When I was in college studying history, I read many texts about the American West. Some were rather dull, I admit, but some were the most fascinating and informative books I have ever come across. I find these five historians’ books offer the most well-rounded and insightful history of the American West. Each historian brings their own compelling viewpoint on the subject and their books are definitely worth a read.
Patricia Nelson Limerick is a professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Limerick’s work offers a different perspective into the history of the Old West by focusing on how the culmination of different classes, races and genders of people moving into one area shaped the economy of an entire region. This perspective greatly changes how we envision the history of the American West. Limerick’s books include The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (1987), and, Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West (2000).
Robert M. Utley has written sixteen books that focus on the history of the American West. Utley is regarded as one of the foremost authorities on the subject. Once the chief historian of the National Park Service, he is now retired living in Scottsdale, Arizona. Utley’s second book, The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (1963), tells the heartbreaking story about the end of the Sioux tribe’s traditional way of life and their struggle against Federal soldiers culminating in a battle at Wounded Knee.
Elliott West is a professor of history at the University of Arkansas. West specializes on the social and environmental history of the West. He offers a compelling new look into the effects of the westward movement upon the environment and different societies in The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado (1998). More books by West: The Saloon on the Rocky Mountain Mining Frontier (1979), The Way to the West: Essays on the Central Plains (1995), and most recently, The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story (2009).
Richard White is professor of American history at Stanford University. He is regarded as one of the leading scholars in the history of the American West. White’s 1991 text, It’s Your Misfortune and None My Own: A New History of the American West received the Western Heritage Award in 1992. This text is a must-read for anyone interested in the new history of the American West. Like Limerick, White focuses on the West as not a settled frontier, but as a conquered region, combining several histories from different classes, genders and races of people.
Donald Worster is an environmental historian with the Department of History at the University of Kansas. Worster focuses on how changes in nature affect human life. His seminal book, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (1979), won the prestigious Bancroft Prize. Worster’s books on the American West include An Unsettled Country: Changing Landscapes of the American West (1994), and, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West (1985), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Patricia Nelson Limerick @ Wikipedia.org
Robert M. Utley @ Wikipedia.org
Elliott West @ University of Arkansas Faculty site
Richard White @ Wikipedia.org
Donald Worster @ Wikipedia.org