1. Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner; Penguin Books): This tome is a dashing, electrically interesting history of water in the West. Reading this in my 20s transformed the way I thought about the land where I’d grown up. Suddenly, I understood the film Chinatown!

2. Rivers of Empire (Donald Worster; Oxford University Press): This is a beautifully written and intense account of the way we’ve historically used hydraulic projects to “reclaim” the arid West, and the results for our democracy and our environment.

3. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian (Wallace Stegner; Penguin Books): Stegner’s examination of the life of explorer John Wesley Powell and his descent of the Colorado River is a classic. I read this while rafting the same stretch, and I was impressed that a one-armed guy in a chair strapped to a wooden dory didn’t die in the first 10 minutes!

4. The Nature of Borders: Salmon, Boundaries, and Bandits on the Salish Sea (Lissa K. Wadewitz; University of Washington Press): This is a brand-new academic history of salmon in the Northwest, by a colleague of mine. It affirms in me the knowledge that to understand the Northwest, we need to understand the role of its spirit animal, the salmon, as well as its history.

5. The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest (Timothy Egan; Vintage): This book weaves its Old West history in with travel memoir, exploring the Northwest region in a personal, affectionate and sometimes critical manner. It is highly intelligent and well written.


—Anna Keesey, author of Little Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

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