A Western primer

  • Ben Garrison

The Rocky Mountain Land Library asked a panel of Western writers a simple question: What books would you recommend to the next president? What does the next administration need to know about the American West?

Our respondents were both generous and inspired with their suggestions. Although I'm sure they would all agree with author Rick Bass, who wrote: "Anything I recommend would be freighted with its omissions," I think this list contains an expansive Western primer that we can all use, with essential titles that White House librarians should have on hand for the next administration.

The president-elect faces many challenges, and we wish him well. And we hope the new administration knows, in its heart, that it doesn't need to have all the answers. There's benefit, and joy, in listening and learning.

 --Jeff Lee, director, Rocky Mountain Land Library, an 18,000-volume natural history library focused on land and community in the American West

Laura Pritchett (author of the novel Sky Bridge and editor of Home Land: Ranching and a West That Works):

Dear President-Elect,

To get you in the right mood for the job ahead, I suggest you start by reading Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry. You won't stop laughing for weeks, and you'll find yourself captivated by the West and some of its more unruly inhabitants. Immediately following, I would read any of Rick Bass' works for their sheer humanity and grace. The Lives of Rocks is a good choice, as is The Sky, The Stars, The Wilderness.

Next, Alexandra Fuller's new book, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant. Good to know about the land and what's being done to it. Where the Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg will take your mind off your own woes by enthralling you with other people's woes.


Teresa Jordan (artist, rancher, author of Riding the White Horse Home: A Western Family Album):

The rangeland conflict between ranchers, environmentalists and land agencies has been one of the most brutal disputes in the contemporary West. Today, however, successful models of collaboration and restoration show us a way to create healthy land and vibrant communities, not only for the West but also for the nation at large. Please, Mr. President, start with the just-released Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West by Courtney White, an up-to-the-minute overview of what works on the ground. Other essential reading includes two books by Daniel Kemmis, Community and the Politics of Place and This Sovereign Land: A New Vision for Governing the West; Beyond the Rangeland Conflict by Dan Dagget and Jay Dusard; and Working Wilderness: The Malpai Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range by Nathan Sayre.

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