Old West fiction and nonfiction are the perfect genres to fill your summer reading list.

Every season is a good season to read, but summer is when we all plan to enjoy some good reading while on vacation or at home. Turn off the TV, laptop and phone; maybe put on some good music—or not—and just sit back and relax with a new book or classic that you’ve wanted to read for a long time.

Across the United States, Western publishers work hard every year to produce deep lists of new fiction and nonfiction—as well as reprints and reissues of classics—in time for summer readers.

The following list of recommended Western books is dominated by new releases from this year, but it also includes recommendations on classics that everyone should have on their to-read list. Why not start now and create your very own ultimate Old West reading list?


Western Nonfiction

For the past decade, Western fiction has been on a wild ride. We have seen a lot of changes in the marketplace, with fewer titles published on the 19th-century West. With the Roaring Twenties currently marking its centennial and the Great Depression not too far behind, publishers have rightfully been asking their authors to extend their research farther and farther into the 20th-, and even the 21st-century. This isn’t because of a lack of material to still research and write about the 19th-century West, but because editors and publishers want to provide greater context and relevancy to the present consumers, whose parents and grandparents (even great-grandparents) were alive while the history was happening. Two good examples of this are the mining history books reviewed on page 52, Tombstone Mystique and Crosses of Iron, which begin their narratives in the 19th century but conclude in the present day.

The following are 15 recently published Western history books I recommend for your summer reading pleasure.

Cast Out of Eden: The Untold Story of John Muir, Indigenous Peoples and the American Wilderness by Robert Aquinas McNally (University of Nebraska Press, $34.95): Award-winning historian McNally once again tackles a difficult topic, and readers will be discussing his conclusions on Muir for many years.

The Colfax County War: Violence and Corruption in Territorial New Mexico by Corey Recko (University of North Texas Press, $34.95): Historian Recko is at his best in The Colfax County War, and his latest history of the violent era in New Mexico should be on everyone’s list to read this summer.

The Doctor Was a Woman: Stories of the First Female Physicians on the Frontier by Chris Enss (TwoDot, $26.95): Enss’s latest history of women in the West tackles the lesser-known topic of frontier female doctors.

The Education of Clarence Three Stars: A Lakota American Life by Philip Burnham (University of Nebraska Press, $34.95): The latest biography by Spur Award recipient Burnham adds a new understanding to Lakota life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Edward S. Curtis, Printing the Legends Looking at Shadows in a West Lit Only by Fire by Dr. Larry Len Peterson (Farcountry Press, $79.95): Peterson’s Edward S. Curtis is the finest Western history and biography published this year. Everyone who loves the West should own it.

Hoof Beats: How Horses Shaped Human History by William T. Taylor (University of California Press, $28.95): The University of Colorado archaeologist has traveled the world researching the horse and its influence on history. Taylor’s book sets the new standard on the subject.

Killing Over Land: Murder and Diplomacy on the Early American Frontier by Robert M. Owens (University of Oklahoma Press, $45): Owens’s fresh look at the earliest decades of Western expansion will be welcomed by all seeking a greater understanding of American continental expansion in the early 19th century.

Lost Landmarks of Orange County by Chris Epting (Santa Monica Press, $24.95): If you grew up in Southern California, Epting’s work will bring smiles and tears of nostalgia for simpler times in the Southland.

Luck o’ the Draw: Irish Gunfighters in the West by Karen Wilkes (Karen Wilkes, $19.95): Independent historian Wilkes gives readers great insight into the influence of the Irish on the law-and-order West.

Murder on the Largo: Henry Coleman and New Mexico’s Last Frontier by Eleanor Williams (University of North Texas Press, $34.95): Edited with an introduction by Southwestern historian Jerry Thompson, the Texas author has resurrected some of the most important lost works on New Mexico’s violent territorial days.

The Pink Dress: A Memoir of a Reluctant Beauty Queen by Jane Little Botkin (She Writes Press, $17.95): Botkin presents a modern Western memoir of growing up in West Texas and pursuing her dreams in the culturally conflictive era of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Ride the High Country (Reel West) by Robert Nott (University of New Mexico Press, $19.95): Veteran writer and film historian Nott is at his very best in his biography of Sam Peckinpah’s classic Western.

Team of Giants: The Making of the Spanish American War by Matthew Bernstein (University of Oklahoma Press, $36.95): Team of Giants by author, educator and editor of the Wild West History Association Journal Bernstein will quickly be considered one of the most important histories of one of the least understood American wars.

Throne of Grace: A Mountain Man, an Epic Adventure, and the Bloody Conquest of the American West by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin (St. Martin’s Press, $30): Drury and Clavin are currently one of the most successful popular history-writing duos in Western publishing, and their biography of Jedediah Smith will leave you amazed at the courage of Smith and his fellow mountain men.

Warrior Woman: The Story Mo-Chi, A Southern Cheyenne by Linda Wommack (Caxton Press, $21.95): Colorado author and True West contributing editor Wommack is a tireless researcher of Southern Cheyenne history, and Warrior Woman is one of her best yet.

Bonus Book: Edward S. Curtis: Unpublished Plains, Photographs, Memoirs, Conversations with Native Friends by Edward Sheriff Curtis, Colleen Graybill & John Edward Graybill—Great Grandson of Edward S. Curtis (Curtis Legacy Foundation, $79.95): For Curtis fans, this beautiful volume is a treasure of never-before-seen photos and supports the Curtis Legacy Foundation.

Upcoming: Tom Clavin’s latest Western history of lawmen and outlaws, Bandit Heaven: The Hole-in-the-Wall Gangs and the Final Chapter of the Wild West (St. Martin’s Press, $30) will be an instant bestseller.


Western Fiction

One of the most original American genres, Western fiction is as complicated in 2024 as Western nonfiction, but for different reasons. The greatest challenge to this internationally popular genre is American publishers. That’s right. The consumer is not behind the shrinking of this ageless line of fiction—it is the reduction of publishing houses in the traditional Western book marketplace. But that does not mean Westerns are dead in the water. No, simply, like the Western nonfiction market, the shift of the genre is into the present, the 20th century and three major sub-genres of the classic Western novel: Mystery, Romance and Christian. Everyone who loves a good Western should be thankful that Kensington and Wolfpack have maintained strong backlists and a stable of Western writers churning out popular, traditional Westerns. All of us who love a good Western, though, need to tip our hats to the publishers who understand the marketplace and are keeping writers in business and readers entertained with Western mystery, romance and Christian novels.

The following are 13 recently published Western fiction books I recommend for your summer reading pleasure.

Bloody Joe’s Last Dance: A Classic Western Series (Bloody Joe Mannion) by Peter Brandvold (Wolfpack Publishing, $12.99): Few Western authors can compete with Brandvold’s fast-paced style akin to the styles of great Western novelists Max Brand and Louis L’Amour.

Bloody Newton: The Town From Hell by Johnny D. Boggs (Kensington, $14.95): Boggs never disappoints, and Bloody Newton is one of his best trail-driving Westerns of all time.

California Dreaming: A Western Romance by Harlan Hague (Wolfpack Publishing, $14.99): Retired history professor Hague continues to entertain readers with his historical novels of the Western frontier.

The Coming of Centori and The Circle C Riders by Daniel R. Cillis, Ph.D. (iUniverse, $20.99): Cillis knows how to write Western action, and The Coming of Centori will not disappoint.

Del Rio Hondo: A Western Novel (West to Bravo) by Eric H. Heisner (Lean Dog Productions, $24.95): Heisner is a screenwriter, producer and author, and if you love a fast-paced Western, you’ll want to pick up Del Rio Hondo this summer.

First Frost: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson (Viking, $30): The 20th book in Johnson’s internationally acclaimed modern Western mystery series takes a trip back in time to Route 66. Guaranteed to be a favorite of Longmire fans.

Fitz: A Mountain Man Novel by Win Blevins (Wolfpack Publishing, $12.99): Wolfpack is bringing Blevins’s classics to a whole new generation of readers.

The Journey South: A Cap Whitlatch Western by Reavis Z. Wortham (Kensington, $18.95): Texas author Wortham is a real pro, and his new Cap Whitlatch series makes perfect summer reading.

Lost Birds: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel by Anne Hillerman (Harper Collins, $30): One of America’s bestselling modern Western mystery authors, Anne Hillerman delivers again with her ever-popular Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito adventures on the
Navajo Nation.

No Good Day to Die by James Wolf (Evans McDaniel Publishing, $29.95): The first Western by Montana author Wolf will surely entertain, and you will eagerly await his next novel.

Sister Lumberjack by Candace Simar (North Star Press of St. Cloud, $22): Minnesota author Simar writes historical cozy, mystery adventure novels of frontier Minnesota that everyone can enjoy.

Three-Inch Teeth (A Joe Pickett Novel) by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $30): For over two decades, Box has been entertaining readers worldwide with his Joe Pickett series, and he delivers again with Three-Inch Teeth.

Trail of the Hunted by Lee Martin (Lee Martin, $18.99): Screenwriter and novelist Martin writes Westerns that make you want to saddle up and ride for the brand.

Bonus Book: Changing Woman, A Novel of the Camp Grant Massacre by Venetia Hobson Lewis (University of Nebraska Press, $24.95): Historical fiction novelist Lewis brings to life an era of the Southwest that is poignant and tragic.

Upcoming: Patrick Dearen’s The Big Dry (TCU Press, $24.95) will be published in October. The Spur Award-winning author’s standalone sequel to The Big Drift is one to put on your reading list for the fall.


Writing History

Michael F. Blake spent 60 years working in the film/TV industry, first as a kid actor and then 40 years as a makeup artist, picking up two Emmy Awards along the way. He is also a respected film historian with eight books to his credit, including his latest, The Cavalry Trilogy: John Ford, John Wayne and the Making of Three Classic Westerns.*

Question 1: Why John Ford?

John Ford, in my opinion, is the greatest director in American cinema. He holds the record of winning four Best Directing Oscars, plus two additional Oscars for Best Short Subject. Many of his films are classics, and his work has influenced directors from Orson Wells to Steven Spielberg. He was a cinematic poet and the greatest painter with a camera that captured so many memorable images.

Question 2: What was your first John Wayne film? 

The Searchers on a local L.A. television station. From then on, I was a die-hard Wayne fan, watching as many films as I could—even The Conqueror!

Question 3: Why is the Cavalry Trilogy so significant?

Ford turned to the U.S. Cavalry to honor the military’s courage and duty in post-WWII. Everyone can relate in some way to these three films, even if they never served. The stories are still compelling, and the audiences loved them. Plus, they had Monument Valley as a dramatic backdrop. How can anyone beat that?

Question 4: When did you first work in Monument Valley?

In 1989, on Back to the Future III. I immediately fell in love with this place and go back whenever I can. Words fail to describe its beauty; it must be seen.

Question 5: What’s your next project?

 I have a few ideas but nothing concrete. I believe a book’s subject finds the right writer to tell its story, not the other way.

*Editor’s Note: See the review of Blake’s The Cavalry Trilogy on page 54.

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