If you’re anything like us, you’re trying to get in the last of your summer reading before the school year begins. Reading books, whether digital or paper, has been a classic summer pastime for decades, and can go anywhere with you, from a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains to a road trip across eastern Colorado. We may be a bit biased here, but we love our books just as much as we love Colorado history!
In honor of Book Lovers Day, we asked staff at History Colorado to recommend some of their favorite books that highlight Colorado history. We hope you enjoy these selections, and are inspired to explore our state’s colorful history during the warm summer months.
Wild Horse Country: The History, Myth and Future of the Mustang by David Phillipps
Here is the grand story of the horse: from its prehistoric debut in North America to its reintroduction by Spanish conquistadors and its spread through the epic battles between native tribes and settlers during the days of the Wild West. Philipps explores how wild horses became so central to America’s sense of itself, and he delves into the hold that wild horses have had on the American imagination from the early explorers to the best-selling novels of Zane Grey to Hollywood Westerns.
Vacationland: Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country by William Philpott
Peopled with colorful characters, richly evocative of the Rocky Mountain landscape, Vacationland forces us to consider how profoundly tourism changed Colorado and America and to grapple with both the potential and the problems of our familiar ways of relating to environment, nature, and place.
Keeper of the Keys: A Warden's Notebook by Wayne K. Patterson
This book recounts the memories of the men and women Wayne K. Patterson knew and worked with during the 40 years he served in the Colorado Correction system. Supplementing the stories are pictures of prison breaks, execution orders, prison life along with politicians and other men and women that the remarkable Warden Patterson lived and worked with. The book is an easy read full of amusing, sad and sometimes dangerous stories of the Warden's experience. -Julie Peterson, MA Public Historian & Exhibit Developer
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown
Everyone has heard about the Donner Party, but not everyone knows the true story. Follow along with twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves as she sets out with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings as they travel west from Ohio to California. After arriving in the Sierra Nevada Mountains they find themselves trapped in the snow with the pass closed head of them. This true-life story reads like a novel as you experience the unfathomable horrors of Sarah and fourteen others as they set out on snowshoes towards California. This well-researched account includes a lengthy appendix with sources cited. I recommend reading this snuggle up with a cup of tea or kitty. It will inspire you to truly enjoy the comfort of your life.
Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens by Ted Conover
Have you ever wondered what it's really like to travel as an illegal immigrant? This story recounts the experiences of an American posing as a pollo. Journalist, Ted Conover, tells the story a group of individuals and families as he joins them in embarking on the illegal border crossing from Mexico into the United States led by a coyote. Conover experiences some of the dangers that come along with trekking thru the dessert as well as the repercussions of spending time in a lawless land. Once across, Conover lives as a migrant worker. He travels from Texas to Florida picking fruit before enduring the hardships of a second border crossing returning to Mexico. If you enjoy the pleasure of eating fresh produce, this book will make you think about the true value of your food.
The Shining by Stephen King
This famous horror novel-turned-film is set in the Colorado Rockies. This book was inspired by King's visit to the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. As King explores the horrors of a man's mental descent into madness, readers also glimpse the beauty and power of winter in the Rockies and the isolation that it brings. I recommend you read this before the sequel Doctor Sleep hits theatres later this year. REDRUM! -Stefanie Baltzell, MLIS
Interim Director of the Stephen H. Hart Research Center
The Contested Plains by Elliott West
It's one of the most insightful and original histories of Colorado I've ever read, and it's written with West's trademark graceful prose and good humor. Readers will see the Front Range through new eyes after finishing this book. -Jason Hanson
Chief Creative Officer, Director of Interpretation & Research
Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser
Developed at the Glenn L. Martin Company’s sprawling Waterton Canyon facility on the outskirts of Denver in Jefferson County, the Titan II rocket could launch a 9-megaton nuclear warhead in less than sixty seconds towards targets more than 9,000 miles away. Such tremendous power came at a cost: the most fearsome American nuclear-weapons accident in history. Find out what happened in rural Arkansas on September 18, 1980—and during scores of other related incidents that skirted major disaster—in this riveting tale from the author of Fast Food Nation. -John Eding
Communications & PR Manager
The Beaten Territory by Randi Samuelson-Brown
This is a really good read; it was a book club choice for the Byers-Evans/Women's Center book club! The book takes place in 1890’s Denver, and provides a compelling look at the intrigues of the Wild West, where women were enterprising, and justice could be had . . . for a heavy price. -Ann Sneesby-Koch
Project Manager, Colorado Digital Newspaper Project
The Meadow, by James Galvin
I've been recommending this book for 25 years now. In vignettes that blur the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, James Galvin applies the eye and ear of a poet to the landscape and the people of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Galvin moved there long ago, and in this book he captures with humor, poignancy, and beautifully rendered detail the generations of people he's come to know in that borderless region and the captivating changes that every new season brings. -Steve Grinstead
The Essential West by Elliott West
This is a wonderful book of essays by one of the most engaging historians writing about the American West today. Readers will find themselves immersed in West's stories, and will come out the other side understanding a lot more about the region's importance in American history.
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
A dystopian novel set in a near future in which drought has ravaged the Southwestern United States. With the Colorado River all but dried up, the remaining water is tightly controlled by corporations who employ "water knives" - private assassins and thieves - who sabotage other companies' water supplies. It's a great read that really makes you think about how lucky we are to have a reliable source of water here in the arid West.
Coyote Valley: Deep History in the High Rockies by Thomas G. Andrews
Andrews takes a deep look at the history of the Kawuneeche Valley which makes up most of Rocky Mountain National Park's west side. This quick read begins tens of thousands of years ago when a massive glacier carved out its steep sides, and goes on to track how the valley's geography has shaped its human history. A fascinatingly deep look at one of Colorado's most iconic and most visited landscapes. -Sam Bock
Public Historian & Exhibit Developer
Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas
This fiction book is based on extensive research about women in mining towns at the turn of the 20th century. It's amazing and heartfelt how the women come around each other. I reread this book at least once a year.
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
A narrative non-fiction book explaining the origins of the Dust Bowl. Only after reading this book did I really understand the devastation of the Dust Bowl and how it affected SE Colorado. It also provides a great history of the geological history of the land and why the Dust Bowl could have been avoided had we known about the grassland's dry-agricultural capabilities.
Sand by Hugh Howey (author of the Silo series)
A dystopian look into the future of the Front Range. Denver, now called "Denvar," is buried beneath mountains of sand. Water is scarce and people "dive" in the sand to find scarce resources. One of my favorite scenes is of a "dive" that happens into the Cash Register Building! -Kimberly Kromwall
Exhibit & Loans Registrar