10 Must-Read Books about the Old West


Check out our selection of the 10 books that need to be on every cowboy’s bookshelf.

All the Pretty HorsesAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses is the tale of John Grady Cole, who at 16 finds himself at the end of a long line of Texas ranchers, cut off from the only life he has ever imagined for himself.  With two companions, he sets off for Mexico on a sometimes idyllic, sometimes comic journey to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.

The novel was the winner of the 1992 National Book Award for Fiction.

Lonesome DoveLonesome Dove by Larry McCurty

Set in the late 19th century, Lonesome Dove is the adventurous story of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. The narrative centers around two friends: Augustus McCrae, a reluctant rancher who has a way with women, and W. F. Call, whose talent for leadership conceals a secret sorrow. For Gus, Call, and the others who join the journey, the cattle drive is not only a daring and, perhaps, foolhardy endeavor, but it also comes to represent American dreams of the West.          

Three-Ten to YumaThree-Ten to Yuma by Elmore Leonard

Trust was rare and precious in the wide-open towns that sprung up like weeds on America’s frontier, with hustlers and hucksters arriving in droves by horse, coach, wagon, and rail, and gunmen working both sides of the law, all too eager to end a man’s life with a well-placed bullet. The New York Times-bestselling Grand Master of suspense deftly displays the other side of his genius, with seven classic western tales of destiny and fatal decision and trust as essential to survival as it is hard-earned.        

The Log of a CowboyThe Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams

Told with campfire-story spirit, The Log of a Cowboy is one of the best tales of cowboy life ever written. Drawing from his own life as a cattle driver, Andy Adams recounts the adventures of America’s frontier. Through such memorable characters as Bill Blades and Bull Durham, we bear witness to gunfights, buffalo stampedes, and cattle drives from Texas to Montana.          

The Brave CowboyThe Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey

Jack Burnes is a loner at odds with modern civilization. A man out of time, he rides a feisty chestnut mare across the New West, a once beautiful land smothered beneanth airstrips and superhighways. He lives by a personal code of ethics that sets him on a collision course with the keepers of law and order. Now he has stepped over the line by breaking one too many of society’s rules. The hounds of justice are hot in his trail. But Burnes would rather die than spend even a single night behind bars, and they have to catch him first. Burns lived by the values of the Old West, which makes him a threat to the New West. He is an archetypal outlaw, foreign to the ways of modern civilization, of sprawling shopping malls, superhighways, and polluted skies.  

Riders of the Purple SageRiders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

Jane ran her cattle business and bossed the cowboys who rode the expanse of purple sage around her prosperous Utah ranch. But she dared disobey the Mormons who ordered her to marry grim, brutal Elder Tull. Now her stock is being stampeded and her men are disappearing. Then, the mysterious gunslinger called Lassiter rode into town.

The VirginianThe Virginian by Owen Wister

Still as exciting and meaningful as it was when first published 100 years ago, Owen Wister’s epic tale of a man caught between his love for a woman and his quest for justice exemplifies one of the most significant and enduring themes in all of American literature. With remarkable character depth and vivid passages, The Virginian stands not only as the first great novel of American Western literature, but also as a testament to the eternal struggle between good and evil. With an engaging new introduction by Gary Scharnhorst, professor of English at the University of New Mexico, this volume is an indispensable addition to the library of American Western literature.    

The ShootistThe Shootist by Glendon Swarthout

This is the all-time classic novel chosen by the Western Writers of America as one of the best western novels ever wrttten. It is also the inspiration for John Wayne’s last great starring role, the acclaimed 1976 film, “The Shootist”
Chosen by the Western Writers of America as one of the Best Western Novels Ever Written.          

ShaneShane by Jack Schaefer

A stranger rode out of the heart of the great glowing West, into the small Wyoming valley in the summer of 1889. It was Shane who had appeared on the horizon and became a friend and guardian to the Starrett family at a time when homesteaders and cattle rangers battled for territory and survival. Jack Schaefer’s classic novel illuminates the spirit of the West through the eyes of a young boy and a hero who changes the lives of everyone around him. Renowned artist Wendell Minor provides stunning images and a moving introduction to this new edition of Shane, the ultimate tale of the Western landscape.    

HondoHondo by Lois’Amour

He was etched by the desert’s howling winds, a big, broad-shouldered man who knew the ways of the Apache and the ways of staying alive. She was a woman alone, raising a young son on a remote Arizona ranch. And between Hondo Lane and Angie Lowe was the warrior Vittoro, whose people were preparing to rise against the white men. Now the pioneer woman, the gunman, and the Apache warrior are caught in a drama of love, war, and honor.        

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