The best books about Wyoming

15 authors have picked their favorite books about Wyoming and why they recommend each book.

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Wapiti Wilderness

By Margaret E. Murie, Olaus Murie,

Book cover of Wapiti Wilderness

I really love a lot of the writing between the two world wars — there’s something clear-eyed but lacking in guile, almost willfully large-spirited and generous. The two Muries alternate chapters, Mardie describing everyday life in the beautiful but rapidly-changing Jackson Hole of the 1930s and 40s, while Olaus writes about and illustrates his work as a famous wildlife biologist. I regularly re-read this book when I want to feel good about people and the world.


Who am I?

As an avid trail-runner and mountain-biker who’s done a ton of outdoorsy things, from sailboat racing on the Chesapeake Bay to rockclimbing to backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, I’m convinced that nothing gets you closer to someone’s experience than a well-told first-person account. The best personal narratives make you feel the cold, glow with the exhilaration, and burn with ambition to go, to do, to see for yourself — and can even make you look at the world, and yourself, in a new way. These books, different as they are, have all done those things for me.


I wrote...

A Window to Heaven: The Daring First Ascent of Denali: America's Wildest Peak

By Patrick Dean,

Book cover of A Window to Heaven: The Daring First Ascent of Denali: America's Wildest Peak

What is my book about?

In A Window to Heaven, Patrick Dean brings to life this heart-pounding and spellbinding feat of this first ascent and paints a rich portrait of the frontier at the turn of the twentieth century. The story of Stuck and his team will lead us through the Texas frontier and Tennessee mountains to an encounter with Jack London at the peak of the Yukon Goldrush. We experience Stuck's awe at the rich Inuit and Athabascan indigenous traditions—and his efforts to help preserve these ways of life.

Filled with daring exploration and rich history, A Window to Heaven is a brilliant and spellbinding narrative of success against the odds.

Merle's Door

By Ted Kerasote,

Book cover of Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog

This was one of the first of many thousands of books extolling the power of the dog (Note: Nothing to do with Jane Campion's film of the same title). It also happens to be the best, or at least one of the best, and nobody can come away from reading it without recognizing that we are living with the friendliest aliens in the universe, and they, for mysterious reasons, love us!

There are so many good books about dogs that it is hard to pick just one. Pack of Two is another terrific book. But note that it is fairly recently that we have come to believe that we humans have an enormous amount to learn about our own species by observing dogs. I pass dogs every day on my walks here in Bondi Beach, and each time I think: No human has half the joie de vivre of every…


Who am I?

I was once a psychoanalyst, but I found that it was almost impossible to understand another human being. Animals were easier: they could not be hypocritical, they could not lie, they could not deceive. Whoever heard of an animal with an unconscious anger problem? If they were angry they showed it, if they loved they showed it. After I got fired from the Freud Archives (that’s a whole other story) I decided I wanted to read ten good books about animal emotions. This was in 1981. But it turns out there were no books on this topic I could read, except Darwin, 1872! So I decided to write my own. 


I wrote...

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals

By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson,

Book cover of The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals

What is my book about?

Possibly the first book written about the emotional lives of animals on farms: pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, goats, ducks, and others. Convinced these animals feel much the same emotions we do, the author realized he could no longer eat eggs or any dairy product, let alone meat. He felt he had no choice but to become vegan.   

Paint the Wind (Scholastic Gold)

By Pam Muñoz Ryan,

Book cover of Paint the Wind (Scholastic Gold)

This book contains two stories that intertwine: that of a girl who has lost her mother, and a mustang mare struggling to keep her foal safe. I like how the mare is portrayed as intelligent and brave, just as the girl is. Both living beings are important characters in the plot, which is wonderful. The prose is skillful and beautiful, and suits competent, older middle-grade readers who will be transported into the wild landscape. 


Who am I?

I was four years old when I was given a pony. The freedom of roaming the countryside with her was amazing, and I was hooked! All horse breeds have supported humans; their strength and speed have enabled farming, war, travel, and settlement. Horses feature in the art, religion, and sports of diverse cultures. My Historical Horse series contains three books—each one is a completely different story about a specific breed of horse, and a fictional girl who loved it and depended on it, even to stay alive. Writing the books was like time-traveling with horses!


I wrote...

Cold Freedom

By Troon Harrison,

Book cover of Cold Freedom

What is my book about?

It’s 1945, and brutally cold in northern Europe. Young teen Eva and her purebred horse are fleeing hundreds of miles for their lives. Red Army planes bomb them and other refugees as they head onto the ice of the Baltic Sea. What will it take to survive? Eva’s little brother and sister grow weaker as grueling weeks pass. Their horses’ shoes are falling off, their legs are injured, their bellies empty. Yet Eva has promised her beautiful mare that one day she’ll canter in green fields. This dream is almost all that helps Eva face hunger, typhoid, and exhaustion.

Based on true events, this novel traces the history of Trakehner horses, which walked out of Prussia during WWII in an incredible feat of endurance.

Shane

By Jack Schaefer,

Book cover of Shane

Set in 1889 Wyoming Territory, though technically a Western novel, Shane is a classic story of conflict between the settled and newcomers. Told through the eyes of a young boy as his farming family is being harassed by a bullying cattleman demanding grazing rights on their land, a stranger – Shane – riding through their valley, decides to help. I recall Shane as somewhat of a lost soul, a gunman recognizing his time is coming to an end, who finds respite and purpose, even if temporary, in standing up for the family.


Who am I?

I'm not interested in make-believe superheroes. Just as I write stories I have to believe could happen, my favorite novels must have a credible protagonist. Regardless of flaws and failings, he also must have a moral compass, an inclination to do right or, at least, to do something right. The protagonist represents the never-ending battle within to redeem ourselves. In that, he does what he can with what he has. I would term this particular genre The Quiet Man Effect relative to a 1952 movie about an American boxer who returns to his Irish roots to heal after killing a man in the ring.


I wrote...

Quarry Steps to: A Tony Quarry Carolina Mystery

By R.J. McCarthy,

Book cover of Quarry Steps to: A Tony Quarry Carolina Mystery

What is my book about?

Protecting a retired teacher from teenage vandals, Quarry runs afoul of the embittered residents of an economically depressed North Carolina hamlet. They’re held in check by Tink Sputter with his Old Testament sense of justice. Sputter’s efforts are unraveled by the vengeful arsonist, Fireman Lowbridge. Following several violent encounters with Quarry, Sputter demands satisfaction in the form of a duel. Quarry is to fight Country Blackstrop, a bullying behemoth. Sputter will regard the outcome as Divine judgment. But even as Quarry struggles toward his fateful decision, Lowbridge nurses his own version of justice.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader

By Elinore Pruitt Stewart, N. C. Wyeth (illustrator),

Book cover of Letters of a Woman Homesteader

This book delights me. It makes me laugh, it inspires me, and it makes me wish I could have met Elinore Pruitt Stewart. Even though her life certainly wasn't easy, she never lost her hope, her joy, her faith, or her sense of humor.

Stewart wrote these letters to a friend, detailing her successes and failures as a woman homesteader, and hoping to encourage other women to try forging their own lives on the frontier. Wanting to build a better life for herself and her daughter, this widow headed off into the plains of Wyoming, where she took a job keeping house for a rancher while also claiming her own homestead. Her accounts of her new life are funny, moving, and encouraging by turn.


Who am I?

I’ve loved learning about the Old West for as long as I can remember. Is this because I was born a few miles from the spot where Jesse James robbed his first train? Or is it because my family watched so many classic western movies and TV shows when I was a kid? Either way, writing books set in the Old West is a natural fit for me. I love researching the real history of that era just as much as I love making up stories set there. In fact, I write a column about the real history of the Wild West for a Colorado-based newspaper, The Prairie Times.


I wrote...

One Bad Apple

By Rachel Kovaciny,

Book cover of One Bad Apple

What is my book about?

When a wagon train of Black pioneers rescues the seven orphaned Dalton cousins from the side of the trail to Kansas, fourteen-year-old Levi Dalton is dazzled by the beautiful Mrs. Mallone. Her knowledge of medicines and herbs inspires Levi to want to become a doctor. Maybe then he can stop people from dying of fevers like his folks did.

Mrs. Mallone's stepdaughter, Hopeful, warns Levi not to become too attached to the healer. Levi dismisses her warnings and his own misgivings until the day he sees something dreadful. Levi knows he needs to tell someone what he’s seen before it’s too late. But will anyone believe the story of a fourteen-year-old orphan? Will anyone stand up to evil, no matter how beautifully it’s packaged?

Honor Thy Father

By Robert A. Roripaugh,

Book cover of Honor Thy Father

This is a classic story about a young man confronted by land conflicts and family loyalty. It also depicts non-White characters in a positive, realistic way. This book has an interesting storyline, good prose style, and original use of figurative language. The novel won the Western Heritage Award in 1963, and it is regarded by many as one of the best westerns written. It is not as widely known as many novels, but it is appreciated by anyone who reads it. Roripaugh is also a major poet in the literary history of Wyoming, and he published some very good short stories as well. 


Who am I?

As a college instructor and a student of Western American Literature for many, many years I have read a great number of western novels for my classes and for my literary studies. In addition to my doctoral dissertation on the topic, I have written and published numerous articles and reviews on western writers, and I have given many public presentations as well. I have a long-standing interest in what makes good works good. As a fiction writer, I have published more than thirty traditional western novels with major publishers, and have won several national awards for my western novels and short stories. 


I wrote...

Dark Prairie

By John D. Nesbitt,

Book cover of Dark Prairie

What is my book about?

Dark Prairie is a frontier mystery, the first in the series of novels and shorter pieces about the enigmatic agent of justice named Dunbar. This novel has the features of others in the series. The story is told by an observer who lives in the place where Dunbar arrives. In the course of events, Dunbar solves the mystery of an older crime and links it to crimes that occur during the narration. In Dark Prairie, a young Hispanic girl has been missing for several years, and the townsfolk do not consider her case important. Dunbar leads the townspeople to solve the case, and in so doing, he brings resolution to a crime that, unresolved, is a moral threat to the social body.

Close Range

By Annie Proulx,

Book cover of Close Range: Wyoming Stories

Annie Proulx is a genius with character, and she’s obsessed with how hard humans work to uphold their myths of identity and achievement even when the odds are stacked against them. Close Range is the best of her three very good story collections about the West. It’s famous, and rightly so, for the trail-blazing tale of cowboy queerness "Brokeback Mountain". But each story is taut with observation and image. “The Mud Below,” “The Half-Skinned Steer”—there’s more than one American classic in this book. Some Westerners aren’t fans of Proulx, but I am. She doesn’t pull her punches about what it’s really like to ranch, rodeo, fantasize about retirement, or care for family in a place with no safety net, extreme weather, and no neighbors around the corner.


Who am I?

I’m a writer fascinated by landscape and history—and the American West is my magnet. I’ve set three books in the West. I can’t get enough of the place. An entire national myth is enshrined “where the deer and the antelope play.” Independence. Freedom from the past. Land we can supposedly call our own. The West is so beautiful and also so scarred. I love to read books that deepen my experience of the deserts, mountains, and rivers. I also love to learn about the people who were here before me, those who have hung on, and those who hope to heal the scars. These books are great stories about a bewitching place.


I wrote...

Boleto

By Alyson Hagy,

Book cover of Boleto

What is my book about?

I’ve lived in the West a long time. I swore I wouldn’t write about cowboys. And then I did, with some twists. I wanted to see if I could make the old story new—and different. Will Testerman’s a gifted horse trainer trying to make his way. Money’s tight. His mother’s sick. He sees his chance with a beautiful filly who might make his reputation on the cutthroat polo fields of California. And then come the hard choices.

The West has always been complex. Beautiful but harsh. Greedy yet healing. Boleto is about a good, if flawed, young man trying to care for a special horse in a world of privilege and indifference. It’s my homage to the complexities of the modern frontier.

Land of Hills and Valleys

By Elisabeth Grace Foley,

Book cover of Land of Hills and Valleys

A slightly more modern take, this book is set in the 1930s, in the perspective of a girl who inherits an ailing Wyoming ranch and she falls in love with the land and the people who inhabit it. What I loved about this one was the discovery of the land and the lifestyle through the eyes of the main character. Throw in a mystery and a lovely romance and you'll be breathless by the end. 


Who am I?

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


I wrote...

These War-Torn Hands

By Emily Hayse,

Book cover of These War-Torn Hands

What is my book about?

They say this land is bound, cursed since the beginning of the world. And it’ll be freed one day by a man with war-torn hands.”

Rosamund Lacey has crossed a continent to marry Archer Scott because she believes he is a man set apart—a man with a destiny. But Alexander Mortimer, Outlaw King of the western territory, believes in only one kind of destiny: winner takes all. Determined to reign supreme, Mortimer kidnaps the governor’s bride and wreaks havoc on the land around Glory Mesa. But when Archer refuses to choose between the woman he loves and the land he has sworn to protect, he is forced into a showdown that may cost more than his life.

The Virginian

By Owen Wister,

Book cover of The Virginian

Theodore Roosevelt loved this book because of his own interest as a historian in telling tales of how the West was won. Wister was a friend of Roosevelt’s from their Harvard days together, and the President actually worked as a friendly, informal editor of the novel, even advising Wister on the final shape of the story. We love this book not only because it is the first evocation of Western cowboy mythology—perhaps the most popular American story—but also because it in many ways replicates Roosevelt’s experience as a Dakota rancher in the mid-1880s, an experience he chronicled. Roosevelt and Wister remained close friends until his death. Wister went on to be an adviser and friend to such writers as Ernest Hemingway who was angered by Roosevelt’s editing of the novel.


Who are we?

We live in the countryside of southwest Michigan in a farmhouse dating back to the 1830s on land once owned by James Fenimore Cooper. The land itself has stories to tell that intrigue us as readers and writers ourselves. Katherine’s passion for the writings of Jane Addams and Edith Wharton led her to Theodore Roosevelt, a kindred male voice in American literature at the turn of the twentieth century. Tom’s passion for environmental writers and activism led him to the books and essays of the 26th President, who believed that good writing sometimes leads to good laws! As professors and writing partners, we are delighted every time we can introduce readers to the literary Theodore Roosevelt.


We wrote...

Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life

By Thomas Bailey & Katherine Joslin,

Book cover of Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life

What is our book about?

We tell the story of Theodore Roosevelt as a writer and a reader, literary activities he pursued relentlessly from the time he could read and hold a pencil until the day before he died, when he wrote his last review for The New York Times. During his not very long but intensely lived life, he read untold thousands of books, wrote 47 of them, thousands and thousands of letters, scores of speeches, articles, and reviews. Some say he read a book and dozens of newspapers and magazines a day even while he was in the White House. We review and assess this life in language, painting a complex and somewhat demythologizing portrait of a fascinating, heralded, and often written about American man of the late 19th and early 20th century.

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

By Olivia Hawker,

Book cover of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

I recommend One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow for three reasons. First, it’s set in the same general time and place as my novel and depicts many of the hardships that frontier women faced in the second half of the 19th century. It also tells a story about an unlikely but necessary friendship, thematically akin to my novel. And finally, the prose is lovely and a joy to read.


Who am I?

Landscape is always important in my writing, and Yellowstone, which I’ve visited numerous times, is such a special place, rich with geodiversity and teeming with danger, that it kind of demanded to be a setting for my novel. I’ve also always been kind of obsessed with bears, and Yellowstone is grizzly country. But I didn’t want to write the stereotypical “man against nature” book. I’m too much of a feminist for that. 


I wrote...

Bear Medicine

By G. Elizabeth Kretchmer,

Book cover of Bear Medicine

What is my book about?

When Brooke sets off on a trail in Yellowstone National Park to train for an upcoming marathon, she’s viciously attacked by a grizzly bear. One hundred forty years earlier, Anne accompanies her husband on a camping trip in the nation’s first national park and awakens one morning to find he’s been captured and hauled off by Nez Perce warriors. Both women, whose narratives ultimately converge, face a savage natural landscape and a complicated, male-dominated world. 

But both are bad ass. Alternating between contemporary and historical times, Bear Medicine is lush historical women’s fiction that revolves around survival, authenticity, and sacred friendship.

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