This summer I went on a road trip to Glacier National Park and was completely awed by the craggy mountains, rolling hills, turquoise lakes, and the big blue sky of Montana. That beautiful landscape has been inspiring people for years both in life and in writing. I strongly recommend visiting Montana, but here are ten books that celebrate the beauty, vastness, and challenges of Montana if you can’t get there yourself.
Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg: A look into growing up on a dude ranch close to Yellowstone in the sixties. A marvelous evocation of ranch life, of the people who endured it, and of the land and animals around them.
Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt: A woman’s memory of growing up in the late 50s on a ranch in northeastern Montana. A perfect foil for Mark Spragg’s Where Rivers Change Direction. The contrast between the male/female roles is wonderful.
This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind by Ivan Doig: A powerfully told memoir set in the wilderness of Montana among the sheepherders and ranchers. This story delves into family and identity and how our connections with both land and people shape and define us.
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean: A collection of stories about Maclean’s growing up experiences in western Montana. Maclean said of his work that it’s, “a little of the love I have for the earth as it goes by.”
Lost in My Own Backyard: A Walk in Yellowstone National Park by Tim Cahill: Traces the author’s lifetime of exploring the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park, journeys during which he visited its geysers, thermal pools, and glaciers, and encountered a vast range of wildlife.
Homestead by Annick Smith: The autobiography of a woman from Chicago that falls in love with the land of Montana and decides to make a home there. Smith recounts her struggles to create a flourishing ranch and establish new roots in the American west.
Yonder: A Place in Montana by John Hemingway: The story of Bar 20, Hemingway’s ranch in Montana, is told through Hemingway’s own experiences and by tracing the lineage of the ranch through its previous owners.
The Medicine Line: Life and Death on a North American Borderland by Beth LaDow: A look into the lives of those who have lived along the 100-mile stretch of the U.S. Canadian borderland known as the Medicine Line. “The prairie stretches seamlessly outward,” LaDow writes, “as if the wind were blowing it toward the Rockies.”
The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick: With grace and drama Philbrick gives us a fascinating look into the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn and into the lives of its two larger-than-life antagonists Sitting Bull and George Armstrong Custer.
Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban: In 1909 Congress offered 320-acre plots of land in Montana (then known as the Great American Desert) to those who were daring enough to take on the challenges of homesteading in an unforgiving land. Raban unearths this forgotten piece of American history in this compelling and beautifully written book.
Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West by Bryce Andrews: A memorable story of one man’s attempts to raise cattle on a 20,0000-acre ranch in southwest Montana while battling predators and the harsh landscape.