Books for the Mountain Life, Part 2

Ed Roberson - MK - 4Q blog

Since moving West over a decade ago, my admiration for the history, people, ecology of the region has grown and strengthened more and more each year.  I attribute a lot of this to my obsession with reading anything I can get my hands on that helps me to better understand the culture of the explorers, adventurers, and characters that helped to shape the American West.

In a previous Mountain Khakis blog post, I recommended some of my favorite “Books for the Mountain Life.”  While that list did offer some great suggestions, it was just a starting point.  Given all the great books I’ve read that relate to the “Mountain Life”–mountains, adventures, history, conservation—I thought a Part 2 was in order.  Below, I’ve listed a few more book recommendations that are equal parts entertaining and educational.  While nothing can beat the thrill of actually being in the mountains and other wild landscapes, these books are probably the next best thing.

All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West, David Gessner – Most people who live outside of the West have never heard of Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, but these two men are responsible for defining many of our current ideas about the West, land use, and conservation.  In this double biography, Gessner compares and contrasts the two icons, while offering some interesting (and often hilarious) insights on the current state of conservation in the American West.  It’s worth noting that everything I’ve ever read by Gessner makes me laugh and think hard, even months after I finish the book.

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, Hampton Sides – Usually mainstream history books are either ridiculously dense or highly entertaining… but rarely both.  Sides somehow manages to cram an overwhelming amount of information on Kit Carson, the settlement of the American West, the Navajos, and plenty of other subjects into this book, all while keeping it engaging and fun to read.  One of the top five books I’ve read in years.  (For more reading on Native Americans and the settling of the West, check out S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.)

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing – This is one of the classic adventure narratives of all time, and I’m embarrassed to say that I just recently read it.  An exciting and almost unbelievable tale, it follows Ernest’s Shackleton’s ill-fated overland expedition across Antartica.  The story consists of three survival tales that would be amazing individually—shipwrecked on an ice flow for over a year, open boat sailing through the roughest seas on earth, and crossing an uncharted, glaciated island on foot with no climbing gear.  When taken as one massive adventure, it is hard to comprehend that not a single life was lost.  Endurance is the ultimate example of rock-solid leadership, the limits of human toughness, and the power of optimism.

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Theodore Roosevelt – Teddy Roosevelt wrote over 35 books during his lifetime, many of them about his adventures in the West, at war, or hunting in exotic locales.  Hunting Trips covers much of the time he spent working as a rancher in the Dakota Badlands and details some of his more exciting big game hunting adventures in the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Colorado.  But don’t let the book’s title mislead you, it covers far more than just hunting—ecology, natural history, the citizens of the West, and the history of the ranching business are just a few of the subjects that he delves into.  TR’s ability to deeply understand and appreciate so much about the West is absolutely amazing, especially when you take into account that ranching and the West were just two of his many, many passions and vocations.

If you’re searching for more books on the American West, history, adventure, or a wide array of other non-fiction subjects,head over to my personal blog and sign up for my bi-monthly reading recommendations – one quick email every other month, full of interesting titles that I’ve recently read and highly recommend.