(in my opinion)
1o. Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynn
Pivoting on the incredible story of the half-breed chief Quanah Parker whose mother, Cynthia Ann, was captured by the Comanche at age nine only to be forced back into white society as a woman, Gwynn relates the full story of these masters of the southern plains in epic fashion.
9. The Blood of Heroes, by James Donovan
By far one of the most extensive, most readable accounts of the infamous 13-day siege of the Alamo. Particularly memorable are Donovan’s intricate portrait’s of the story’s key players, including Davy Crocket, Santa Anna, and James Bowie.
8. Month of the Freezing Moon, by Duane Schultz
A fast yet thorough read, Moon is an entertaining, informative, harrowing recount of this permanent stain on American military history, the Sand Creek Massacre. From Cheyenne prophecies and the formation of Denver, to Black Kettle and John Chivington, Schultz puts all 200 pages to use.
7. Best of the West, edited by Tony Hillerman
This anthology barely sneaks into the category of non-fiction (especially considering its short section of fictional stories). Nonetheless, Hillerman’s sweeping medley of nature writing, letters, court documents, essays, tall tales, and, yes, fiction, is too good to overlook.
6. Son of the Morning Star, by Evan S. Connell
Probably the most popular of all that’s been written of the doomed egoist of the Little Big Horn, and for good reason. Connell’s book reads like a novel with what were once erudite facts on military and Indian history quickly turning to page-flipping plot-drivers.
5. So Far From God, by John S.D. Eisenhower
To truly know the history of the west, one must understand the U.S. war with Mexico. An oft-forgotten yet crucial skirmish in the evolution of the modern U.S., the Mexican-American War is explored in deep, narrative detail in Eisenhower’s book with equal attention given to both sides.
4. Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer
Centering on a few notoriously disturbing criminal cases, Krakauer digs deep in this thorough expose of the Mormon faith. Sometimes biased and a little sensational – like any affecting journalism – this is the history of a religion founded in and connate with the American west.
3. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown
A landmark book for its haunting, heartbreaking story of the settling of the west from the POV of its original inhabitants. Written in the 1970s at a time of a resurgence in Indian activism, Knee lays out the many ethnological injustices committed by a people blind with destiny.
2. Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
Poetic, scientific, sarcastic, vitriolic, and beautiful. Pick just about any random sentence out of this book and chances are you’d guess its author. Solitaire begins with Abbey’s admirable yet futile fight against the development of what would become Arches National Park and ends with a rafting trip down a length of river now hundreds of feet below Lake Powell. A milestone in nature writing by conservation’s most spirited writer.
1. Blood and Thunder, by Hampton Sides
A tremendous narrative of a life almost too incredible to believe. To learn of Kit Carson’s adventures is nearly as astonishing as discovering the crucial roles he played in so many frontier-shaping events. Perhaps most impressive of all is Sides’ ability to paint Carson as neither hero nor villain but a resilient man riding the surf of history.