11 Best Books About The American West Update 05/2022

The European Discovery of America: Volume 1: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600 By Samuel Eliot Morison

It was even before the New World was found that people dreamed of a mythical place that was west of the Atlantic. When Samuel Eliot Morison wrote his book, The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages, the story of the many Western European adventurers who risked everything to find this place is told. The book starts with Saint Brendan and ends with Sir Walter Raleigh. When Morison did this, he didn’t just read all the primary sources he could find about these men. He also sailed or flew in a small plane over the same places they did. “How could they have been so brave to climb into their small ships and set off into the unknown?” I wonder to this day when I hear the names of explorers like Leif Ericson, Jacques Cartier, and Martin Frobisher.

Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier By Ray Allen Billington, Martin Ridge

Billington picks up the story of the American West where Morison left off. This is a long story about Billington, who acts as a guide as he travels across the different frontiers beyond the Atlantic Coast. In the beginning, he takes us to the top of the Appalachian Mountains. Then he takes us over Ohio and down to Tennessee and toward the Mississippi. Before we get to the Great Plains, we race to the Pacific Ocean. Then, we go over the Rockies, and then we go back over them. The story of Westward Expansion isn’t just about a trip. You can read about everyone who has ever lived on these many borders, from farmers to soldiers to Indians to immigrants to townpeople. ::::::::::::: When it comes to America’s story, everything good and bad happens at the same time.

The Frontiersmen: A Narrative By Allan W. Eckert

People who write good history books make you feel like you’re living in the past with the people who lived there. Especially in his book The Frontiersmen, Allan Eckert is the best at this. This is a story about the fight for the Ohio Country, which is known as the “First West.” When Eckert wrote this huge book, he used both the best research methods of a historian and the best writing skills of a novelist. Simon Kenton and Tecumseh were Indian warriors who tried to get Ohio for their people. This book tells their story in a vivid way. This is not an abstract fight, but rather a fight for life and death between real people. Almost everyone who has read this book loves it!

The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance By Alvin M. Josephy Jr.

In Alvin Josephy’s book, The Patriot Chiefs, he tells a similar story from the point of view of the many Indian chiefs who tried to stop the American colonies and then the American nation from moving west. One by one, their lives and their problems come to life in front of the person who is reading. It’s been a long time since I read the book, but Josephy’s vivid portraits of Hiawatha and other Native Americans still make me think of them today. Their stories, like those of every brave explorer and hardy pioneer who went west, should be part of the history of the United States.

The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck wrote a book called The Grapes of Wrath that tells the story of the American West after the excitement of exploration and settlement had worn off. An Oklahoma farm family is forced to move to California because of a bad drought in 1930. They tell their story in this book, which tells how they lost everything they had and had to move away from their land. There are three stories in this book, not one. Great Plains: The first talks about how beautiful the Great Plains are. The second talks about the political and economic decisions that hurt the Great Plains. The third talks about the Joads, who are stuck in between. The book shows me how important the land is and how we need to work together to protect it.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy 

Disparaging Cormac McCarthy is a popular author these days, but this book still has the power to shock me every time I read it. So, for the past ten or so years, I’ve read it at least once a year. It hasn’t changed at all. Moby Dick comparisons are common, and I think they’re right.

Winter in the Blood by James Welch

A short, beautiful book about a Native American man who has to deal with both the harsh realities of living on a reservation and the weight of his ancestral history. Welch’s Western landscape is rough and sometimes bleak. It’s a world away from the picture-perfect world of Old Faithful and drive-by tourism.

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje 

A book that is very different from any other book I’ve ever read. It’s a mix of imagined interviews, poems, prose, and even photos. When they’re put together, they make a strange and beautiful look at one of the most enduring mythic figures of the American West.

“Legends of the Fall” by Jim Harrison

There are more than 80 pages in “Legends of the Fall,” but the book reads like an epic. Harrison tells a story of revenge, war, and love set in Montana at the turn of the century.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

I could have made another list of non-fiction books about the West, but that’s a different project. However, I couldn’t leave this one out. In this book, Abbey talks about his time as a ranger in the red rock desert near Moab, Utah. A love song written about a harsh land. It is full of Abbey’s awesomely cranky, uncompromising views on environmental protection, which are very different from most people.

The Son by Philipp Meyer 

A big, complex, multigenerational Texas book. They follow a family from around 1800 to almost now. All of the main themes are there, with the brutality of the frontier days as a foundation for the boom-time oil economy, as well. Large in scope, the novel also manages to keep a close enough eye on the people who make up what we think of as history.

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