Best Western Books – A Short History

Best Western booksListing the Best Western books, authors and movies of all time is very difficult. There are so many great ones to choose from and it is all very subjective. One person’s opinion may vary greatly from anothers. However, if you are western fan like myself, you will surely find some of your favorites on each list.
The Western genre takes place usually in the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries. The Wild West novels first started coming out in the 1860s with the publication of the first dime novel “Malaeska; the Indian Wife of the White Hunter”. These books glorified the western frontier and its characters and were a huge success. Many of these novels create fictionalized adventure stories about real life people such as Wild Bill Hickock, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill and Wyatt Earp.

Best Western Books – 1900s

Two of the best western books of all-time came out in the early 1900s ‘The Virginian’ by Owen Wister and Zane Grey’s ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’. These two grew the popularity of the western genre tremedously and were the backbone to the enormous popularity of the Pulp Magazines in the 1920s. Western movies also took off during this time.
Best Western books Louis L'amourThe mid 1900s saw authors including Louis L’Amour, Ray Hogan and Luke Short gaining readership. Many great westerns were still being published in this era including ‘Shane’ by Jack Schaefer. The genre hit it’s peak in the 1960s, mostly due to the number of Westerns that were on television. This was probably also the reason that Westerns saw a slow decline. The public was being saturated by Western stories and characters and were looking for something new.
Louis L’Amour pretty much dominated the late 1900s Western literature landscape. However, that’s not to say that there weren’t any good Westerns written in this era. 1985 saw the publications of masterpieces ‘Lonesome Dove’ by Larry McMurty and ‘The Blood Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy.
Today, the Western genre still has a sizable following, but it will probably never reach the popularity it once did in the 1960s. There are some excellent books still being written and more readers becoming interested in the genre due to some excellent movies and tv shows that have come out in the last decade like HBO’s Deadwood and more recently AMC’s Hell on Wheels. I hope you enjoy our lists at Best Western Books and feel free to comment.

21 thoughts on “Best Western Books – A Short History

    • Tough Trip Through Paradise by Andrew Garcia and edited by Bennett H. Stein is a wonderful true western story! The manuscript from which the book was written was found in1948 stored in dynamite boxes. The book is still available today. Check online do a search. I think most will enjoy it as I did!

  1. I recently read a good western by Clem Hannah published in 2004, but I can’t find anymore books by him. Does anyone know what happened to him?

  2. Hi Teresa, thanks for visiting! I have never heard of Clem Hannah and did a search for him and couldn’t find any information. I only found one book that he wrote too – Gunhawks Westward. I’ll have to check it out.

  3. I recently read The Trail. Loved it. Somebody needs to make it into a movie. Some of the best one-liner’s in Western Fiction

  4. “A Sudden Country”. Why no one has made a movie of this astonishes me. Perhaps it’s a bit too lyrical. But hands down one of the great westerns ever. I think it was on short list for Booker Prize.

  5. Ivan Doig. His McCaskill series starting with Dancing At The Rascal Fair is the best I’ve read. His other books are almost equally as good. The Whistling Season is better. Ivan Doig is a god of westerns

  6. You have some good authors but I am extremely surprised, make that shocked, that you have not included Max Brand (Frederick Faust). He is without a doubt superior to Louis L’Amour in almost every way. And yes Lonesome Dove was a masterpiece.

  7. Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy was pretty awesome, especially the first two books: All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing. This is after reading all the westerns I could get my hands on when I was growing up. So I sort of graduated up to McCarthy’s style of not tying up every detail in a bow for the reader.

  8. For his novels “Down the Long Hils” and “Bendigo Shafter”, Louis L’Amour
    was presented the Spur and National Book awards. So why is it then, that
    his best novel of all is considered to be “Hondo”?

    Michael Dorotich

    • The Western Writers of America didn’t exist in 1953 when Hondo was published or I’m sure it would have won the award.

  9. A Western: 1862-63 – an obscure book I found in a used book store in Montana after visiting the Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Deer Lodge. Parts of this book actually had me crying. I don’t usually read westerns and I don’t cry! But I’m here now to find more westerns…

  10. I have just recently finished my first Western Novel and it has been accepted by a New York Publisher. “West to Bravo” is a post-Civil War cavalry tale much in the vein of the classic John Ford cavalry films with traditional western characters in an adventure-filled story put to the page and someday to the Big Screen! With dozens of illustrations by cowboy artist & actor Al P. Bringas, the novel is a must read for traditional Western fans. It is due out in bookstores and online October 2014.
    To raise awareness, get the word out and show the positive interest in the Western genre, I have just launched a “pre-sale” book event on http://www.indiegogo.com for “West to Bravo”. The goal of this online pre-sale campaign is to show interest in the novel which translates into more resources being allotted by the Publisher toward Marketing & Publicity upon its release.
    So … check out: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/west-to-bravo-a-western-novel-by-eric-h-heisner
    Contribute now, get your signed hardcover book / western merchandise and spread the word to your friends, family and their friends. Thank you for all your support in keeping the West Alive!!
    Sincerely,
    Eric H. Heisner
    http://www.leandogproductions.com
    “West to Bravo”
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/west-to-bravo-a-western-novel-by-eric-h-heisner/x/5646578?sa=0&sp=0

  11. Hi Guys

    Best Western Books?

    I’ve already had my long-winded say on the “Top 10 Classic Western Novels of All Time” page of this site. Hope you read it.

    Here’s a thought about a forgotten writer…

    As a kid, I read all of the Zane Grey books in the school library. Liked ’em, well enough.

    Since then, I’ve read, collected and given prized bookshelf space to writers like Jack Schaefer, Glendon Swarthout, Frederick Manfred, Larry McMurtry and Louis L’Amour. And they deserve it.

    But the first Western writer I’d say was a hero of mine was Tom West. Still is.

    I saved my summer job money and bought those Ace Double Westerns. Met tale-tellers like Ray Hogan, Giles A Lutz, Gordon D Shirreffs, Louis Trimble, Nelson Nye, Reese Sullivan. But Tom West quickly became my fave.

    What really caught my attention, besides the fast action and old fashioned romance, was West’s language. Tom West’s typical hero didn’t just walk into a saloon to look for the man who shot his friend, he “pushed through the batwings to plug the deadly sidewinder who beefed his pard.”

    Tom West had something those others rarely showed: humor.

    And at that time, I was growing up in harness racing country of New Brunswick amid a mixed crew of old horsemen, blacksmiths, farmers, lumberjacks and war vets. Three things those guys had in common were a willingness to work damned hard, their own language and a real sense of fun and humor.

    And that’s where Tom West’s novels seemed so real to me. Later, I would discover the books of Clarence E Mulford of Hopalong Cassidy fame, which had the same reality.

    James Reasoner has said that “Tom West” was really an English author named Fred East. The bio at the beginning of Ace’s DEAD MAN’S DOUBLE CROSS says that East, after having served King and Country in the First World War settled in the US to recuperate from his war wounds. After working at a number of hardscrabble jobs, including ranching, he set out to write Western fiction. Titles included LOST LOOT OF KITTYCAT RANCH, BATTLING BUCKEROOS, SIDEWINDER SHOWDOWN and BLACK BUZZARDS OF BUENO.

    In his THE PHANTOM PISTOLEER, after a ranch house, barns, blacksmith shop and wagon shed are burned to the ground: “Wal,” said the foreman wryly, “there’s less cover for the coyotes.”

    Tom West is mostly forgotten now. Humor doesn’t seem work for modern editors? Maybe. All I know is that Tom — East or West — sure reflected some of the old guys I grew up with. And that makes him a personal “Best.”

    – Brian Alan Burhoe

  12. I’ve just run across this site & find it very enjoyable. It seems to be one of the very few that enjoy western novels & take them seriously. I was surprised to find no mention of Ernest Haycox (one of my personal favorites). I’ve also seen no mention of the Ralphs–Ralph Compton & Ralph Cotton. But in any case, it’s great to find a site that appreciates the many outstanding writers of the western novel.

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