The best books about the Western World

4 authors have picked their favorite books about the Western World and why they recommend each book.

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The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous

By Asa Simon Mittman (editor), Peter J. Dendle (editor),

Book cover of The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous

Cohen is a necessary starting point, but the contributions to Monsters and the Monstrous really highlight how far monster studies came in the first couple of decades it was around. The contributions in this volume range farther than the Western world, touching on topics in Africa, the Caribbean, Japan, and a host of others. There is also additional theory to account for shifts in time and culture when thinking about the monstrous and contributions from powerhouses in the field like Debra Higgs Strickland, Debbie Felton, and Michael Dylan Foster. I have personally found Six and Thompson’s article “From Hideous to Hedonist” to be useful every time I teach my course on Religion and the Monstrous. 

The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous

By Asa Simon Mittman (editor), Peter J. Dendle (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The field of monster studies has grown significantly over the past few years and this companion provides a comprehensive guide to the study of monsters and the monstrous from historical, regional and thematic perspectives. The collection reflects the truly multi-disciplinary nature of monster studies, bringing in scholars from literature, art history, religious studies, history, classics, and cultural and media studies. The companion will offer scholars and graduate students the first comprehensive and authoritative review of this emergent field.

Who am I?

What could possibly captivate the mind more than monsters? As a kid, I eagerly consumed books from authors like R.L. Stine, Stephen King, and HP Lovecraft. I watched George Romero, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter, and played games like Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, and The Call of Cthulhu. When I discovered monster studies in my PhD years—a way to read monsters as cultural productions that tell us something about the people that create them—I was hooked. Ever since, I get to continue reading my favorite books, watching my favorite movies, and playing my favorite games. It’s just that now someone’s paying me to do it.


I wrote...

Margaret's Monsters: Women, Identity, and the Life of St. Margaret in Medieval England

By Michael E. Heyes,

Book cover of Margaret's Monsters: Women, Identity, and the Life of St. Margaret in Medieval England

What is my book about?

Margaret’s Monsters explores the monstrous features of the Life of one of the most popular saints in medieval England. Analyzing these monsters helps modern readers to understand what, at first, appears to be a paradox: that Margaret was both a patron saint to lifelong virgins and the patron saint of mothers in labor. I show that changes to the monsters of Margaret’s Life—the dragon that swallows her whole, the black demon who invades her prison cell, and Olibrius, a monster in human guise—allow authors to speak to specific audiences, to tailor Margaret’s message to small populations of people, and fundamentally change Margaret’s role as a saint. These changes allowed medieval women to make use of this remarkable saint to shape their sexuality and gender roles. 

Heller with a Gun

By Louis L'Amour,

Book cover of Heller with a Gun: A Novel

I know, it sounds absurd to recommend a book entitled Heller with a Gun as a romance. But in fact many books of the Western genre have all the elements of romance along with the ultra-American setting, action, and adventure that gave them their own niche. In this particular book, I found the Mr./Miss Right versus Mr./Miss Wrong dilemma and could not put the book down until the problem resolved itself in classic Western style.

Heller with a Gun

By Louis L'Amour,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heller with a Gun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tom Healy was in trouble. His theatrical troupe needed to get to Alder Gulch, Montana, and the weather was turning. Andy Barker promised Tom he could get them there safely, but Tom was reluctant to trust him: he had the lives of three actresses to consider, and his personal feelings for Janice further heightened his concern. Then King Mabry showed up. Although Tom didn’t like the way he looked at Janice, he could see that Mabry made Barker uneasy. So Tom invited Mabry to join them. Tom was right to be worried, because Barker had a plan. He knew that…

Who am I?

I freely admit to reading romances―"Nurse Janes," as one of my teachers used to call them―whenever I need a break from heavier material or just from life. While I have some favorite authors (who doesn't?), I do not limit myself to any particular era or style of romance. To me, romance has many shades and flavours, and I enjoy them all. Believe you me, choosing just five to recommend was no piece of cake.


I wrote...

Propositions and Proposals

By Allison M. Azulay,

Book cover of Propositions and Proposals

What is my book about?

Some men run from marriage, others long for it with little hope of finding love. This book's Twin Tales, Graymere Gambit and Falworth Folly, offer both perspectives, along with intrigues among the English aristocracy of the Regency period.

Book cover of Breastfeeding Uncovered: Who Really Decides How We Feed Our Babies?

Amy nails the many aspects of today’s UK society that make breastfeeding so difficult for mothers and their babies. She looks at the myriad subtle – and not-so-subtle – ways in which breastfeeding is discussed and presented, so that it comes across as something laudable in theory but unrealistic and undesirable in practice: great if you can do it, but keep it to yourself and don’t frighten the horses. She also explores the many, seemingly unrelated, notions we have about how babies should be cared for, such as where and for how long they should sleep, which are quite simply incompatible with what babies really need, and with helping breastfeeding to work. Never mind pressurising women to breastfeed – how about we just support them to do it!

Breastfeeding Uncovered

By Amy Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Across the world mothers are urged to breastfeed, but in Western society many find this a difficult task. Those who stop can feel demoralised and unsure as to why such a desired, encouraged and biologically normal behaviour can appear so challenging in reality. Breastfeeding Uncovered examines why this continues to happen, revealing how complex social and cultural messages work against new mothers, damaging the normal physiology of breastfeeding and making it seem unmanageable. Dr Brown removes the focus from the mother and instead urges society to rethink its attitude towards breastfeeding and mothering and instead to support, encourage and protect…


Who am I?

I got hooked on breastfeeding when, during my health visitor training, our class had a lecture from Drs. Penny and Andrew Stanway, who wrote the original Breast is Best. I breastfed my own children, became a breastfeeding counsellor and lactation consultant (IBCLC), and championed breastfeeding as a health visitor and midwife. I then worked for 14 years with the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, teaching and supporting healthcare staff to improve standards of care for breastfeeding mothers and babies. Throughout, I gained a huge respect for babies’ abilities in relation to breastfeeding. This directly influenced my belief in their capacity to continue feeding themselves when they start solid food, which is my current focus.


I wrote...

Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide

By Gill Rapley, Tracey Murkett,

Book cover of Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide

What is my book about?

Solid foods are nowadays recommended from around six months. At this age, the vast majority of babies don’t need to be spoon-fed, and they don’t need their food to be pureed. Instead, they can feed themselves with pieces of real food, using their hands. They know what they need to eat, how fast, and how much. The parent’s role is simply to provide healthy food and shared mealtimes, and to trust their baby’s abilities and instincts.

I first began speaking and writing about BLW back in 2001. A few years later, I teamed up with Tracey Murkett to write the first edition of this book, which sets out the benefits of baby-led weaning, why it makes sense, and how to do it. Since then, baby-led weaning has taken off worldwide and the book – now in its second edition – has been translated into over 20 languages. As a result, many authors have followed in our wake. But our book was, and remains, THE definitive guide.

Progress

By Johan Norberg,

Book cover of Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

Talking about the future always depresses my students. They think life has become steadily worse over the past century and they see no evidence of a course correction. Norberg presents evidence to show that this is wrong. In terms of poverty, life expectancy, violence, literacy, and freedom, life has become better. He also explores why we think the opposite. Now this all may be the calm before the storm, but to fashion a better world we must know it for what it is today. 

Progress

By Johan Norberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Book of the Year for The Economist and the Observer

Our world seems to be collapsing. The daily news cycle reports the deterioration: divisive politics across the Western world, racism, poverty, war, inequality, hunger. While politicians, journalists and activists from all sides talk about the damage done, Johan Norberg offers an illuminating and heartening analysis of just how far we have come in tackling the greatest problems facing humanity. In the face of fear-mongering, darkness and division, the facts are unequivocal: the golden age is now.


Who am I?

I grew up wandering farmers’ fields looking for arrowheads, and I started working in archaeology at 16 – 50 years ago. I ski, snowshoe, run, and play piano, but I sold my soul to the archaeology devil a long time ago. I specialize in hunter-gatherers, and I’ve done fieldwork across the western US, ethnographic work in Madagascar, and lectured in many countries. I’ve learned that history matters, because going back in time helps find answers to humanity’s problems – warfare, inequality, and hate. I’ve sought to convey this in lectures at the University of Wyoming, where I’ve been a professor of anthropology since 1997. 


I wrote...

The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future

By Robert L. Kelly,

Book cover of The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future

What is my book about?

“I have seen yesterday. I know tomorrow.” This inscription in Tutankhamun’s tomb summarizes The Fifth Beginning. In it, we tour human history through four times – beginnings – when the character of human life changed: the emergence of technology, culture, agriculture, and the state. Each is signaled by a radical change in humanity’s archaeological footprint. Using that perspective, I argue that today is a fifth beginning, the result of a 5000-year arms race, capitalism’s ever-expanding reach, and a worldwide communication network. It marks the end of war, capitalism, and maybe the nation-state, and the beginning of global cooperation. It’s the end of life as we know it. But with humanity’s great potential to solve problems, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. 

The Man from Laramie

By T.T. Flynn,

Book cover of The Man from Laramie

Classic tale of revenge that transcends the Western genre, yet it fits the genre perfectly. Taut, descriptive narrative adds to sharply drawn, larger-than-life characters playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with a hero who refuses to yield, no matter what is done to him. It all leads up to the solution of a mystery that explodes with boundless, brutal action. It’s one you won’t be able to put down until the end.

The Man from Laramie

By T.T. Flynn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It’s clear to Will Lockhart that no one in Coronado wants a stranger in town, but he’s traveled a thousand miles through dangerous Apache territory to avenge his brother and no matter what they do to try to run him out, he won’t leave without justice.


Who am I?

I have a life-long love of Westerns. I’ve researched the period and the events extensively. One of the first things I look for in any book I read is period accuracy. The books I write are historically accurate, though they are fiction. I’m on a mission, through my writing, to save the Western genre.

I wrote...

Shawnee: The Adventure Begins

By Bob Giel,

Book cover of Shawnee: The Adventure Begins

What is my book about?

Sixteen-year-old Lon Pearce has lost both parents at the hands of local business owner, Carl Teverence. Grief-stricken, he heads into town, half-cocked and ready to take vengeance—only things don’t work out as planned. Teverence and his men see him coming and turn the tables on him. Lucky to escape with his life, alone and hunted, Lon takes to a long and lonely trail. Now known only as Shawnee, he embarks on a journey to learn the skills needed to exact his revenge. Along the way, he lends a hand to those in need—even when it forces him further outside the law.

Oracle Bones

By Peter Hessler,

Book cover of Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China

This is the second book by Peter Hessler that I have read (River Town was the first). Having visited China several times since the 1980s, when the country was first open to visitors from the West to my more recent trips, I have seen so much change. What I like about this book is how Hessler, a reporter who has lived and taught English in China, tries to describe and explain these changes.

Oracle Bones

By Peter Hessler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Oracle Bones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Peter Hessler's previous book River Town was a prize-winning, poignant and deeply compelling portrait of China. Now, in Oracle Bones, Hessler returns to the country, excavating its long history and immersing himself in the lives of young Chinese as they migrate from the traditional Chinese countryside to the booming ever-changing cities and try to cope with their society's modern transformation.

Who am I?

I chose the dramatic backdrop of the Tiananmen massacre because after my first trip to China in the 1980’s I became a host family for mainland students studying at UCLA where I was Medical Director of Student Health. During those weeks in 1989 many students communicated with friends and family back in China using our fax machine. From their perspective, the conflict was a generational struggle between the very old leaders, many of whom marched with Mao and who were desperate to hang onto power (and therefore for my plot would want to get their hands on an elixir to double their lifespan), and the younger generation anxious for reforms.


I wrote...

Rabbit in the Moon

By Deborah Shlian, Joel Shlian,

Book cover of Rabbit in the Moon

What is my book about?

San Francisco, 1989: Forty years after Mao and his People's Liberation Army set out to change China forever, Dr. Lili Quan prepares for a journey that will change her life forever. American-born Lili reluctantly sets out for China to honor her mother's dying wish that she “return” home.

For Lili, a passionate idealist, this will be an extraordinary trip—from meeting and falling in love with Chi-Wen Zhou, a victim of the Cultural Revolution and zealous Taoist, to finding Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng, the grandfather Lili believed had died years ago. But Ni-Fu has made the most remarkable discovery of all: the secret to long life. As greedy and unscrupulous men vie for control of this discovery, Lili, Ni-Fu’s only living relative, could become a pawn in a deadly and dangerous international game. 

The Un-Gandhian Gandhi

By Claude Markovits,

Book cover of The Un-Gandhian Gandhi: The Life and Afterlife of the Mahatma

Markowitz starts with the iconic images of Gandhi – Father of the Indian Nation, the modern saint, the apostle of nonviolence, and so on – and unpicks them to show how selective they are. He examines with great insight the way that Gandhi’s image was created in the West from the 1920s onwards, with him often being compared to Christ. Attenborough’s influential film on Gandhi is reviewed in revealing ways. He also examines the many biographies of Gandhi, showing how they have tended to focus on aspects of his message and fail to bring out the huge complexities of the man. 

He shows how Gandhi’s reputation as a serious political and economic thinker was shaped in the West first by pacifists and alternative thinkers, and much later by academic social scientists. He also provides some excellent analysis of Gandhi’s career in South Africa and India. The book is full of…

The Un-Gandhian Gandhi

By Claude Markovits,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This major study reconsiders the creation of the Gandhian legend through the myriad texts and images that helped spread it through both India and the Western world.

Who am I?

I have for over fifty years studied and written about the Indian nationalist movement, examining it from many different angles. I lived and worked for many years in India. I have throughout had an appreciative but often troubled relationship with Gandhi – admiring him for much of what he stood for, while finding it hard to accept many of his beliefs and actions. This will be apparent to anyone reading the books that I have written. Despite this, I have a deep respect for a man who was undoubtedly a towering figure in twentieth-century history.   


I wrote...

Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas

By David Hardiman,

Book cover of Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas

What is my book about?

The book examines how M.K. Gandhi created a radical style of politics based on truth and nonviolence. It shows how he sought constantly to find new ways to heal political and social divisions and forge societies that were based on mutual respect, lack of exploitation, and valuing the environment. It examines the many tensions – and failures – that Gandhi encountered in pursuing this agenda and his courage in standing firm to his principles. It also explores his global legacy, showing how his methods were adopted by activists all over the world after his assassination in 1948. 

On the Move

By Timothy Cresswell,

Book cover of On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World

Geographer Tim Cresswell’s work has helped me convince architectural historians that examining how we move through spaces is vital to understanding the full range of the built environment’s cultural meanings. He states the obvious: we all live in physical bodies. And yet historians emphasize the written word and architects emphasize visualization. What about the other senses? Cresswell argues that mobility is a socially-constructed movement much like place is a socially-constructed space. We can learn so much by paying attention to the ways society controls movement: Who is allowed to occupy which spaces? When? With whom? And how has that changed over time? Cresswell’s ideas helped me analyze the lived experiences of multiple people in the same domestic spaces, and ultimately connect the manipulation of architecture and landscape to modernity’s regulation of bodies and ideas. 

On the Move

By Timothy Cresswell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On the Move presents a rich history of one of the key concepts of modern life: mobility. Increasing mobility has been a constant throughout the modern era, evident in mass car ownership, plane travel, and the rise of the Internet. Typically, people have equated increasing mobility with increasing freedom. However, as Cresswell shows, while mobility has certainly increased in modern times, attempts to control and restrict mobility are just as characteristic of modernity. Through a series of fascinating historical episodes Cresswell shows how mobility and its regulation have been central to the experience of modernity.


Who am I?

When I was a kid I would cut out graph paper to design my ideal house. When I was in college, I walked into a class called American Material Life and had my eureka moment: “This is how I want to learn about people in the past!” I realized. I’ve been doing that ever since, first as a museum curator and now as a history professor. Houses, furnishings, and the way people interact with the built environment can reveal the complexity, diversity, and beauty of human lives.


I wrote...

Company Suburbs: Architecture, Power, and the Transformation of Michigan's Mining Frontier

By Sarah Fayen Scarlett,

Book cover of Company Suburbs: Architecture, Power, and the Transformation of Michigan's Mining Frontier

What is my book about?

In this book I contrast two types of neighborhoods that transformed Michigan’s mining frontier between 1875 and 1920: paternalistic company towns built for workers and elite suburbs for the region’s network of business leaders. I argue that mining company officers and their partners adapted techniques from both types of neighborhoods—often at the same time in the same places!—to manipulate social hierarchy.

My favorite chapters in the book compare the experiences of homeowners and their families—neighborhood “insiders”—with those of immigrant domestic workers who lived and worked among them as “outsiders.” While Victorian houses used the back doors, butler’s pantries, and maid’s chambers to keep domestic workers “in their places,” they actually provided them with unexpected opportunities to try on new identities.

Book cover of The Decisive Battles of the Western World and Their Influence Upon History

I read this book when I was 16 years old. It was my first military history book and I could not put it down. Up until then I had only read military fiction: War and Peace, Ben Hur – the bigger the books the better. What captivated me most about Fuller's 2 volumes was the battles he chose to describe, starting with Salamis in 480BC, had the outcomes been different the course of world history would have changed significantly. The world in which we live in today would not be the same. This only served to intensify my interest in the detailed descriptions and at the end of each battle I'd try and imagine how history might have been impacted had the outcomes been reversed. 

The Decisive Battles of the Western World and Their Influence Upon History

By J. F. C. Fuller, John Terraine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Decisive Battles of the Western World and Their Influence Upon History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I must be something of a specialist on the impact of conventional and guerrilla warfare on the civilian population. Truth is, leaving school, I never intended to have anything to do with war beyond the books I enjoyed reading. On leaving the military in my 30s I employed the only skills I had and managed organisations and mostly news teams operating in conflict zones all over the world. I matured into a crisis manager, responding and consulting to crisis situations such as kidnap & ransoms, and evacuations from conflict zones. Most of the characters in my books are real, good and bad, taken from the vast theatre of my own experiences. 


I wrote...

First into Action

By Duncan Falconer,

Book cover of First into Action

What is my book about?

A dramatic personal account of life inside the UK's Special Boat Service. The memoir describes how Duncan Falconer joined the Royal Marines and, due to a series of unusual events, on completion of his Commando course, was sent to the SBS HQ in Poole to take part in the gruelling selection process along with 150 other Marines. Falconer was not expected to last a week. Three months later, on completion of the course, and along with just 8 other men, he was accepted into the ranks of the SBS, the youngest ever to join the unit in the modern era. First Into Action is packed with, often sad, sometimes hilarious, anecdotes of his life and times in the service.  

The Trail West

By Woody Leach,

Book cover of The Trail West

This guy writes great Westerns and detective novels, this book being an excellent place to begin. I’ve followed his works online and remain impressed with the characters he creates and the detail plus development of his works. But mostly, I can lose myself in his stories, grab a buzz of ‘feel-good,’ and forget about the outside world for a while.

The Trail West

By Woody Leach,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Four stories concerning a core group of characters and their adventures during the turbulent time after the War Between the States.

Who am I?

I love to read a good story, but I also get the greatest satisfaction from writing one, or several. I believe good fiction can say what factual books cannot, and done right, they can offer differing perspectives to any accepted norm. The trick is to let the characters speak, regardless of whether I agree with what they say, or not. The secret to good presentation is to offer the reader the choice to think about what has been said, consider and delve deeper, or not and pass by.


I wrote...

The Gatekeeper and the Guardian

By John Morris,

Book cover of The Gatekeeper and the Guardian

What is my book about?

This extraordinary tale alludes that Aliens visited Earth in prehistory, creating Elves, Dwarves, and other mythological creatures. In the contemporary world of today, these figments no longer exist, or do they? When Jack shambles ashore upon a South Pacific island, he discovers a mysterious world shielded from our senses. It is filled with people, but not homo sapiens.

From shipwreck to survivor, castaway to explorer, our hero adapts to his new life, increasing the bounty for all, aided by the advanced science of The Ancestors. Fast-paced and riveting, the trilogy takes off when an abandoned spacecraft is discovered. Now Jack and his new friends need to unlock its secrets, but before they can do so, the Island is invaded by Ogre hordes.

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