion, brilliantly subverting the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the Wild West. Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who stumbles into a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.


Who am I?

During my twenties I served in the United States Navy, and what I experienced there—next to nothing compared to what the characters in the below-mentioned books experiencewas traumatic enough to leave me wandering for a dozen years, hitchhiking, traveling around the country in search of some way to get a grasp on my experience. The vestiges of that experience still remain, and much of my writing has been an attempt to understand it.


I wrote...

The Other Side: A Novel of the Civil War

By Kevin McColley,

Book cover of The Other Side: A Novel of the Civil War

What is my book about?

As the impending struggle between the North and South approaches fever pitch, Jacob Wilson remains content to work on his family’s small Ohio farm just across the river from Kentucky. But when the local militia discovers the runaway slaves hiding with his family, Jacob’s world gets turned upside down. Now a solitary renegade on the wild frontier, Jacob encounters a wild group of pillagers led by the legendary William Quantrill. Drawn into the frenzy of brutality these men foster, Jacob finds himself becoming more and more inured to the gory violence that saturates his new life.

In the Rogue Blood

By James Carlos Blake,

Book cover of In the Rogue Blood

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. 

In the Rogue Blood

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.…


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Reapers Are the Angels

What is my book about?

For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can't remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks.

All the Pretty Horses

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of All the Pretty Horses

What can you say about Cormac McCarthy that has not been said before, the poetry in his prose, his fearlessness to go to the human extreme of emotional tension and violence, the elegance of creating a world so real that one does not want to leave, yet cannot stay? The writer in me wants to write just like him, but... I cannot, I will not, for there is only one Cormac McCarthy, and the world could not stand another.

All the Pretty Horses

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked All the Pretty Horses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John Grady Cole is the last bewildered survivor of long generations of Texas ranchers. Finding himself cut off from the only life he has ever wanted, he sets out for Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins. Befriending a third boy on the way, they find a country beyond their imagining: barren and beautiful, rugged yet cruelly civilized; a place where dreams are paid for in blood.

The first volume in McCarthy's legendary Border Trilogy, All The Pretty Horses is an acknowledged masterpiece and a grand love story: a novel about the passing of childhood, of innocence and a vanished American…


Who am I?

I wrote my first short story eleven years ago for a flash fiction class, found my character Zebadiah Creed, and kept writing. In January 2017, at the age of fifty-nine, Five Star Publishing released An Eye for an Eye, Book One of The Tales of Zebadiah Creed worldwide, winning the American Fiction Award for Best Historical/Adventure. The Great Texas Dance, Book Two, was released in April 2020. Blue Rivers of Heaven, Book Three will be released in September 2022. I'm a member of the Western Writers of America and was a Spur Award judge for Short Fiction, 2019, and Best Traditional Novel, 2020. I’m currently writing my first stand-alone book entitled Sisters of the Field.


I wrote...

The Great Texas Dance

By Mark C. Jackson,

Book cover of The Great Texas Dance

What is my book about?

Because of the promise made to a friend left dead in Louisiana, Zeb finds himself lying on a rooftop of the Alamo overlooking the whole of Santa Anna’s army. As the Mexican red flag flies offering no quarter, he and Grainger, a fellow volunteer with the Texas militia, are called upon by Colonel William Travis to slip out one last message to General Houston, a desperate plea to thwart the bloody siege.

Zebadiah Creed tells a tale of the Texas Revolution, not as history, but a personal portrayal of men and the consequences of their decisions, sometimes made during the savagery of battle, most times made in quiet, their desperate acts allowing them no way out other than through loyalty and friendship, or ultimate betrayal.

Book cover of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

This book was inspired by the author’s family stories of the Mexican Revolution. When government armies destroy twelve-year-old Petra’s village and home, she’s forced to lead her grandmother, younger sister, and baby brother through the trackless desert to survive. They encounter kindly monks, ruthless federales, and a band of Villistas who want Petra to join them, but she never veers from her determination to take her family to safety and freedom. This is a powerful read, and I’m thankful and appreciative for the insight it offers into war’s effect on helpless citizens, and the enormous courage, strength, and determination required of every refugee forced to flee their homeland.

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

By Alda P. Dobbs,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2022 Pura Belpré Honor Book NYPL Best Book of 2021 Texas Bluebonnet Master List Selection NPR Best Book of 2021

Based on a true story, the tale of one girl's perilous journey to cross the U.S. border and lead her family to safety during the Mexican Revolution.

"Wrenching debut about family, loss, and finding the strength to carry on."—Booklist, starred review

"Blazes bright, gripping readers until the novel's last page."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Vital and perilous and hopeful."—Alan Gratz, New York Times bestselling author of Refugee

It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna's mama has died while the Revolution rages…


Who am I?

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is truer.” Frederic Raphael. When I was a child, a relative often told stories of a cowboy gear clad cousin who visited our New York family from Texas and claimed he’d once served in Pancho Villa’s army. These tales were the spark that eventually led to Viva, Rose! and my interest in storytelling as well. There’s something about the combination of lived experience and fiction that I find irresistibly engaging and exciting. I’ve worked as a journalist, ghostwriter, and editor, but my happiest happy place is writing and reading stories birthed from a molten core of real life.


I wrote...

Viva, Rose!

By Susan Krawitz,

Book cover of Viva, Rose!

What is my book about?

When Rose’s brother left their El Paso family, he told them he was heading east, to Brooklyn. But he lied, Rose discovers, when she spots a newspaper photo showing Abe standing with the notorious Pancho Villa and his army!

He must return before their parents find out, but her attempt at contact backfires, and she’s kidnapped by Villa's revolutionaries. In the group of ragtag freedom fighters in Villa’s desert hideaway, she meets an impassioned reporter, sharp-shooting sisters with a secret past, and Dorotea, Villa's tyrannical young charge. As Rose waits for Abe to rescue her, she learns to lie, hide, and ride like a bandit. And when that rescue doesn't come, she’s forced to discover the true meaning of freedom, and what she's willing to risk to get hers back. 

Luz

By Debra Thomas,

Book cover of Luz

In Debra Thomas’s compassionately rendered Luz, her protagonist’s (Alma) border crossing from Mexico into the United States is relayed in painful, harrowing, and often shocking detail. It is a powerful and, at times, difficult read. Yet an important one. I often forgot that this is a work of fiction, as the story Thomas so deftly portrays is all too common and all too real, especially for a resident of Southern California, which I am. However, it is one filled with hope and determination and the unwavering spirit of a young, passionate girl in search of answers.

Luz

By Debra Thomas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Alma Cruz wishes her willful teenage daughter, Luz, could know the truth about her past, but there are things Luz can never know about the journey Alma took to the US to find her missing father. In 2000-three years after the disappearance of her father, who left Oaxaca to work on farms in California-Alma sets out on a perilous trek north with her sister, Rosa. What happens once she reaches the US is a journey from despair to hope. Timeless in its depiction of the depths of family devotion and the blaze of first love, Luz conveys, with compassion and…


Who am I?

I have always been a seeker, fascinated by all cultures, philosophies, and spiritual perspectives. Although the concept is often different—for some, it’s a place of refuge, feeling safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble; for others, it’s a state of being, an inner peace, I’ve found that the search for sanctuary—safe-haven—elsewhere—has ancient roots and contemporary reverberations. My novel, Guesthouse for Ganesha, further heightened my interest in this subject, for my protagonist, Esther Grünspan, both deeply wounded and unsafe, was compelled to seek sanctuary. As a first-time novelist with an 18-year journey to publication, I fully immersed myself in this topic’s study and comprehension.


I wrote...

Guesthouse for Ganesha

By Judith Teitelman,

Book cover of Guesthouse for Ganesha

What is my book about?

Weaving Eastern beliefs and perspectives with Western realities and pragmatism, Guesthouse for Ganesha is a tale of love, loss, and spirit reclaimed.

In 1923, 17-year-old Esther Grünspan arrives in Köln “with a hardened heart as her sole luggage,” Thus begins a 22-year journey, woven against the backdrops of the European Holocaust and Hindu Kali Yuga (“Age of Darkness”), in search of sanctuary. Throughout her travails, Esther relies on her masterful tailoring skills to help mask her Jewish heritage, navigate war-torn Europe, and emigrate to India. Her traveling companion and the novel’s narrator is Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed Hindu God. Impressed by Esther’s fortitude and relentless determination, born of her deep―though unconscious―understanding of the meaning of love, Ganesha conveys her journey with compassion, insight, and poetry.

The Land of Open Graves

By Jason De Leon,

Book cover of The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

Archaeologists don't always focus on the distant past, and they don't always excavate. They comb the surface of landscapes, picking up material clues to human experiences that are often left undocumented. None more willfully buried in plain sight than the hardships of undocumented migrants trying to make it across the Sonoran desert and the brutal politics of the U.S.-Mexico border. With poignant photographs by collaborator Michael Wells, De Léon's account is unapologetically factual and deeply moving.

The Land of Open Graves

By Jason De Leon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In his gripping and provocative debut, anthropologist Jason De Leon sheds light on one of the most pressing political issues of our time-the human consequences of US immigration policy. The Land of Open Graves reveals the suffering and deaths that occur daily in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona as thousands of undocumented migrants attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. Drawing on the four major fields of anthropology, De Leon uses an innovative combination of ethnography, archaeology, linguistics, and forensic science to produce a scathing critique of "Prevention through Deterrence," the federal border enforcement policy that…


Who am I?

I was a quiet kid who had trouble understanding people. I preferred being on my own, exploring remnants of logging camps and abandoned mines in the woods that surrounded my small town. In archaeology, I found a way to improve my comprehension of humans and still go exploring the object world. For me, archaeology is not about the distant past, nor about a set of methods. Rather, it is a way of seeing the world. As I write, I try to help the reader train their own archaeological eye in order to re-calibrate their ideas about what is possible in the past, present, and future.


I wrote...

American Afterlives: Reinventing Death in the Twenty-First Century

By Shannon Lee Dawdy,

Book cover of American Afterlives: Reinventing Death in the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

As an anthropologist and archaeologist, Dawdy knows that how a society treats its dead yields powerful clues about its beliefs and values. As someone who has experienced loss herself, she knows there is no way to tell this story without also reexamining her own views about death and dying. In this meditative and gently humorous book, Dawdy embarks on a transformative journey across the United States, talking to funeral directors, death-care entrepreneurs, designers, cemetery owners, death doulas, and ordinary people from all walks of life. What she discovers is that, by reinventing death, Americans are reworking their ideas about personhood, ritual, and connection across generations. She also confronts the seeming contradiction that American death is becoming at the same time more materialistic and more spiritual.

Against the Wall

By Jenn Budd,

Book cover of Against the Wall: My Journey from Border Patrol Agent to Immigrant Rights Activist

Jenn Budd’s account of her life as a Border Patrol agent is powerful because it comes from a place of self-reflection and growth. She faces up to her previous ignorance and accepts the criticism that goes along with it. This book inspired me because she sees the racism and violence that are endemic to the Border Patrol and then dedicates her life to changing it. 

Against the Wall

By Jenn Budd,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jenn Budd, the only former U.S. Border Patrol agent to continually blow the whistle on this federal agency's rampant corruption, challenges us-as individuals and as a nation-to face the consequences of our actions. Her journey offers a vital perspective on the unfolding moral crisis of our time. She also gives harrowing testimony about rape culture, white privilege, women in law enforcement, LGBTQ issues, mental illness, survival and forgiveness.


"An unflinching look at a Border Patrol riddled with corruption, racism, and misogyny. Raw and truthful, no one escapes judgement, not even Budd, who searches deep within herself to examine her own…


Who am I?

I first came face to face with the expansive and unchecked authority of the Border Patrol about a decade ago when I was stopped five times in less than an hour while driving on a Texas country road. Could the Border Patrol really stop any vehicle they want without any reason whatsoever deep inside the United States? That day set me off on a journey through the borderlands and into the history of the Supreme Court in order to tell the untold story of how the Border Patrol became the most dangerous police force in the United States.  


I wrote...

Nobody Is Protected: How the Border Patrol Became the Most Dangerous Police Force in the United States

By Reece Jones,

Book cover of Nobody Is Protected: How the Border Patrol Became the Most Dangerous Police Force in the United States

What is my book about?

Late one July night in 2020, armed men, identified only by the word POLICE written across their uniforms, began snatching supporters of Black Lives Matter off the street in Portland, Oregon, and placing them in unmarked vans. These mysterious actions were not carried out by local law enforcement or even right-wing terrorists, but by the U.S. Border Patrol. Why was the Border Patrol operating so far from the boundaries of the United States? What were they doing at a protest that had nothing to do with immigration or the border?
 
Nobody Is Protected: How the Border Patrol Became the Most Dangerous Police Force in the United States is the untold story of how the Supreme Court has dramatically curtailed the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution in service of policing borders. 

Migra! A History of the U.S. Border

By Kelly Lytle Hernandez,

Book cover of Migra! A History of the U.S. Border

This one takes us back to the founding of the Border Patrol to look at its Wild West origins. The first agents were plucked from frontier law enforcement and the Texas Rangers, whose earlier tasks included slave patrols and the violent removal of Native Americans. Lytle Hernandez shows how those racist and violent origins shaped the practices of the early Border Patrol. 

Migra! A History of the U.S. Border

By Kelly Lytle Hernandez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Migra! A History of the U.S. Border as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the untold history of the United States Border Patrol from its beginnings in 1924 as a small peripheral outfit to its emergence as a large professional police force. To tell this story, Kelly Lytle Hernandez dug through a gold mine of lost and unseen records stored in garages, closets, an abandoned factory, and in U.S. and Mexican archives. Focusing on the daily challenges of policing the borderlands and bringing to light unexpected partners and forgotten dynamics, "Migra!" reveals how the U.S. Border Patrol translated the mandate for comprehensive migration control into a project of policing Mexicans in the…


Who am I?

I first came face to face with the expansive and unchecked authority of the Border Patrol about a decade ago when I was stopped five times in less than an hour while driving on a Texas country road. Could the Border Patrol really stop any vehicle they want without any reason whatsoever deep inside the United States? That day set me off on a journey through the borderlands and into the history of the Supreme Court in order to tell the untold story of how the Border Patrol became the most dangerous police force in the United States.  


I wrote...

Nobody Is Protected: How the Border Patrol Became the Most Dangerous Police Force in the United States

By Reece Jones,

Book cover of Nobody Is Protected: How the Border Patrol Became the Most Dangerous Police Force in the United States

What is my book about?

Late one July night in 2020, armed men, identified only by the word POLICE written across their uniforms, began snatching supporters of Black Lives Matter off the street in Portland, Oregon, and placing them in unmarked vans. These mysterious actions were not carried out by local law enforcement or even right-wing terrorists, but by the U.S. Border Patrol. Why was the Border Patrol operating so far from the boundaries of the United States? What were they doing at a protest that had nothing to do with immigration or the border?
 
Nobody Is Protected: How the Border Patrol Became the Most Dangerous Police Force in the United States is the untold story of how the Supreme Court has dramatically curtailed the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution in service of policing borders. 

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