The Greatest "Westerns" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 280 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Westerns

Westerns is a genre of literature that typically features stories set in the American Old West during the late 19th century. These books often include themes of adventure, conflict, and survival in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. They typically feature cowboys, gunslingers, outlaws, and lawmen, and explore the themes of justice, honor, and morality. Westerns are known for their vivid descriptions of the western landscape, the rugged individualism of their characters, and their portrayal of the American frontier as a place of both danger and opportunity.

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  1. 1. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

    Set in the mid-19th century, this novel follows a violent teenager known as "the Kid" as he joins a group of Indian-hunters led by the enigmatic and brutal Judge Holden. The narrative is a gruesome depiction of the lawless American West, filled with philosophical musings, vivid descriptions of the harsh landscape, and brutal, relentless violence. The story explores themes of human nature, morality, and the inherent chaos and brutality of life.

  2. 2. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

    The book tells the story of two retired Texas Rangers who embark on a perilous cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the 1870s. The narrative focuses on the duo's adventures and the characters they meet along the way, including a variety of outlaws, Indians, and settlers. This epic tale of the Old West explores themes of friendship, unrequited love, and the harsh realities of frontier life.

  3. 3. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

    This novel follows the journey of a young Texas cowboy who, after his grandfather's death, ventures into Mexico with his best friend in search of a life of freedom and adventure. Their journey becomes complicated when they are arrested and imprisoned, and the protagonist falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy ranch owner. The book explores themes of love, loss, friendship, and the harsh realities of life.

  4. 4. Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

    "Riders of the Purple Sage" is a classic Western novel that tells the story of a woman named Jane Withersteen, who is persecuted by her Mormon fundamentalist church community in Utah for her friendship with a non-Mormon man. She is protected by a mysterious rider known as Lassiter, a gunslinger who is seeking revenge for the death of his sister. The novel explores themes of religious intolerance, the struggle for personal freedom, and the violent frontier life in the American West.

  5. 5. Winnetou by Karl May

    The book is a tale of the American Wild West, where the protagonist, a German immigrant and greenhorn, embarks on a life-changing adventure. He forms an unlikely friendship with a noble Native American chief, Winnetou, and together they navigate the perils of the frontier. Their bond transcends cultural barriers and they fight side by side against various enemies, including unscrupulous treasure hunters and hostile tribes. Through their adventures, the protagonist matures into a skilled frontiersman, embodying the ideals of courage, honor, and respect for the natural world and its indigenous peoples.

  6. 6. The Prairie by James Fenimore Cooper

    "The Prairie" is a tale set in the early 19th-century American frontier, where Natty Bumppo, an aging frontiersman better known as "the trapper" or "Leatherstocking," navigates the challenges of the untamed West. He encounters various settlers and Native Americans, as well as a family in distress, and becomes embroiled in conflicts that arise from the encroachment of civilization on the wilderness. As the European-American settlers clash with the indigenous tribes and amongst themselves over land and resources, the trapper's experience and wisdom become crucial in navigating the moral complexities and the physical dangers of the expansive prairie. The novel explores themes of manifest destiny, the impact of westward expansion, and the inevitable transformation of the natural landscape and Native American cultures.

  7. 7. The Virginian by Owen Wister

    This classic novel, set in the late 19th century American West, tells the story of a nameless cowboy known only as the Virginian. Working on a Wyoming ranch, he embodies the ideals of the western hero—brave, honorable, and skilled in the ways of the frontier. The narrative follows his adventures, his romance with the spirited schoolteacher Molly Wood, and his encounters with cattle rustlers and other outlaws. Through his journey, the book explores themes of justice, love, and the clash between the untamed wilderness and the encroaching rules of civilization, offering a nuanced portrayal of the American West during a time of transformation.

  8. 8. Horseman, Pass By: A Novel by Larry McMurtry

    This novel takes place in a small Texas town where a young boy grows up on a ranch with his grandfather and a host of other characters. The story is about the boy's coming of age and his struggle to understand the adult world around him, especially when a devastating disease threatens the cattle on their ranch. The narrative explores themes of morality, love, and the harsh realities of life in a small, close-knit community.

  9. 9. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

    "The Crossing" is a novel set in the late 1930s and early 1940s that follows a young man named Billy Parham and his brother Boyd. The story primarily revolves around their adventures in the United States and Mexico, including their encounters with a wolf, horse traders, and a Mexican outlaw. The narrative explores themes of loss, survival, and the harsh realities of life, set against the backdrop of the American West and the Mexican wilderness.

  10. 10. The Track Of The Cat by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

    "The Track of the Cat" is a gripping and atmospheric novel set in the harsh winter landscape of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The story follows the lives of the Bridges family as they confront their deepest fears and secrets during a snowbound weekend. As tensions rise and a mountain lion stalks their isolated ranch, the family's relationships are tested, revealing the complex dynamics that exist between siblings, parents, and lovers. With vivid descriptions and psychological depth, the novel explores themes of isolation, survival, and the primal instincts that lie within us all.

  11. 11. Centennial by James A. Michener

    "Centennial" is a sweeping historical novel that traces the history of the plains of northeast Colorado from prehistoric times to the 1970s. The narrative intertwines the stories of the land's various inhabitants over the centuries, including Native Americans, French fur trappers, English nobles, American pioneers, and others. The novel explores themes of love, war, and the challenge of the frontier, all set against the backdrop of the American West's breathtaking landscapes.

  12. 12. Go in Beauty by William Eastlake

    "Go in Beauty" is a novel that explores the complexities of human relationships, love, and loss against the backdrop of the Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico. The protagonist, a New York journalist, moves to the reservation after his wife's death and becomes entangled in a love triangle with two local women. The book delves into themes of cultural clash, isolation, and the search for meaning and redemption, all set against the stark and beautiful landscape of the American Southwest.

  13. 13. The Bronc People by William Eastlake

    Set on a Navajo reservation during World War II, "The Bronc People" explores the complex relationships and cultural tensions between the Native American inhabitants and the white government officials. The story is centered on a young Navajo man who is torn between his traditional lifestyle and the modern world. The book provides a deep insight into the Navajo culture, their spiritual beliefs, and their struggle to preserve their identity amid external influences.

  14. 14. Winnetou by Karl May

    This classic adventure novel is set in the American Wild West, where the main character, a German immigrant, embarks on a journey of self-discovery and friendship. He forms an unlikely bond with Winnetou, a noble Apache chief, as they navigate the challenges and conflicts between settlers and Native American tribes. Through their adventures, the story explores themes of cultural understanding, respect, and the deep ties of brotherhood. The narrative is rich with vivid descriptions of the landscape and insightful portrayals of the diverse characters, making it a captivating exploration of the American frontier and the complexities of its historical conflicts.

  15. 15. Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx

    "Close Range: Wyoming Stories" is a collection of short stories that depict the harsh, rugged life in Wyoming. The book portrays the lives of various characters, from ranchers to rodeo cowboys, who are struggling with poverty, loneliness, and the harsh physical environment. The stories are characterized by a strong sense of place, dark humor, and vivid descriptions of the western landscape. The characters' struggles with their harsh environment and personal demons create a poignant and often tragic portrait of life in the American West.

  16. 16. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper

    The novel is a tale of adventure and morality set in the American frontier during the mid-18th century, focusing on a young frontiersman known for his skill as a marksman. As the protagonist navigates the wilderness and encounters Native American tribes, he is tested by a series of ethical dilemmas and violent confrontations. Throughout his journey, he earns the title "Deerslayer" for his hunting prowess and faces the complexities of honor, friendship, and love amidst the backdrop of the French and Indian War. The story is a blend of action and philosophical reflection on nature, civilization, and the human condition.

  17. 17. Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy

    "Cities of the Plain" is the conclusion to a trilogy set in the post-World War II American West. The story follows two cowboys, John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, who work on a ranch in New Mexico near the Texas border. Cole falls in love with a Mexican prostitute, which leads to a tragic confrontation with her pimp. The novel explores themes of love, friendship, and the fading of the old West.

  18. 18. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

    The book is a darkly comic, Western-inspired tale that follows the notorious sibling hitmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, as they journey through the American frontier during the 1850s Gold Rush. Tasked with killing a prospector who has allegedly stolen from their employer, the brothers grapple with a series of increasingly bizarre and violent encounters. Along the way, Eli, the more introspective of the two, begins to question their life of crime and contemplates a different future, reflecting on themes of brotherhood, redemption, and the elusive nature of the American Dream.

  19. 19. The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr

    "The Way West" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that chronicles the journey of a group of pioneers traveling westward on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. The story focuses on the diverse group of travelers, each with their own motivations and backgrounds, as they face the hardships and challenges of the trail. The novel explores themes of survival, the American dream, and the harsh realities of westward expansion.

  20. 20. The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor

    "The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters" is a historical fiction novel that follows the journey of a 14-year-old boy and his father as they join a wagon train heading for California during the Gold Rush in 1849. The narrative is filled with humor and adventure, as the pair encounter a variety of colorful characters and dangerous situations along the way. The boy's father is a doctor with a penchant for gambling, which often lands them in trouble, but also provides opportunities for the young protagonist to grow and learn about life, human nature, and himself.

  21. 21. The Thousand Crimes Of Ming Tsu by Tom Lin

    Set in the American West during the era of the transcontinental railroad, this novel follows the story of a Chinese-American assassin, Ming Tsu, who was forcibly taken from his homeland and trained by a crime boss. After falling in love and marrying a woman against the wishes of his boss, Ming is separated from his wife and sent to work on the railroad. He escapes and embarks on a quest for vengeance against the men who wronged him, using his lethal skills to exact justice. Along the way, he gathers a posse of outcasts, and together they navigate the harsh realities of a landscape marked by violence and racism. The narrative weaves elements of Western genre with magical realism, exploring themes of love, revenge, and the search for redemption in a lawless land.

Reading Statistics

Click the button below to see how many of these books you've read!

Download

If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

Download