Lose yourself in the pages of these Western books recommended by the C&I crew.
Here at C&I, we take reading seriously. Peek inside each office at our headquarters and you’ll find a bookshelf (or two) lined with literary wonders. So rounding up our favorite Western books for our January 2022 issue was not a challenging feat — but a divine diversion from our daily tasks and the challenges in the world around us.
Below, find our picks for inspiring Western books ranging from photography to poetry to action-packed thrillers.
La Fonda Then & Now
(available at detoursatlafonda.com)
Frequent Santa Fe visitors and first-timers alike will turn up in the City Different this January to celebrate 100 years of La Fonda on the Plaza (lafondasantafe.com), the iconic hotel and must-visit destination known for its Spanish-Pueblo architecture. The festivities will include a Centennial Gala and the premiere of a documentary about the hotel narrated by actress Ali MacGraw. There’ll be a new addition to Santa Fe’s oldest hotel as well — updated luxury rooms and suites dubbed “The Terrace Inn at La Fonda.” To fully appreciate La Fonda’s legacy, one ought to take a stroll through La Fonda Then & Now, a substantive coffee-table book incorporating historic and modern photos, history about the influence of famed hospitality figure Fred Harvey, and essays on the architecture, food, art collections, and cultural movements associated with the property. Not only does the book tell La Fonda’s story thoroughly; it also provides a sense of the rich larger culture of its city.
By Lisa Bird-Wilson
(Penguin Random House; coming out in April)
Award-winning author and poet Bird-Wilson (Saskatchewan Métis/nêhiyaw) tells the story of Ruby, who sets out to discover her Indigenous identity after a turbulent upbringing with foster and adoptive parents. In the advance materials for the already acclaimed novel, fellow author Imbolo Mbue calls it “a celebration of our universal desire to love and be loved.”
Wild Horses of the West
By Jan Drake
(Gibbs Smith; available now)
“Wild horses, most of the time, are pretty quiet—they’ve got their heads down, just grazing the wild landscapes under an open sky,” Utah photographer Drake writes in the introduction to her gorgeous coffee-table book. “It’s cathartic to be in such peaceful surroundings.” When she’s not simply taking it in, she turns her lens on the resilient, majestic beings.
Dissolution: The Wyoming Chronicles: Book One
By W. Michael Gear
(Wolfpack Publishing; available now)
Need a shared activity for a book-loving parent and teen? Dive into the first novel of a modern saga and keep reading together as new books propel the story forward. We’d recommend W. Michael Gear’s Wyoming Chronicles series. It’s compelling from the get-go, following grad students who are trapped in the Wyoming high country following a sudden national financial apocalypse. They’re forced to adapt without the luxury of modern resources, and even more urgent threats begin to emerge.
By Michael Punke
(Henry Holt and Company; available now)
The writer of The Revenant is back with another historically based, action-packed epic. Ridgeline is set in Wyoming in 1866 and deals with the leadup to and climax of the battle between Lakota warriors and the U.S. Army over Powder River Valley lands. The lives of key players Col. Henry Carrington, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse should fascinate readers who share Punke’s passion for personalizing history. A TV series based on the book is in development.
Poet Warrior: A Memoir
By Joy Harjo
(W.W. Norton & Company; available now)
Prose, song, and poetry weave potently in this latest from three-term U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Creek Nation). Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2021, she’s a powerhouse who not only writes prose and poetry but sings, acts, plays sax, and puts out award-winning CDs. Her signature project to date as U.S. Poet Laureate, a post she assumed in 2019, is “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry,” which maps the U.S. with Native Nations poets and poems. Author Gabino Iglesias described this latest book as “a lyrical, heartfelt celebration of life, music, poetry, and personal history.”
By Patricia Frolander
(High Plains Press, Poetry of the American West Series; available now)
This Western Heritage Award winner for poetry comes from the Wyoming rancher who previously gave us the award-winning Married Into It. In this latest collection of 61 elegant poems — divided into three sections: Old Pasture, Drought, and Fresh Grass — Frolander takes us through the seasons of her life on a working ranch. “She gives us a landscape where horses are good people and lives are measured in horse miles ridden,” says poet Connie Wanek.
Making a Hand: The Art of H.D. Bugbee
By Michael R. Grauer
(Texas A&M University Press, available now)
If traditional Western art is your jam, you’ll want to spend quality time with this Western Heritage Award-winning art-filled book. It tells the story of Western artist, illustrator, and painter Harold Dow Bugbee, who was curator of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas.
George Carlson: The American West
Rizzoli, with essays by Todd Wilkinson
(Welcome Books; available now)
There’s power in the paintings of the phenomenal Carlson, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest representational nature artists and considered by some to be as important as greats like Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran for his paintings of the modern American West.
The Life and Times of Jo Mora: Iconic Artist of the American West
By Peter Hiller
(Gibbs Smith; available now)
Anyone familiar with the cover of the Byrds’ album Sweetheart of the Rodeo will recognize the art of Jo Mora, now gloriously detailed here. This is the deep dive you’re looking for to understand the Uruguayan-born cowboy Renaissance Man of the West, whose many hats included photographer, artist, painter, illustrator, muralist, sculptor, map and diorama maker, and historian. Mora lived for a time among the Hopi and Navajo. His most recognizable piece might be his 1933 Evolution of the Cowboy, familiar not just from the 1968 Byrds record but also Levi Strauss ads.
The Art of the National Parks
By Fifty-Nine Parks
(Earth Aware Editions; available now)
Transition from Mora’s colorful maps of Yosemite and Yellowstone to this book, which collects posters depicting each of our 63 national parks, done by contemporary artists inspired by the W.P.A. posters of the 1930s. The poster series is archived by the Library of Congress, with a portion from each poster sale going to support the conservation of American public lands; this book represents the first time the posters have been made available as a collection.
The Way West
By Peter Kayafas
(Purple Martin Press; available now)
The West is presented in black and white in a book that manages to be at once low-key and profound. Shot over 10 years and thousands of miles, the photographs effectively answer a question posed by the inimitable Rick Bass in his afterword: “What is the West? We think we know — cowboys, Indians, cows, dust, sunsets, rodeos, right? One of the many things that is powerful about these photographs by Peter Kayafas is the cunning yet also unpretentious way in which the old memes are shown to be secondary to the primal power of youth, and youth in a western landscape.”
Through a Native Lens: American Indian Photography
By Nicole Strathman
(University of Oklahoma Press; available now)
It recently won the Joan Paterson Kerr Award from the Western History Association, presented annually for the best illustrated book on the history of the American West. It wasn’t just Edward Curtis photographing Indigenous peoples, as this richly illustrated book smartly demonstrates. Strathman explores how Indigenous peoples throughout the United States and Canada incorporated photography into their lifeways. Analyzing images that date to the first 100 years of the medium, between 1840 and 1940, she lays out Native participation both in front of and behind the camera.
Bears: The Mighty Grizzlies of the West
By photographer Julie Argyle
(Gibbs Smith; available now)
Beautiful, strong, smart, and endangered, the incredible North American brown bear known as the grizzly takes center stage here in striking photographs and an essay woven throughout. Learn about bruin behavior, family dynamics, and their lives in the wilds of the greater Yellowstone area. And get to know individual bears Raspberry and Snow, the Beryl Sow, and the Obsidian Sow, and Snaggletooth and the threats and conflicts bears face from humans.
Bison: Portrait of an Icon
(Gibbs Smith; available now)
The first printing sold out before it was even published, but the book is back, with its stunning photos by Montana-based Audrey Hall and an essay by Chase Reynolds Ewald, both of whom are passionate about our national mammal. You hear the voices of ranchers, policy makers, artists, and tribal herd managers throughout the Great Plains and Mountain West, along with author, filmmaker, and conservationist John Heminway and Montana Poet Laureate Henry Real Bird. And you see the distinctly American symbol of the frontier saved from the brink of extinction, now alive and thriving on the Western range in all its iconic wonder.
From our January 2022 issue
Photography: (Cover image) courtesy Anouk Masson Kranz/Images Publishing