Rather than Romulus and Remus, of Ra and Isis, Americans made two hot mythic heroes: the superhero and the cowboy. Though the superhero has just grown in its capacity among the United States’ most recognizable cultural exports (and as cinema’s most rewarding subject), the Western genre has diminished in standing, falling out of the broad popularity on tv it appreciated as recently as 40 decades back.
The change has come with justifiable motives. An increasingly suspicious audience finds it challenging to discover heroism inside a violent environment constructed on the deliberate extermination of the American Indian and other historic offenses.
Nevertheless, the Western is a grand genre, and its lots of books, films, plays, and reveals contain over the John Fordian eyesight. A handsome and temperate man is appropriate at anything violence he chooses to cope with.
Taken only, Western civilization requires just its frontier, hardscrabble setting, which has proven a luxurious canvas to its quest of vibrant characters and subjects. Penn Book relies here on best Western novels of all time.
Definition of the Western Genre
It does not make a Western novel because it is set in the West. If so, novels such as East of Eden and Angle of Repose could be found here. Although not all novels will meet every requirement, the majority of these books are listed:
Geographically, the Mississippi River is West. Although some early Westerns are set in Kentucky and Ohio, it is west of the Mississippi that the geography captured readers’ attention and created the legend of cowboys’ lies. Westerns rarely reach the West Coast.
Schaefer stated this about the geographical setting of his genre.
The bigness beyond the Mississippi was primarily open bigness, beckoning bigness — and also a violent, raw, capricious bigness: extremes of topography and climate beyond those of the east, the highest and lowest areas of the entire nation, the hottest and the coldest, the flattest and the ruggedest, the driest and the wettest.
This event took place in the 19th Century. The 1800s, especially the mid-to-late 1800s, were the age of the Western frontiersman, cowboy, and rancher.
The Machine Age was coming to the East, but the West remained wild-eyed and unassisted. While there are many Westerns set in the 20th Century, most of these Westerns were written during the 1800s.
Characters are cowboys, ranchers, homesteaders, gunfighters/sheriffs/rangers, and/or frontiersmen. A Western character’s career is limited and focuses on the above roles. It was common to go West in the mid-to-late 1800s. Horses are also a standard part of Western novels. They often accompany the human characters faithfully, but not always.
The beautiful yet harsh landscape is often the focus. Westerns often feature the land as the main character. It is common to give detailed descriptions of the environment. Nature’s challenges, storms, droughts, mountains, and wild animals often play a part in the central conflict or storyline.
The main characters tend to be deeply concerned about the environment and the wildlife it represents. Even when ranching or hunting on the land, they fight for what is natural and resist modernity.
Characters who exhibit skillfulness, toughness and resilience. Western novels often feature cowboys, ranchers, or both characters.
One is the ability to use a wide range of skills. Cowboys and Western-type types excel at everything, from riding and roping to hunting and cooking. They are comfortable in rugged environments and can make do with what they don’t have.
Western characters are also known for their flinty nature. Schaefer once again:
If there is any one distinctive quality of the western story in its many variations, that quality is a pervasive vitality — a vitality not of action alone but of spirit behind the action . . . a healthy, forward facing attitude towards life.
The elements mentioned above are common in Westerns. However, there is always an element that is less easily defined. It’s almost an aftereffect of writing strong characters in harsh environments. The tremendous Western novels have a masculine and spirited quality that is hard to find in other genres.
Best Selling Western Authors
Here’s a list of Western authors who have helped popularize action-packed fiction up until today.
Louis Lamour, a well-known American novelist and short story writer, is best known for his contributions to the Western fiction genre. His Western novels and frontier stories, including “Hondo”, were made into films.
He is widely recognized as one of the most prominent writers in the world and a bestselling author. His outstanding work and writing style won him the Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
American playwright, screenwriter, and writer Cormac McCarthy are well-known for his dark, violent, philosophical novels that feature characters from the Southwest, South, and Western regions.
The Orchard Keeper was his first novel. He won the Faulkner Award as well as the Rockefeller Foundation Grant. His other notable works include Blood Meridian, Suttree and Border Trilogy. His critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for 2007
American writer Elmore Leonard received many honors, including PEN Lifetime Achievement Award (2009). He had a long and distinguished career writing Western novels and short stories before moving to crime and mystery fiction.
His writing style was characterized by realistic dialogues and the effective use of violence. He also created unique characters. His best Western novels were adapted into movies, including The Tall T, 3;10 to Yuma and Hombre, Valdez is Coming, Joe Kidd, and The Tall T.
Zane Grey was a prolific writer and one of the best-selling Western fiction authors. He wrote over 80 books in his lifetime. His passion for the American frontier and romance made him the best storyteller in the American West. His best-known work is “Riders of the Purple Sage”, a highly successful American author of the 1920s.
Will Rogers was an entertainer, writer, humorist and actor. He is best known for his performances. His peoples’ wit, homespun humor, common-sense attitude and social commentary from the 1920s and 1930s.
Apart from his roles in the Wild West, Broadway and vaudeville, Rogers was also a nationally recognized author with writings dealing with current issues of his time. One of his most famous books was “Rogers Isms: A Cowboy Philosopher on The Peace Conference”.
Will Cather was a significant American novelist of the 20th Century, known for her portrayals of frontier life on America’s plains. Through the portrayals of her characters and careful consideration of the relationship between culture and personality, she was able to bring life to the fictional landscape. Her novels about frontier life, like “One of Ours,” earned her national recognition and the Pulitzer Prize (1923).
William Johnstone, an American author of western novels, was well-known for his science fiction and suspense work. He has published over 200 books since his debut book, “The Devil’s Kiss”, in late 1979. Most of these books have been bestsellers. His most famous novels were the Ashes and Mountain Man series.
Before becoming a best-selling American writer of Western fiction, Ralph Compton was a musician, songwriter and radio announcer. His first novel, “The Goodnight Trail”, was selected as a finalist in the Western Writers of America’s “Medicine Pipe Bearer Award for Best Debut Novel”.
It was also the winner of the Western Writers of America’s “Medicine Pipe Bearer Award for “Best Debut Novel.” His most famous works were the Border Empire series and the Trail of the Gunfighter series.
Top Rated Best Western books To Read
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is the first best Western novel. In Blood Meridian, the small, belated immunity of the Kid is all of the optimism we get in this masterpiece.
It’s revealing of the most critical personality is Judge Holden, whose preternatural attributes make him perversely at home within these sun baked surroundings of war and violence (As well ask men what they think of rock, the judge claims of the latter).
Short on charitable eyesight (there are not any heroes here), the Best Western novel offers possibly the most immersive chuckle in American literature in the toll that the violent Western lifestyle could have obtained on the entire body (death) and the soul (destruction).
Warlock by Oakley Hall
This 1958 book has a quintessential Western setting (Arizona, the 1880s, mining city, etc.). Still, it puts the good men against tough odds, before the plot changes to an ambiguous land, which makes it uncertain righteous any negative is.
Warlock was a favorite book of a young Thomas Pynchon, who held studying classes at Cornell and commended it for its wisdom: what is called culture, using its law and order, is as fragile, as precarious, as a toxin and could be snuffed out and invisibly to the desert as easily as a corpse can. It’s the profound sensitivity to abysses, which makes Warlock among our best American books.
The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
(Classic Western Novels)
Once considered a classic, this Western epic set deserves to be on the mantle with the finest of Larry McMurtry.
In my humble view, it defeats Lonesome Dove all to hell. It is Guthrie’s introduction around three frontiersmen traveling west as fur trappers from the 1830s.
These cowboys are not your stereotypical gunslingers they are hard working roughnecks of the correct type, and youthful Boone Caudill reminds me of Robert Redford’s mountain person, Jeremiah Johnson.
The writing is so vibrant and well researched, it frequently leaves me panting. Even though Guthrie won the Pulitzer Prize for his follow up, The Way West, his very first offering is a monument and all time good Western.
Welcome to Hard Times by E. L. Doctorow
(Best Cowboy Books)
Another introduction by literary research. Many have heard of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate. But even one of those people, very few would believe the guy got his start by cowboys.
The sole reason this one is not rated higher in my list is that it depends on the boilerplate formula too frequently. The Bad Man from Bodie is a formulaic creation so far as outlaws go.
Still, the prose by which Doctorow constructs him along with his dark comedy keeps the personality and the narrative fresh despite its recognizable conventions. Read the first two pages, and you will realize the useful indications of how Doctorow turned into a master stylist.
Deadwood by Pete Dexter
Forget the HBO series of the same name. No, forget it. I have attempted to despite enjoying it, mainly due to the unfinished ending after it had been canceled after season three. This book takes place in precisely the same famous South Dakota city.
It features many of the same historic players such as Wild Bill, Charlie Utter, and my favorite Calamity Jane. But that is where the similarities stopped. Dexter’s book was published in 1986, so it has got dibs anyway.
Additionally, it is only a lot damn much better and contains a real end to boot! It is also as eccentric as a Western book gets. And that is a fantastic thing.
Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
If you are not already aware of Proulx’s very first collection of Wyoming stories, Close variety, then begin there. However, this instant meeting is at least as sharp and painful and brightly drawn.
When there are not too many single hits because they are still in Close selection, these tales together are finally superior from the sheer truth that there is not a dud among these. If Brokeback Mountain drained you almost all breath, The Trickle Down Effect within this group will complete the job.
Desperadoes by Ron Hansen
Many will realize Hansen for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. That is ok with me because that book is a classic. However, to have appreciated that book rather than have read Desperadoes is a significant misstep.
The speech at Hansen’s portrait of an aging Emmett Dalton is astonishing. His prose competitions included Nabokov in this tour de force.
However, what I love most about this book is that in a genre in which conscious reflection is frequently absent in favor of vacant gun drama, Hansen provides in spades. Even the most compelling scenes are often the quietest ones. Poignant and haunting, this narrative rises above genre into the very top of the literature.
Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
Proving that Westerns do not always need to be self-serious, The Little Big Man is an epic set satire about a 111-year-old guy telling the story of his daring and long life.
From being increased as a member of a Native American tribe into a struggle with Wyatt Earp, there is nothing Jack Webb has not done and he is pleased to relay his narrative with an irreverent tone that has been drawing subscribers in as 1964.
The Gunslinger by Stephen King
The Gunslinger is not a Western in the conventional sense, but Stephen King’s dream hybrid is too great to leave this off the record.
Roland, a lone protagonist, monitors the Man in Black and a barren landscape in this ode to the tropes which make cowboy tales so classic, regardless of what world they are set in.
True Grit by Charles Portis
In True Grit by Charles Portis, In the 1870s, young Mattie Ross learns that her beloved father was gunned down by his former handyman.
But even though this gutsy 14-year-old is seeking vengeance, she is smart enough to figure out she can’t go alone after a desperado who’s holed up in Indian territory. With some fast talking, she convinces mean, one-eyed US Marshal Rooster Cogburn into going after the despicable outlaw with her.
The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour
This narrative set in ancient California starts as a young boy, and his dad travels into his mum’s property of this Californios and follows the boy to manhood.
Woven through with ribbons of experience, mystical experiences with The Old Ones, and lifestyle, combat, survival, and death in the desert, this book may leave you feeling as if you lost something that you never knew existed, nonetheless emerge victoriously.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen
In The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, it is hard to measure the bait of this outlaw, that frequently sympathetic protagonist that blurs the lines between empathy and disgust, wrong and right.
Nobody epitomizes that contrasting picture like the outlaw Jesse James, a preacher’s son who became a famous bank robber and murderer without informing his story very much.
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Set from the Nebraska plains, My Ántonia, by Willa Cather, is the narrative of Ántonia. This girl discovers herself in a doubly odd situation: after, since she’s a foreigner understanding little English who’s come with her family to the United States and double, because over the USA, she’s arrived at the frontier, a property unknown and strange to the Americans who reside there. However, her fight to persevere in this odd frontier property is an inspiration for all.
The Grass Beyond the Mountains by Rich Hobson
There are three Western novels to this narrative, and if a set of books depicts courage and endurance in the face of extreme odds, it is this one.
Richmond Hobson places his memoirs in a book form so gripping that you will have a difficult time turning out the light. Historical 1930s discovered Rich and his friend traveling north to British Columbia in search of their past great untamed grasslands. They found them and recognized one of the biggest ranches ever.
This gritty, funny story brings the reader face to face with lousy weather, bears, moose, natives, cold, storms, horses, raging ice-covered river crossings, and much more. The three names are Grass Beyond the Mountains, Nothing Too Great For A Cowboy, and The Rancher Takes A Wife.
Smoky the Cow Horse by Will James
Any record of genuinely fantastic Westerns will be incomplete without one of Will James’ tales. A genuine cowboy, he had been gifted with the ability to tell it like it was. As a side note, James also attracted the illustrations from his Western novels and life as the functions of Fredric Remington.
In Smoky, he tells the story of a horse created on the scope, broke, and trained into one of the best cow horses on the range. He then has it stolen and ends up pulling a delivery place in a town. The narrative is told from the horse’s view, and I will leave it to the reader to discover how it ends.
The Virginian by Owen Wister
First released way back in 1902, Owen Wister’s classic book is frequently considered to be the very first authentic Western. The trailblazing book kicked off America’s love of the Old West and made way for writers like Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.
From the narrative, the Virginian befriends the unnamed narrator (nicknamed the tenderfoot), and the two journeys of three hundred miles to a ranch. On the way, the Virginian exemplifies the love, Stoicism, and principles that have begun to define the genre.
If you happen to be interested in stoicism, go check out Best Books On Stoicism of All Time Review 2022 before reading on.
Ramrod by Luke Short
Although Luke Short composed many Westerns, a few of which were made into movies from the 1940s, Ramrod stands out among his best. The timeless narrative centers around Dave Nash, who owes his livelihood to his manager, Walt Shipley. Shipley has wed Connie Dickason, the very enchanting woman in the city.
However, when Shipley is pushed from town, it is around Nash and Connie to shield his ranch together, Nash soon finds that Connie might be the most dangerous player of them all.
The Haunted Mesa by Louis L’Amour
The place from the modern day (type of) Southwest, Haunted Mesa, is frightening about a post Anasazi second measurement storied and feared by local natives.
L’Amour’s exceeding capability to draw his audience to the story makes this narrative of this desert, infamous assassins, a paranormal investigator looking for the truth, along with a gorgeous woman who leaves sunflowers in odd places an outstanding read.
Ride the Laughing Wind by Blaine & Brenton Yorgason
An outstanding story set in an exceptional landscape close to the Four Corners area, this narrative pre-dates the American West by a considerable margin.
Depicting the life and death battle of a little group of sailors, hunted toward extermination with a more influential tribe. This book is gripping, emotionally inspiring, magnificent, and sensible. A must-read.
Little Britches Series by Ralph Moody
This series is aimed toward young viewers, but even you demanding blisters and older fogies alike will find it gripping and entertaining. It is an autobiography or type about Moody’s youth and childhood, a gripping account of love, hardship, survival, and tenacity.
Should you find horses, cows, and cowboying exciting, these crazy, true to life tales will hold you, hostage, until the end. It’s one of the best Western book series for reading!
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
Inside these classic Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey filled with romance and adventure, famous gunman Lassiter struggles to extract rancher Jane Withersteen out of a dominating spiritual group.
One of the earliest Western novels, Riders of the Purple Sage popularized the traditions and archetypes of Western literature: colorful landscape vision, a lone gunman hero, and an apparent differentiation between good and evil. This is one of the best western romance books for reading!
Hondo by Louis L’Amour
Hondo is the epitome of a lady a demanding, a squinty eyed loner with an inherent gentleness hat comes upon a lady and her son living in hostile Indian Territory.
Complications arise with many bad men, but the narrative has as much love as it does damn battles. John Wayne maintained that Hondo was the most celebrated Western book he’d read, and when it is good enough for the Duke.
The Longhorns by Frank Dobie
(Best Old West Books)
Maybe even more than a cowboy, stagecoach, or outlaw, it was the Texas Longhorn that constituted the American frontier’s cloth. Within this intriguing biographical sketch, Dobie constructs the Old West through the legend and history of this Longhorn, the bedrock of America’s cattle business. The narrative of this Longhorn is complicated in the background of the West.
El Paso (2016) by Winston Groom
Winston Groom is well-known for penning 1986’s Forrest Gump and a treasure trove of masterful and wide ranging background books. In 2016, for the first time in about 20 decades, Groom released a new book an unusual Western known as El Paso.
It is the story of a kidnapping in the Middle of Pancho Villa’s Mexican Revolution. Villa takes hostage the grandkids of a wealthy railroad magnate, and that which follows is a rollicking story of an eclectic cast of many real-life characters attempting to get them.
What is great about the book is how many real-life personalities Groom peppers in Ambrose Bierce (with an intriguing narrative of his own). Woodrow Wilson, George S. Patton (whose dreadful beginning came from the Mexican Revolution), plus some other railroad tycoons.
The book has everything:
- intimate play
- an epic bullfight
- a cross-country race involving a train and a plane
- a few history classes about America’s first armed conflict of the 20th century
It is almost 500 pages, but reads very fast, and deserves a place as one of the top Westerns of the new age of this genre.
The Son by Philipp Meyer (2013)
In The Son by Philipp Meyer, Crossing a small number of generations of the McCullough family, the narrative is told mostly through the lives of three main characters: Colonel Eli, his son Peter, and his great granddaughter Jeanna.
The Colonel lived a Comanche raid for a child and lived with the tribe for three decades. When he returned finally became a Texas Ranger, after which he a rancher, and frequently feuded with all the neighboring Garcia family.
The boy, Peter, is a disgrace to the Colonel because he is tender and falls in love with Garcia’s daughter. Jeanne spends many formative years together with the Colonel, and she has been the one to get his driveway for company and empire.
In her later years, however, she contemplates who will assume the household in a world that has quickly abandoned its oil and cows’ applications.
It is a report on the West, in a household epic set in Texas. It chronicles both cowboy and rancher manners of the Old West, combined with how civilization mostly disappeared as the planet updated.
The Searchers by Alan Le May (1954)
When there’s a Moby Dick story to be had in this particular list, it is Le May’s The Searchers. While the film is often seen among the greatest Western movies of all time, the book is also the Best Western book.
With a few of the most devastating openings with this listing, a Comanche bomb destroys the total Edwards family, murdering the menfolk and kidnapping the girls.
What follows is Marty’s years long pursuit (a virtually adopted young guy who is a part of the Edwards household ) and Amos (that of Edwards’ patriarch’s brother) to discover the lost girls.
If you have seen the film, you understand how the remainder of the narrative goes, and in case you haven’t, I will not give anything away.
The book deserves a place on this record due to its energetic and sensible writing. It also portrays the problems early homesteaders needed in attempting to make a lifetime about the oft-dangerous frontier.
While some Native Americans were portrayed as inhuman savages, the truth is that many were really incredibly violent and did not take kindly to new people settling within their lands.
Inland by Téa Obreht
Westerns continue to prosper because of the inventiveness of writers like Téa Obreht. Inland depicts the West as a gorgeous and frightening backdrop for the unfolding narrative of a woman awaiting her husband and mother to reunite. Her life suddenly intersects with this haunted outlaw within this thought provoking page-turner.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
The 1850s frontier has never been funnier than it’s in The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. Henchmen Eli and Charlie Sisters are delivered to kill a guy called Hermann Kermit Warm; however, if one of these has a crisis of conscience, their narrative takes a humorous and surprising detour.
Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
Her short story collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories contains the tragic Brokeback Mountain, but that is merely one of a set of stirring portraits set against the background of this unforgiving Wyoming picture.
From shocking violence to hopeless enjoys, Proulx paints a vibrant picture of this West and each the desolation and pain that it retains.
Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker
Appaloosa serves two cowboys so genuine; you can almost smell the dust in their boots. Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch appear in a small town ready to make fast work of a rancher holding the area hostage together with his machinations.
However, there is nothing simple about this particular job. Shortly, both men are pushed to their limits with a person whose dangerous vision is unlimited.
The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1940)
(Best Wild West Books)
Art Croft and Gil Carter, two cowboys, have arrived in Bridger’s Wells, Nevada, to find a tense atmosphere. Cattle have gone missing (perhaps stolen), and a man called Kinkaid was just killed. The residents of the town are furious and seeking retribution.
Almost immediately, factions develop; one group wants to catch the suspected criminals on the up and up to include the judge and sheriff and ensure that no improper activity occurs.
Another group wants to assemble a vigilante posse to go after the rustlers and settle the score with Wild West justice: a morning hanging. They say that going through the judicial system takes too long and that males get off too easily.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)
There’s a reason I keep comparing the other Western books on this list to Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove: it’s the Western that all others are measured against. Lonesome Dove was, without a doubt, the finest of the hundreds of books I read while preparing this list.
The plot is straightforward: two long-time friends, Augustus (Gus) McCrae and Woodrow Call, set out on a cattle drive from the Rio Grande to Montana with a motley crew of ranch employees.
They run across bandits, Indians, old flames, and a whole lot more along the road. This narrative takes Larry McMurtry almost 800 pages to complete, but it’s so wonderful that you’ll be disappointed when it’s over.
What is your favorite one in the greatest Western novels above? Thank you for reading and welcome your thoughts in the comment.
Last update on 2022-09-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API