“Where does the West begin or end?”

Dr. Albert L. Hurtado asked rhetorically in my graduate seminar on the West at Arizona State University. Is Hawaii or Alaska the most Western state? Is Minnesota, the eastern edge of the West, and Baja California Sur, Mexico, its southwestern twin on the map? We never came to a consensus, but we did agree that beginning with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock was a little late and too far east.

I recommend three new books in 2014 on the origins of the West that will definitely fuel your conclusions on where (and when) the West begins and ends: 

Robert Varnum’s Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: American Trailblazer (University of Oklahoma Press): Why not start with one of the first great Spanish survival tales of a conquistador who traveled two continents in search of the West?

Gregory Orfalfa’s Journey to the Sun: Junípero Serra’s Dream and the Founding of California (Scribner): As a native Californian,  I am biased; this is a must-read!

James L. Haley’s Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii (St. Martin’s Press): I believe Hawaii might be the best place to discover your Western state of mind.


—Stuart Rosebrook

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