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LIST: Our Recommended Reading (Part 2)

The following list is an introduction to American Prairie’s favorite books that are closely related to our project. They are the must-reads on ranching, wildlife, and sociological issues, from bison behavior to homesteading life. 

Thanks to help from our Facebook and Twitter fans, we’ve also compiled a larger list of nature, conservation, and history reading for adults and children on Pinterest.


Bad Land, Jonathan Raban

As poignant as any romance novel, there’s heartbreak in the failed dreams of the homesteaders, a pang of destiny in the arbitrary way railroad towns were thrown into existence, and inspiration in the heroism of people who’ve fashioned lives for themselves by cobbling together homes from the ruined houses of those who couldn’t make it. Through it all, Raban’s voice examines and honors the vast open expanses of land and pays homage to the histories of families who eked out an existence. 

Crossing Open Ground, Barry Lopez

Crossing Open Ground is a collection of essays that take the reader from the scene of a beached whale rescue on the Oregon coast to a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. Lopez’s writing is dreamy and spiritual while at the same time addressing environmental issues at the heart. “Through his crystalline vision, Lopez urges us toward a new attitude, a re-enchantment with the world that is vital to our sense of place, our well-being, our very survival.” 

Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee

McPhee examines issues at the heart of American conservation by traveling on three trips with the late David Brower, former head of the Sierra Club and life-long advocate for the environment. McPhee joins Brower on visits with a geologist and mining advocate in the West, a resort developer in North Carolina, and a former Interior Secretary and overseer of the Colorado River’s Glen Canyon Dam.  

The Future of Life, Edward O. Wilson

One of the world’s most important scientists, Edward O. Wilson is also an abundantly talented writer who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize. In this, his most personal and timely book to date, he assesses the precarious state of our environment, examining the mass extinctions occurring in our time and the natural treasures we are about to lose forever. Yet, rather than promoting doomsday prophecies, he spells out a specific plan to save our world while there is still time. His vision is a hopeful one, as economically sound as it is environmentally necessary. Eloquent, practical, and wise, this book should be read and studied by anyone concerned with the fate of the natural world. Wilson is also a member of American Prairie’s Scientific Advisory Council. 

The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West, Edward Abbey

“I am not a naturalist. I never was and never will be a naturalist.” So Edward Abbey opens The Journey Home, a collection of essays that turns every page or two to some aspect of the natural history of the desert West. The Journey Home is full of politically charged, often enraged essays on such matters as urban growth (“The Blob Comes to Arizona”), the gentrification of the small-town West (“Telluride Blues — A Hatchet Job”), and wilderness preservation (“Let Us Now Praise Mountain Lions”). (Gregory McNamee)

The Last Best Place: a Montana Anthology, William Kittredge

The Last Best Place includes over 230 stories, poems, reminiscences, and reports written by 140 women and men. The book is divided into eight sections, with introductory essays by William Bevis, Mary Blew, William Kittredge, William Lang, Richard Roeder, Annick Smith, and James Welch. This guided tour of Montana’s literature includes Native American stories, autobiographies, journals, fiction, and poetry. 

The Lewis and Clark Companion: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Voyage of Discovery, Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs, Clay S. Jenkinson

This alphabetical primer on all things Lewis and Clark is comprehensive but not exhaustive. Both novices and scholars will benefit from the cogent entries, intended “to synthesize the mass of the existing knowledge about the Lewis and Clark expedition into a single unified volume.”

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a series of interconnected essays that challenge the listener to contemplate the natural world beyond its commonplace surfaces. “The book is a form of meditation, written with headlong urgency, about seeing. A reader’s heart must go out to a young writer with a sense of wonder so fearless and unbridled… There is an ambition about her book that I like… It is the ambition to feel.” 

Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams

The only constants in nature are change and death. Terry Tempest Williams, a naturalist and writer from northern Utah, has seen her share of both. The pages of Refuge resound with the deaths from cancer of her mother and other women. Parallel to her account of this devastation, Williams describes changes in bird life at the sanctuaries dotting the shores of the Great Salt Lake as water levels rose during the unusually wet early 1980s and threatened the nesting grounds of dozens of species. In this world of shattered eggs and drowned shorebirds, Williams reckons with the meaning of life, alternating despair and joy. 

A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold

This book is a classic of nature writing, widely cited as one of the most influential nature books ever published. In Leopold’s view, it is something of a human duty to preserve as much wild land as possible, as a kind of bank for the biological future of all species. “Beautifully written, quiet, and elegant, Leopold’s book deserves continued study and discussion today.” (Gregory McNamee) 

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Stephen Ambrose

A biography of Meriwether Lewis that relies heavily on the journals of both Lewis and Clark, this book is also backed up by the author’s personal travels along Lewis and Clark’s route to the Pacific. Ambrose is not content to simply chronicle the events of the “Corps of Discovery,” as the explorers called their ventures; he often pauses to assess the military leadership of Lewis and Clark, how they negotiated with various native peoples, and what they reported to Jefferson. Though the expedition failed to find Jefferson’s hoped-for water route to the Pacific, it fired interest among fur traders and other Americans, changing the face of the West forever.