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A Southwest USA Reading List

The following list is a personal selection of books that proved most useful, interesting or entertaining during the research for this guide. A large proportion are only available in the US, and most of those you'd be lucky to find anywhere outside the Southwest.


History and Archeology

Fray Angélico Chávez, My Penitente Land (Museum of New Mexico Press, US only). An inspirational history of Hispanic New Mexico, written by a Franciscan friar, which stresses the parallels between the New Mexican landscape and pastoral lifestyle - and soul - and both Spain and ancient Palestine.


William Cronin, George Miles and Jay Gitlin (eds), Under An Open Sky - Rethinking America's Western Past (W W Norton). Enjoyable essays on different aspects of Western history.


Robert Gottlieb and Peter Wiley, America's Saints (HBJ). When it appeared in the 1980s, this study of the growth of Mormon economic and political power was considered controversial in Utah; if anything, it's surprisingly tame.


Paul Horgan, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History (Gulf Publishing Company, US o/p; University Press of New England, UK). Horgan's monumental study of New Mexican history makes weighty reading; his more accessible The Centuries of Santa Fe (University of New Mexico Press, US only) is a lightly fictionalized set of biographies drawn from different periods of history.


J Donald Hughes, In The House of Stone and Light (Grand Canyon Natural History Association, US only). The human history of the Grand Canyon in words and pictures.


Clyde A Milner II, Carol A O'Connor, Martha A Sandweiss, The Oxford History of the American West (Oxford University Press). Fascinating collection of essays on Western history, covering topics ranging from myths and movies to art and religion.


David Grant Noble, New Light on Chaco Canyon (SAR Press, US only). Accessible and informative overview of the latest research into New Mexico's most important Anasazi site.


Donald G Pike, Anasazi (Crown Publishing Group, US only). Beautiful celebration of the Anasazi achievement, with photographs by David Muench.


Stephen Plog, Ancient Peoples of the Southwest (Thames and Hudson). Much the best single-volume history of the pre-Hispanic Southwest, packed with diagrams and colour photographs.


Caroll L Riley, Rio del Norte (University of Utah Press, US only). Fascinating history of the upper Rio Grande valley from prehistoric times up to the Pueblo Revolt.


Thomas E Sheridan, Arizona - A History (University of Arizona Press). Stimulating re-assessment of 11,000 years of Arizona history.


Stewart L Udall, Majestic Journey (Museum of New Mexico Press, US only). Lively, well illustrated chronicle of Francisco Coronado's 1540-42 entrada into the Southwest, written by a former US Secretary of the Interior, plus an attempt to reconstruct the Spaniard's route.


Richard White, It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own (University of Oklahoma Press). Dense, authoritative and all-embracing history of the American West, that debunks the notion of the rugged pioneer by stressing the role of the federal government.


Native Americans

Between Sacred Mountains (Sun Tracks & University of Arizona Press). Superb overview of Navajo history, culture and politics, written by Navajo teachers and parents as a sourcebook for Navajo students.


Richard O Clemmer, Roads In The Sky (Westview). A history of the Hopi, with an emphasis on the twentieth century and the role of prophecy.


Angie Debo, Geronimo (University of Oklahoma Press, US; Pimlico, UK). Gripping full-length biography of the Apache medicine man who led the last Native American uprising against the US Army.


Paula Richardson Fleming & Judith Lynn Luskey, The Shadow Catchers (Laurence King, UK only). A history of nineteenth-century photographers of Native Americans, with some stunning images of the Hopi and Navajo.


Basil C Hedrick, J Charles Kelley and Carroll C Riley (eds), The Meso-American Southwest (Southern Illinois University Press, US o/p). Intriguing essays exploring possible trade, cultural and religious links between the ancient Southwest and the "high cultures" of Mexico.


Raymond Friday Locke, The Book of the Navajo (Mankind, US only). Comprehensive history of the Navajo, from their mythic origins to the present day.


Jerry Mander, In The Absence of the Sacred (Sierra Club, US only). Intriguing diatribe that pits the endurance of Native American values - with much discussion of the Hopi and Navajo - against the shortcomings of modern technology.


Peter Matthiesen, Indian Country (Viking Penguin, US; Flamingo, UK o/p). Contemporary state-of-the-nation review of the situation facing the Native Americans of the West.


Robert S McPherson, Sacred Land Sacred View (Signature Books, US only). Intriguing anthropological account of how the Navajo perceive the Four Corners region.


David Roberts, Once They Moved Like The Wind (Simon & Schuster). Excellent, fast-moving history of the Apache.


Polly Schaafsma (ed), Kachinas in the Pueblo World (University of New Mexico Press, US only). Well-illustrated survey of the kachina cult in the Southwest (see p.58).


Stephen Trimble, The People (SAR Press, US only). Excellent introduction to all the Native American groups of the Southwest, bringing the history up to date with contemporary interviews.


Frank Waters, The Book of the Hopi (Viking Penguin, US; Penguin, UK). As authoritative an account of Hopi religion as it's possible to find, though it's said that Waters' informants were not themselves initiated into all the secrets of the kiva.



Kenneth A Brown, The Four Corners (Harper Perennial, US only). Slightly dry but very comprehensive journalist's account of his wanderings in search of the geology and history of the Four Corners region.


Pedro de Castañeda, The Journey of Coronado (Dover). An invaluable historic document; the eye-witness journals of a Spaniard who accompanied Coronado into the Southwest in 1540.


Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time (Random House, US only). Enjoyable account by the first man to hike the full length of the Grand Canyon.


Thomas Keneally, The Place Where Souls are Born (Touchstone, US o/p; Sceptre UK). Disappointingly superficial travel narrative, though Keneally is too good a writer not to make some interesting observations.


Susan Shelby Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico (University of Nebraska Press, US only). Absorbing first-person account by a trader's wife who reached Santa Fe in August 1846 in time to witness the Yankee takeover of New Mexico.


Melanie McGrath, Motel Nirvana (St Martin's Press, US; Flamingo, UK). Entertaining account of a British traveller's experiences in the Southwest, with some enjoyable swipes at various New-Age nonsenses.


John Wesley Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons (Dover). Powell is said to have adapted the details of his first epic journey down the Colorado - see p.401 - for public consumption, but his journals still make exhilarating reading.


Mark Twain, Roughing It (Penguin). This rollicking account of Twain's peregrinations across the nineteenth-century West may well be the greatest story ever told, though only his account of the Mormons is of much relevance here.


Ted J Warner (ed), The Domínguez-Escalante Journal (University of Utah Press, US only). The extraordinary diary of two Franciscan friars who crossed Utah in 1776 in search of a new route to California.


The contemporary Southwest

Rodney Barker, The Broken Circle (Ivy Books, US only). True-crime tale of the beating to death of a Navajo by White youths in Farmington, New Mexico, and its long-term consequences.


Scott Norris (ed), Discovered Country (Stone Ladder Press, US only). Anthology of essays focusing on the impact of tourism on the Southwest, with some interesting material on the repackaging of Native American culture for Anglo consumption.


Debra Rosenthal, At the Heart of the Bomb (Addison Wesley, US only). Intriguing reportage of what really goes on in New Mexico's vast defence laboratories.


Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Random, US; Paladin, UK). Classic account of a drug-crazed journalist's lost weekend in early-1970s Vegas; what's really striking is how much further over-the-top Las Vegas has gone since then.


Mike Tronnes (ed), Literary Las Vegas (Mainstream Publishing, UK only). Sin City, Nevada, as seen by Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Noel Coward and others.


Environment and natural history

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (Simon and Schuster Trade, US; Robin Clark Ltd, UK). Abbey's classic evocation of his year as a ranger at Arches National Park was the first of his many volumes championing the wildernesses of the Southwest.


Donald L Baars, The Colorado Plateau: A Geologic History (University of New Mexico Press, US only). Among the more readily comprehensible explanations of the geology of the Four Corners.


Philip L Fradkin, A River No More (University of California Press). The story of the Colorado River, from John Wesley Powell to the water-management issues of today.


Edward A Geary, The Proper Edge of the Sky (University of Utah Press, US only). Loving evocation of the history and topography of southern Utah.


Ed Marston (ed), Reopening the Western Frontier (Island Press, US only). In-depth articles on the changing Southwestern environment from the High Country News newspaper; particularly good on southern Utah.


Russel Martin, A Story That Stands Like A Dam (Henry Holt, US only). Meticulously chronicled indictment of the West's last great dam, which inundated Glen Canyon in the 1960s.


Barbara J Morehouse, A Place Called Grand Canyon (University of Arizona Press, US only). Fascinating academic analysis of how the Grand Canyon has been defined and exploited.


Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert (Viking Penguin, US; Secker & Warburg, UK). The damning saga of the twentieth-century damming of the West.


Raye C Ringholz, Uranium Frenzy (University of New Mexico Press, US only). Lively account of the 1950s uranium boom on the Colorado Plateau, with plenty of hard-hitting material on the health consequences for the miners.


Bette L Stanton, Where God Put The West (Four Corners Publications, US only). Photo-packed history of movie-making in Monument Valley and Moab.


Ann Zwinger, Wind in the Rock (University of Arizona Press). An inveterate canyoneer's account of the natural history of southeast Utah.


The Southwest in fiction

Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (Ballantine Books, US only). Classic wishful thinking from the wilderness advocate, this fast-paced novel centres on plans by environmental saboteurs to destroy the Glen Canyon dam.


Willa Cather, Death Comes For The Archbishop (Random, US; Virago, UK). Not as sensational as the title implies, but a magnificent evocation of the landscapes and cultures of nineteenth-century New Mexico. Cather's The Professor's House (Vintage) features an extended account of the discovery of Anasazi remains on a remote New Mexican mesa.


Clyde Edgerton, Redeye (Viking Penguin, US; Penguin, UK). Brief, bumptious, Western, focusing on the discovery of Anasazi cliff dwellings and the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.


Natalie Goldberg, Banana Rose (Bantam, US only). Taos-based creative-writing guru - her Wild Mind (Bantam, US; Century, UK) and Writing Down the Bones (Shambhala Publications) have inspired countless would-be writers - practices what she preaches in this evocative novel, set partly in New Mexico.


Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage (Penguin). Gloriously purple prose, first published in 1912, from the doyen of Western writers.


Tony Hillerman, A Thief of Time (HarperCollins, US; Penguin, UK), The Dark Wind (HarperCollins, US; Sphere, UK o/p), and several others. Hillerman has written about a dozen entertaining, intricately-plotted detective novels set on and around the Navajo Nation, all packed with fascinating detail about Navajo, Hopi and Zuni culture and beliefs.


Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven Time (HarperCollins, US; Faber, UK). Enjoyable romp through modern Arizona, by Tucson-based writer.


Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (Random, US; Picador, UK). A disturbing portrayal of the West in all its bloody reality - the scenes at Yuma Crossing are horrendous - if a tad macho for some tastes.


N Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn Time (HarperCollins, US; Penguin, UK o/p). Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, written by a Kiowa Indian, about the spiritual crisis of a young Pueblo Indian.


John Nichols, The Milagro Beanfield War (Ballantine Books, US; Deutsch, UK o/p). Thanks to the Robert Redford movie, this entertaining saga of a water-rights rebellion by dispossessed Hispanic villagers in northern New Mexico is the best-known of Nichol's New Mexico trilogy (the others are The Magic Journey and The Nirvana Blues).


Michael Ondaatje, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (Random, US; Picador, UK). Slim volume of poetry and contemporary accounts which add up to an evocative picture of New Mexico's most famous tearaway.


Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (Simon & Schuster, US o/p; Penguin, UK). Epic novel, by a Laguna Pueblo Indian, of a Native American mother searching for her lost child on the fringes of the Tucson underworld; look out also for Silko's Ceremony.