Top 10 Western Novels

Top 10 Western Novels Ever Written

This is a list of what I believe are the 10 best Western novels ever written. They are numbered, but are in no particular order and are really a list of my favorites. If you haven’t read many Westerns, you can’t go wrong with anything in this list. Even if you don’t think it belongs in the Top 10, you will most likely enjoy it.

1. Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry
There’s a reason Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove was made into a mini-series. Many story lines that include good guys, bad guys, fortunes made and lost, exciting adventures, friendships, false friendships and death. This is a story of people who make good and bad decisions. The bad ones sometimes result in catastrophic consequences. If you aren’t a fan of the Western genre and only read one in your whole life, this should be it.

Also, if you haven’t seen the Lonesome Dove mini series, you are missing out. It is exceptional as well.


2. True Grit – Charles Portis

True Grit is an American classic written by Charles Portis that holds its own against Mark Twain and other famous American authors. Most people who think of “True Grit” think of John Wayne or the most recent version by the Coen brothers. Even though those movies are decent, this book far surpasses them in every way. The main character is an “old spinster” who recounts her days in the old west circa 1875 as a 14 year old girl. She tells the story of her father’s murder and her search for justice. Historically and regionally accurate with a laugh on almost every page.

The movie adaptations of True Grit are also excellent. The newest one by the Coen Brothers follows more closely to the book, but they are both excellent.

3. The Shootist – Glendon Swarthout
The Shootist won the 1975 Spur Award for the best Western novel that year, but is easily considered one of the best ever written. Many people have observed that “this is more than just a Western” and that is so true. Believable plots and the characters themselves are deep and convincing.

The book is much more violent and hard-edged than the John Wayne film of the same name. This book is brilliant and deserves to be read.

 

4. Monte Walsh – Jack Shaefer

Monte Walsh, by Jack Schaefer was first published in 1963 and is a collection of stories of a young cowboy and how he becomes a cattleman. This isn’t his first classic as he is the same writer who penned Shane. The characterizations are real and the depiction of cowboy life is very realistic. Jack’s writing puts you right in the middle of stampedes, death, train wrecks, bar room fights and lost loves. Excellent read that you should not miss.

If you haven’t seen Monte Walsh starring Tom Selleck, it is quite good. Tom plays a convincing and sympathetic cowboy.

 

5. Hondo – Louis L’Amour

Hondo was the first full-length novel written by Louis L’Amour and is considered his best work. Hondo is your strong and silent type, but has a soft inner core. This novel has all of the classic conflicts: Man against nature, Man against himself and man against his enemies.

 

 

6. Centennial – James A. Michener

James A. Michener’s Centennial is a huge panoramic, epic story of the American west. Michener has penned many great novels, but this is probably his best. Based on a fictional town (Centennial, Colorado), but because of Michener’s exhaustive research of the old west, feels like a genuine piece of history. Centennial has a little bit of everything: adventure, action, history, mystery and romance.

Read this excellent book, then treat yourself to the excellent: Centennial: mini series. It is one of my favorite tv shows of all time!

 

7. The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains

The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains was written by Owen Wister and first published in 1902. The novel was a huge best seller and received much-deserved critical praise. This is the book that established the story lines of the Old West we have grown to appreciate. It realistically portrays the life of a cowboy on the Western frontier. This nameless cowboy that can handle himself in all situations and is your classic cowboy character. At it’s heart, the Virginian is a love story, but don’t let that stop you from reading it. It’s a good story, well told, with sophisticated subplots.

8. Shane – Jack Schaefer
Shane is Jack Schaefer’s first classic Western that was published in 1949. Set in the late 1880s, Shane is a gun-fighter moving through town who settles down and finds honest work only to find himself fighting for justice against corrupt cattlemen. It is a very inspiring story about a man who is who he is and a boy who becomes a man. This is truly a classic story that you don’t want to miss.

The Shane movie starring Alan Ladd and Gene Arthur was released in 1953 and still holds up today. Treat yourself to a western classic!

 

9. The Big Sky – A. B. Guthrie

Many call this an absolute masterpiece. Who am I to argue with that? The Big Sky is written in the Rocky Mountain fur trade era during its boom in 1820 – 1850. This book is about the true Wild West before roads, before the decline of the buffalo and before the decline of the Indians. The main character is a “mountain man” rather than a cowboy and who driven by freedom and adventure. This is a time when there were no towns or sherriffs. They were the first white men to interact with the Indians. Very compelling stuff and not like any other book in this list.

10. Riders of the Purple Sage – Zane Grey

Riders of the Purple Sage is Zane Grey’s best work. This is not your typical Western story as it centers around a ranch that is owned by a woman on the Utah border, but is a classic nonetheless. It created quite the uproar with the Mormon church when it was first published because of the protagonists struggle with the Mormon powers in Utah. Full of adventure and romance, this is another classic.

 

If you are looking for Western movies, check out our list of the Top 40 Western Movies of All Time on Amazon now!

37 Responses to Top 10 Western Novels

  1. Scarrlett Bleu says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for listing these wonderful books. I can verify your statement that these are all incredible, incredible works of literature and whether you are an avid western-book reader, or you don’t even think you’re interested in westerns at all, these books are all phenominal and you can count on being on the edge of your seat for the entireity of each. If you haven’t read them, well, the only thing I can think to say is “What the hell’s stoppin’ you?” Let ‘er buck!
    Happy Trails,
    Scarrlett Bleu

  2. Subodh maheshwari says:

    I commend you on your listing of best western novels. All these novels are great and worth reading, but for me the best ever is To Tame a land – Louis L’Amour. If you talk about the western writer I think there is no one to beat Louis L’Amour. His each and every western is exceptional.

  3. Thanks, my friend, for this. I’ve got ‘em all on my pinewood bookshelves and treasure them all. I don’t do “best” but favourite books (my beloved authors might not by any else’s). My favourite L’Amours were Sackett yarns like THE SKY-LINERS and GALLOWAY. My favourite Western writers growing up were Tom West and Will Henry. Favourite Northwesterns (tales of huskies, wolves and Mounties) include Jack London’s THE CALL OF THE WILD, James A Michener’s ALASKA, Ian Anderson’s SERGEANT O’REILLY and James B Hendryx’s BLOOD OF THE NORTH.

    Thanks for the trip along the Old Memory Trail.

  4. D Hartline says:

    Need to add The Searchers and The Trail. Not sure what I would take out, but those two novels belong in there.

  5. admin says:

    I totally agree with you about The Searchers. Great novel and the movie is also really good. I don’t think I have read The Trail. I’ll have to check that one out.

  6. Peggy says:

    Thanks for this list! “Lonesome Dove” is the only one I’ve read, and that was tremendous.

    Can you post a list of the top Westerns of the last twenty or thirty years? I would like pointers to some more recent novels.

    Thanks.

  7. Dylan Kobler says:

    I’ve read most of these. I didn’t like all of them, but I agree The Searchers is good, but the movie is even better. Some of the best dialogue, like “That’ll be the day.” was added to the movie. I just read The Trail, you probably never heard of it because its pretty new, but it belongs in your list.

  8. Travis says:

    What about “Little Big Man”?

  9. Deby Mantecon says:

    I love a good historical fiction western. Unfortunately, my faves, all by Cormac McCarthy, are not on this list. His Border trilogy is excellent, and Blood Meridian is absolutely the best western ever written.

  10. admin says:

    Yes Deby, that is a great point. I completely forgot about Blood Meridian. That is an amazing novel. I may have to create another list of other great novels not in my top 10 or maybe i’ll just expand this list…

    • Henry Martin says:

      If you do create another list, I strongly suggest you add Hombre, by Elmore Leonard, to it. It belongs in the top ten.

  11. Rider Rob says:

    I was looking for more books about the Indian Territory and Judge Isaac Parker and discovered a great writer, Douglas C. Jones. I have read 6 or 7 of his books and they are all great. His colorful characters are true to life and the stories are historically accurate, well-researched. His books are both good yarns and good literature. My favorite book of his so far is “Winding Stair.”

  12. Howard White says:

    Thanks for your recommendations,to the author, and all who responded ; I am brand new to the genre and wanted to start by reading the best westerns by the best western writers. I should be able to buy enough of these titles to last through the Spring and summer. Thanks to all.

  13. Waylon Haggard says:

    I just finished reading Elmore Leonard’s VALDEZ IS COMING and would highly recommend it to any fans of western fiction.

  14. Kelse says:

    Thanks for the comments and the list! I am new to western literature. I just started reading, “The Virginian”. Does anyone know about a book that details the history of western novels and the authors who created them?

  15. Jake says:

    Hi all. I’ve been a western fan (movies) for a long time, but don’t read much. I feel like I should read more and would love to check out some western stories. I’m sure all of these are very good, but any recommendations on where to start? Appreciate any tips.

  16. mike says:

    Thanks for that.
    Lonesome Dove is certainly my favourite, but I remember “No Survivors” Will Henry, and the story of a survivor of the Custer debacle may not be far fetched as recent research has discovered.

  17. Pablo says:

    Good list. Thanks. I’ve read several of the novels you’ve mentioned.

    A couple of people mentioned a novel called “The Trail”. Who is the author? I’d like to track it down.

  18. Bill says:

    What about Oakley Hall’s Warlock? wasn’t that up for the pulitzer when it came out? great list of books you mentioned. But for me I would figure Warlock at the top.

  19. Charles says:

    using this list as a starting point going to the bookstore today

  20. David says:

    I wish I could get my book, “Legends of the Coyote”, into the hands of more readers.

  21. ferenc farkasfalvy says:

    the orphan by Clarence Mulford is one of my favorites. I have read each of your top 10 and they are all great! I read a top 25 western voted on by the western writers and they expand on your top ten; one that was really enjoyable, but too short, was “paso por aqui” can’t recall the author.

  22. Martin Stern says:

    Eugene Manfred Rhoades wrote Paso Por Aqui. The movie version starred Joel McCrea and was called 4 FACES WEST.

  23. Tim Fields says:

    Great List!

    I agree wholeheartedly with so many of these… And like Mantecon, I too would have included Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. If any of you are in the mood for a western novel written in homage to LMM, CmC, Frank Dobie, and all the rest… (Thogh nowhere near as good as the masters!) Check out my novel “Last Call at the Rusty Nail.” It’s free on Amazon Kindle right now, ’cause I’m just in it to try to give something back to the guys above… who did so much to shape my vision of the West.

    Best,
    -tf

  24. John says:

    Need to add, High Lonesome by Louis L’Amour

  25. Carl Glover says:

    Since it was first published decades ago, I have considered “Lonesome Dove” to be not only the best Western novel of all time, but possibly The Great American Novel. I know I would get arguments from fans of “Gone with the Wind,” “Moby Dick,” and “The Scarlet Letter,” among others, but no book, with the possible exception of George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” has had such meaning for me. You were entirely right to put it at the top of your list.

    • Tony V says:

      I agree with Carl Glover above. Carl, “Lonesome Dove” is certainly a “Great American Novel”, at least one of them. The USA is so vast and multifaceted that I don’t think you can have just one Great American Novel. But “Lonesome Dove” would represent the great and historical West. I would add “Gone with the Wind” for the Civil War & the mentality of the South, Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy”, for the Rich vs. Poor, Workers vs. Bosses, City life, etc, “To Kill a Mockingbird” for coming of age and views of Jim Crow, and Drury’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Advice and Consent” depicting our Political system (in the good old days). But I may put “Lonesome Dove” at the top of the list. By the way, I think all these books won the Pulitzer Prize. Good thinking Carl.

  26. rohan francis says:

    cool selection how about old classic’s like Oliver twist etc

  27. rohan francis says:

    I admit coooooooooool!!!!!!! collection

  28. Joyce A Halvorsen says:

    Cormac McCarthy’s “The Border Trilogy” — the best American Western Novel I’ve ever read — as an adult view of young men forced to change, they rate very high! His unusual writing style is something that takes “getting used to” but it is appropriate for this kind of novel. Next to “The Border Trilogy” is “Lonesome Dove” and for a new writer on the scene, check out Don Polly’s book “Ethan Maguire: A Quest for Gold.” Women writers have written wonderful novels: “A Sweet, Separate Intimacy” edited by Susan Cummins Miller – a great anthology of real stories written by pioneer women. And I have re-read “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse’ by Peter Matthiessen many times. Do not forget to read “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” by Dee Brown. These are not western novels in the sense of “shoot ‘em up” cowboy stories but give the alternate view from the American Indian Movement. Regardless of one’s view, its worth it to read these books – to sit on someone else’s horse for a while. For easy reads, my grandfather and step-father all adored the American western novels – after their deaths, family found these men had squirreled away shelves of western novels by Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour and Tony Hillerman and so many others. RIP my fathers. Your interest in reading the great novels of America’s west have been passed on to your grand-children.

  29. Donald E. Tripp says:

    I’m seated at the bar in a western saloon. Beside me sits a loud man taking bets on the third leg of the triple crown. His voice is so loud he’s driven the name of the race from my mind. To my left sits our retired judge. Behind the bar is a pretty blonde hostess. Her friend was killed last night in a shooting and she is badly shaken. Still she mixes drinks for the patrons. A Hidatsa maiden assists her.

    I am a retired cowboy. My body is too broken to work. I was nearly killed seven years ago by an unbroken bay horse.

    To paraphrase a wagon from Arizona. The old West is not dead. You just can’t see it from the Highway. Here it is still 1887.

  30. Michael Dorotich says:

    For his novels “Down the Long Hills” 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
    1510 Kirkwood Road
    Tsawwassen BC V4L 1G1

  31. Luan Christian says:

    I don’t read a lot, but i REALLY like it! I want to write good stories, and i even have this western idea, but i am very bad at it, so i will try to read some western book to have a good idea of western writing. I picked up Lonesome Dove (not because it’s the first one), so it better be good! Haha

  32. Hopefully the new novel “West to Bravo” hits this list or maybe comes in around 11 or so. Get your copy at http://www.leandogproductions.com or Indiegogo.com – search “West to Bravo”. Enjoy!!

  33. Tony V says:

    I agree with Carl Glover above. Carl, “Lonesome Dove” is certainly a “Great American Novel”, at least one of them. The USA is so vast and multifaceted that I don’t think you can have just one Great American Novel. But “Lonesome Dove” would represent the great and historical West. I would add “Gone with the Wind” for the Civil War & the mentality of the South, Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy”, for the Rich vs. Poor, Workers vs. Bosses, City life, etc, “To Kill a Mockingbird” for coming of age and views of Jim Crow, and Drury’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Advice and Consent” depicting our Political system (in the good old days). But I may put “Lonesome Dove” at the top of the list. By the way, I think all these books won the Pulitzer Prize. Good thinking Carl.

  34. Chip Norris says:

    Great list; a few I need to read. I do think “Deadwood” by Pete Decker needs to be considered. “Deadwood” is my personal favorite followed by “Lonesome Dove”.

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