After long days outdoors, one of our favorite things to do is to end the day with a good book. From epic novels about the “old West” to meditations on the natural world and humanity’s place in it, from horsemanship instructionals to our favorite cookbooks, the following is a (non-comprehensive) list of titles recommended by the Ranchlands team.
by Wendell Berry
“No one understands or articulates the connection between agriculture and environmentalism as well as Berry. He argues that environmental destruction, along with war and oppression, trace their origins back to a common mentality of greed and exploitation and admonishes us all to reflect on our own impact on the earth more carefully.”
– Madeline Jorden, Director of Digital & Marketing
by Nathan Sayre
Rangelands are vast, Rangelands are vast, making up one quarter of the United States and forty percent of the Earth’s ice-free land. And while contemporary science has revealed a great deal about the environmental impacts associated with intensive livestock production—from greenhouse gas emissions to land and water degradation—far less is known about the historic role science has played in rangeland management and politics. Steeped in US soil, this first history of rangeland science looks to the origins of rangeland ecology in the late nineteenth-century American West, exploring the larger political and economic forces that—together with scientific study—produced legacies focused on immediate economic success rather than long-term ecological well being.
by Nathan Sayre
In the radical center of conservation and agriculture, ranchers and environmentalists are creating new ways to protect open space and traditional rural lifestyles.
by Nicolette Hahn Niman
For decades it has been nearly universal dogma among environmentalists that livestock goats, sheep, and others, but especially cattle are Public Enemy Number One. They erode soils, pollute air and water, damage riparian areas, and decimate wildlife populations. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization bolstered the credibility of this notion with its 2007 report that declared livestock to be the single largest contributor to human-generated climate-change emissions. But is the matter really so clear cut? Hardly. In her new book, Defending Beef, environmental lawyer turned rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman argues that cattle are not inherently bad for the Earth. The impact of grazing can be either negative or positive, depending on how livestock are managed. In fact, with proper oversight livestock can actually play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems by performing the same functions as the natural herbivores that once roamed and grazed there. Grounded in empirical scientific data, Defending Beef builds the most comprehensive and convincing argument to date that cattle could actually serve as the Earth s greatest environmental benefactors by helping to build carbon-sequestering soils and prevent desertification.
by Heather Smith Thomas
Whether you keep a single milk cow or care for a large herd, you’ll benefit from this comprehensive guide to calving. With expert advice gained from decades of hands-on experience, Heather Smith Thomas shows you how to effectively handle a variety of common situations likely to arrive before, during, and after calving. From spotting pregnancy issues and monitoring routine births to easing difficult deliveries and treating postpartum complications, you’ll gain the knowledge and confidence to safely handle a wide variety of calving procedures.
by Heather Smith Thomas
In this practical guide, Heather Smith Thomas provides easy-to-execute solutions for a variety of common medical situations that can afflict your animals, including bacterial diseases, parasites, and nutritional deficiencies.
by Edward Abbey
First published in 1968, Desert Solitaire is one of Edward Abbey’s most critically acclaimed works and marks his first foray into the world of nonfiction writing. Written while Abbey was working as a ranger at Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah, Desert Solitaire is a rare view of one man’s quest to experience nature in its purest form.
Through prose that is by turns passionate and poetic, Abbey reflects on the condition of our remaining wilderness and the future of a civilization that cannot reconcile itself to living in the natural world as well as his own internal struggle with morality. As the world continues its rapid development, Abbey’s cry to maintain the natural beauty of the West remains just as relevant today as when this book was written.
by Thomas McGuane
“McGuane has spent most of his life out West, in the mountains, among horses. He writes with ease and confidence – sometimes too much – about a subject he knows well and is passionate about. If you’re interested in western horsemanship, or just love horses, this is a quick and enjoyable read.”
– Alice Wilkinson, Photo Intern
by Laurence Lasater
Some of the ideas in this book may be challenged by old-time ranchers, but all of them will admit that Tom Lasater has made a success of his ranching operation. Lasater maintains that Nature knows best, and that Man should interfere as seldom as possible. Yet Lasater himself does not hesitate to cull heifers that fail to produce. “We might lose a few good ones, but we get all the lemons,” is his basic philosophy.
by Aldo Leopold
First published in 1949, A Sand County Almanac combines some of the finest nature writing since Thoreau with an outspoken and highly ethical regard for America’s relationship to the land.
Written with an unparalleled understanding of the ways of nature, the book includes a section on the monthly changes of the Wisconsin countryside; another part that gathers informal pieces written by Leopold over a forty-year period as he traveled through the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba, and elsewhere; and a final section in which Leopold addresses the philosophical issues involved in wildlife conservation. As the forerunner of such important books as Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, and Robert Finch’s The Primal Place, this classic work remains as relevant today as it was sixty-five years ago.
by Michel Pollan
What should we have for dinner? For omnivores like ourselves, this simple question has always posed a dilemma: When you can eat just about anything nature (or the supermarket) has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety, especially when some of the foods on offer might shorten your life. Today, buffeted by one food fad after another, America is suffering from what can only be described as a national eating disorder. The omnivore’s dilemma has returned with a vengeance, as the cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast-food outlet confronts us with a bewildering and treacherous food landscape. What’s at stake in our eating choices is not only our own and our children’s health, but the health of the environment that sustains life on earth.
by Dan Flores
Legends don’t come close to capturing the incredible story of the coyote In the face of centuries of campaigns of annihilation employing gases, helicopters, and engineered epidemics, coyotes didn’t just survive, they thrived, expanding across the continent from Alaska to New York. In the war between humans and coyotes, coyotes have won, hands-down. Coyote America is the illuminating five-million-year biography of this extraordinary animal, from its origins to its apotheosis. It is one of the great epics of our time.
by Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was first published in three serialized excerpts in the New Yorker in June of 1962. The book appeared in September of that year and the outcry that followed its publication forced the banning of DDT and spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Carson’s passionate concern for the future of our planet reverberated powerfully throughout the world, and her eloquent book was instrumental in launching the environmental movement. It is without question one of the landmark books of the twentieth century.
by Dan Flores
America’s Great Plains once possessed one of the grandest wildlife spectacles of the world, equaled only by such places as the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, or the veld of South Africa. Pronghorn antelope, gray wolves, bison, coyotes, wild horses, and grizzly bears: less than two hundred years ago these creatures existed in such abundance that John James Audubon was moved to write, “it is impossible to describe or even conceive the vast multitudes of these animals.”
by Linda Hogan
In 2007’s Dwellings Linda Hogan writes a natural history of American land, animals, spirits, and people. Her expositions show us how the natural world is an extension of the emotive dynamics of human history. The naturalism in Dwellings is concerned with how humans have imprinted on the land and animals and how the land and animals have imprinted on us, in vast subtle cycles. She reminds us that we have always already been linked to the land in this way. Hogan’s articulations of the natural world — its development, form, particular purposes and mechanisms — are all main characters, and the evolution of these characters can be seen to inform human endeavors. Everything in nature is interconnected and interdependent, and humans through history have either tried to fight this or let it lead them. In Dwellings, Hogan reminds us how nature must ultimately lead.
by Stephen Budiansky
Horses have a shared history with man going back millennia to their domestication around 4000 B.C. Yet only in very recent years have scientists begun to turn the tools of modem science on this remarkable animal that has been so wrapped up in human dreams and legends. Now modern scientific research is beginning to explain long-standing mysteries about the true nature of the horse. How well can horses really see? What causes breakdowns in racehorses? How intelligent are they compared to other animals, and are some breeds smarter than others? Does nature or nurture matter more in creating a great sport horse? What causes cribbing and other vices? In this beautifully illustrated, compelling narrative, Budiansky tells the story of the origins, behavior, intelligence and language of the horse.
by Linda Hasselstrom
The grassroots publishing sensation continues with WOVEN ON THE WIND, the second volume of women’s writing from the heart of the American West compiled by the editors and ranchers Linda Hasselstrom, Nancy Curtis, and Gaydell Collier. They called on women in sixteen states and provinces to write about their friendships with other women in the West, a subject that they discovered has all too often been overlooked or underplayed. The result is WOVEN ON THE WIND, a unique and exhilarating collection, “a beautiful, intricate mosaic of women as mothers as well as friends” (Fencepost). In a region where time and space are large and solitude is a fact of life, these women tell of the beauties, ironies, rigors, heartbreak, and humor of life and how it is uniquely enriched by friendships past and present. The voices in this volume — unsentimental, unflinching, and utterly unforgettable — take readers into the fields, kitchens, barns, and souls of nearly 150 women and reveal a vital part of the real western American story. “Here is the essence of the West — not the myth, but the truth.”
by Teresa Jordan
The daughter and granddaughter of Wyoming ranchers, Teresa Jordan gives us a lyrical and superbly evocative book that is at once a family chronicle and a eulogy for the land her people helped shape and in time were forced to leave.
by Pam Houston
On her 120-acre homestead high in the Colorado Rockies, beloved writer Pam Houston learns what it means to care for a piece of land and the creatures on it. Houston’s ranch becomes her sanctuary, a place where she discovers how the natural world has mothered and healed her after a childhood of parental abuse and neglect.
by Howard Zinn
Library Journal calls Howard Zinn’s iconic A People’s History of the United States “a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those…whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories.” Packed with vivid details and telling quotations, Zinn’s award-winning classic continues to revolutionize the way American history is taught and remembered. Frequent appearances in popular media such as The Sopranos, The Simpsons, Good Will Hunting, and the History Channel documentary The People Speak testify to Zinn’s ability to bridge the generation gap with enduring insights into the birth, development, and destiny of the nation
by Robin Wall Kimmerer
“I think anyone who spends time thinking about climate change goes through periods of hopelessness and despondency in confronting the reality of the challenge we face to curb human emissions. Because of this, reading Braiding Sweetgrass was like a lifeboat for me- it’s such a beautiful reminder about the ways in which humans can have a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Kimmerer writes gorgeously about how the very best features of humankind- love, gratitude, compassion, innovation, collaboration, and education- can lead us back to a way of living that does not pilfer the earth but preserves it. Her essays are full of powerful ruminations on what it means to be human, a lost culture of gratitude in the modern world, and satisfyingly geeky tidbits about the inner workings of plants sure to fascinate and redefine your relationship to local flora.”
– Skye Challener, Zapata Ranch Programs Manager
by Tom Dorrance
Tom Dorrance has been referred to as the “horse’s lawyer.” Tom gives the horse credit for his knowledge of a horse’s feelings and problems. He says, “What I know about the horse I learned from the horse.” In “True Unity,” Tom shares his ideas to help achieve a true unity for human and horse.
by Gretel Ehrlich
A stunning collection of personal observations that uses images of the American West to probe larger concerns in lyrical, evocative prose that is a true celebration of the region.
by Alice Waters
“Alice Water’s is the matriarch of modern American cooking and her The Art of Simple Food transformed the way American chefs and home cooks approach food. She revolutionized the American kitchen by reminding people that if you combine quality ingredients with thoughtful techniques then even the most simple dishes can be revelatory. During the peak of the summer growing season in the San Luis Valley the food at Zapata is an attempt at the core tenets of Water’s book, we simply take the best ingredients we can find and try not to mess them up. While The Art of Simple Food is not the most technical, inventive, hip, or even the best reference cookbook it remains essential because of its philosophical approach to cooking.”
– Chase Kelley, Head of Food & Dining
by Jessica Koslow
Jessica Koslow and her restaurant, Sqirl, are at the forefront of the California cooking renaissance, which is all about food that surprises us and engages all of our senses—it looks good, tastes vibrant, and feels fortifying yet refreshing. In Everything I Want to Eat, Koslow shares 100 of her favorite recipes for health-conscious but delicious dishes, all of which always use real foods—no fake meat or fake sugar here—that also happen to be suitable for vegetarians, vegans, or whomever you’re sharing your meal with.
by Robert MacFarlane
“This is a collection of essays about the power of language to shape our relationships to land and places. Part of it is a glossary of Gaelic place-names and unique words that describe specific aspects of landscape and place. It always makes me think about the place names we use for landscape features here on the ranch and how experiences we’ve all had in different places influence our own mental maps…how we develop an emotional attachment to these places we work on.”
– Brandon Sickel, Ranch Apprentice
by Rainier Maria Rilke
“This collection of letters have inspired me almost my entire life. Rilke’s insight into life is timeless and as relevant in these times as much as when I was 22 in completely different circumstances.”
– Duke Phillips III, Ranchlands Founder
by JPS Brown
Academicians have universally applauded this book as a true and very informative document on Mexico’s Sierra Madre and it’s hardy people and animals. For forty years J.P.S. Brown rode the horseshoe trails of this region cattle ranching, prospecting and hunting. This story is peopled by characters and places that he knows well.
by Jeanette Walls
“Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls’s no-nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town — riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car (“I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn’t need to be fed if they weren’t working, and they didn’t leave big piles of manure all over the place”) and fly a plane. And, with her husband Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette’s memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.
Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds — against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn’t fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Walls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa or Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix audiences everywhere.
by Debbie Clarke Moderow
At age forty-seven, a mother of two, Debbie Moderow was not your average musher in the Iditarod, but that’s where she found herself when, less than 200 miles from the finish line, her dogs decided they didn’t want to run anymore. After all her preparation, after all the careful management of her team, and after their running so well for over a week, the huskies balked. But the sting of not completing the race after coming so far was nothing compared to the disappointment Moderow felt in having lost touch with her dogs.
Fast into the Night is the gripping story of Moderow’s journeys along the Iditarod trail with her team of spunky huskies: Taiga and Su, Piney and Creek, Nacho and Zeppy, Juliet and the headstrong leader, Kanga. The first failed attempt crushed Moderow’s confidence, but after reconnecting with her dogs she returned and ventured again to Nome, pushing through injuries, hallucinations, epic storms, flipped sleds, and clashing personalities, both human and canine. And she prevailed. Part adventure, part love story, part inquiry into the mystery of the connection between humans and dogs, Fast into the Night is an exquisitely written memoir of a woman, her dogs, and what can happen when someone puts herself in that place between daring and doubt—and soldiers on.
by James Galvin
In discrete disclosures joined with the intricacy of a spider’s web, James Galvin depicts the hundred-year history of a meadow in the arid mountains of the Colorado/Wyoming border. Galvin describes the seasons, the weather, the wildlife, and the few people who do not possess but are themselves possessed by this terrain. In so doing he reveals an experience that is part of our heritage and mythology. For Lyle, Ray, Clara, and App, the struggle to survive on an independent family ranch is a series of blameless failures and unacclaimed successes that illuminate the Western character. The Meadow evokes a sense of place that can be achieved only by someone who knows it intimately.
by Willa Cather
Willa Cather’s best-known novel is an epic–almost mythic–story of a single human life lived simply in the silence of the southwestern desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes to serve as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows–gently, all the while contending with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Out of these events, Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.
by Eugene Manlove Rhodes
Eugene Manlove Rhodes’s masterpiece, “Pasó Por Aquí”, opens this collection of his short novels and stories, set in New Mexico, where he lived during the 1880s and 1890s. J. Frank Dobie praised Rhodes’s artistry, and Bernard DeVoto thought he wrote “much the best dialogue . . . Of western characters since Mark Twain.” Included are the novelettes “Good Men and True,” “Bransford of Rainbow Range,” and “The Trusty Knaves.”
by Leslie Marmon Silko
Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair.
by Annie Proulx
In “What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?” rancher Gilbert Wolfscale, alienated from his sons, bewildered by his criminal ex-wife, gets shoved down his throat the fact that the old-style ranch life has gone. Several stories concern the eccentric denizens of Elk Tooth, a tiny hamlet where life revolves around three bars. Elk Toothers enter beard-growing contests, scrape together a living hauling hay, catch poachers in unorthodox ways. “Man Crawling out of Trees” is about urban newcomers from the east and their discovery, too late, that one of them has violated the deepest ethics of the place. Above all, these stories are about the compelling lives of rapidly disappearing rural Americans.
Through Proulx’s knowledge of the history of Wyoming and the west, her interest in landscape and place, and her sympathy for the sheer will it takes to survive, we see the seared heart of the tough people who live in the emptiest state. Proulx, winner of the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and many other prizes, has written a collection of spectacularly satisfying stories.
by Kelli Jo Ford
Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine–a mixed-blood Cherokee woman– and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn’t easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world–of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados–intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.
by Sandra Cisneros
A collection of stories by Sandra Cisneros, the winner of the 2018 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. The lovingly drawn characters of these stories give voice to the vibrant and varied life on both sides of the Mexican border with tales of pure discovery, filled with moments of infinite and intimate wisdom.
by Jane Smiley
Aging Larry Cook announces his intention to turn over his 1,000-acre farm–one of the largest in Zebulon County, Iowa–to his three daughters, Caroline, Ginny, and Rose. A man of harsh sensibilities, he carves Caroline out of the deal because she has the nerve to be less than enthusiastic about her father’s generosity. While Larry Cook deteriorates into a pathetic drunk, his daughters are left to cope with the often grim realities of life on a family farm–from battering husbands to cutthroat lenders. In this winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Smiley captures the essence of such a life with stark, painful detail.
by Luis Alberto Urrea
It is 1889, and the civil war is brewing in Mexico. Sixteen-year-old Teresita, illegitimate but beloved daughter of the wealthy and powerful rancher Don Tomas Urrea, wakes from the strangest dream – a dream that she has died. Only it was not a dream. This passionate and rebellious young woman has arisen from the dead with the power to heal – but it will take all her faith to endure the trials that await her and her family now that she has become the Saint of Cabora.
The Hummingbird’s Daughter is a vast, hugely satisfying novel of love and loss, joy and pain. Two decades in the writing, this is the masterpiece that Luis Alberto Urrea has been building up to.
by Larry McMurtry
A love story, an adventure, and an epic of the frontier, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, Lonesome Dove, the third book in the Lonesome Dove tetralogy, is the grandest novel ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America.
Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Indians and settlers. Richly authentic, beautifully written, always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make us laugh, weep, dream, and remember.
by Cormac McCarthy
All the Pretty Horses tells of young John Grady Cole, the last of a long line of Texas ranchers. Across the border Mexico beckons—beautiful and desolate, rugged and cruelly civilized. With two companions, he sets off on an idyllic, sometimes comic adventure, to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.
by Paolo Bacigalupi
“The Tamarisk Hunter” originally appeared in the environmental journal High Country News. It was inspired by the only thing that really matters in the Western U.S. — water.
by Kim Fu
A group of young girls descends on Camp Forevermore, a sleepaway camp in the Pacific Northwest, where their days are filled with swimming lessons, friendship bracelets, and camp songs by the fire. Filled with excitement and nervous energy, they set off on an overnight kayaking trip to a nearby island. But before the night is over, they find themselves stranded, with no adults to help them survive or guide them home.
by John Larison
“A classic western tale painted in the unique voice of young Jess, who, on the course of searching for her outlaw brother discovers more about herself and the characters of 1800’s America than she imagined possible. Binge-worthy, gritty, and heartbreaking – a story to make you nostalgic for the old west.”
– Andrea, Mercantile Artisan
by Pamela Royes
In the early seventies, some of us were shot like stars from our parents’ homes. This was an act of nature, bigger than ourselves. In the austere beauty and natural reality of Hell’s Canyon of Eastern Oregon, one hundred miles from pavement, Pam, unable to identify with her parent’s world and looking for deeper pathways has a chance encounter with returning Vietnam warrior Skip Royes. Skip, looking for a bridge from survival back to connection, introduces Pam to the vanishing culture of the wandering shepherd and together they embark on a four-year sojourn into the wilderness. From the back of a horse, Pam leads her packstring of readers from overlook to water crossing, down trails two thousand years old, and from the vantages she chooses for us, we feel the edges of our own experiences. It is a memoir of falling in love with a place and a man and the price extracted for that love.
by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Set in 1885, The Ox-Bow Incident is a searing and realistic portrait of frontier life and mob violence in the American West. First published in 1940, it focuses on the lynching of three innocent men and the tragedy that ensues when law and order are abandoned. The result is an emotionally powerful, vivid, and unforgettable re-creation of the Western novel, which Clark transmuted into a universal story about good and evil, individual and community, justice and human nature. As Wallace Stegner writes, [Clark’s] theme was civilization, and he recorded, indelibly, its first steps in a new country.
by John Steinbeck
Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream — a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength.
by Wallace Stegner
Wallace Stegner’s Pultizer Prize-winning novel is a story of discovery—personal, historical, and geographical. Confined to a wheelchair, retired historian Lyman Ward sets out to write his grandparents’ remarkable story, chronicling their days spent carving civilization into the surface of America’s western frontier. But his research reveals even more about his own life than he’s willing to admit. What emerges is an enthralling portrait of four generations in the life of an American family.