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Bob Budd: Top 10 Books about the American West

In November, Bob Budd, author of OTTERS DANCE: A RANCHER'S JOURNEY TO ENLIGHTENMENT AND STEWARDSHIP, was on the Books Uncovered podcast. We had the pleasure of discussing the American West, the future of land management, and book recommendations, so many book recommendations! For the sake of time, many didn’t make it into the episode, and we’d like to share them with you now.


Photo Credit: Ben Emrick on Unsplash


The Natural West - Dan Flores

The Natural West offers essays reflecting the natural history of the American West as written by one of its most respected environmental historians. Developing a provocative theme, Dan Flores asserts that Western environmental history cannot be explained by examining the place, culture, or policy alone, but should be understood within the context of a universal human nature.

The Natural West entertains the notion that we all have a biological nature that helps explain some of our attitudes toward the environment. Flores also explains the ways in which various cultures-including the Comanches, New Mexico Hispanos, Mormons, Texans, and Montanans-interact with the environment of the West.

Gracefully moving between the personal and the objective, Flores intersperses his writings with literature, scientific theory, and personal reflection. The topics cover a wide range-from historical human nature regarding animals and exploration, to the environmental histories of particular Western bioregions, and finally, to Western restoration as the great environmental theme of the twenty-first century.


The Meadow - James Galvin

In discrete disclosures joined with the intricacy of a spider's web, James Galvin depicts the hundred-year history of a meadow in the arid mountains of the Colorado/Wyoming border. Galvin describes the seasons, the weather, the wildlife, and the few people who do not possess but are themselves possessed by this terrain. In so doing he reveals an experience that is part of our heritage and mythology. For Lyle, Ray, Clara, and App, the struggle to survive on an independent family ranch is a series of blameless failures and unacclaimed successes that illuminate the Western character. The Meadow evokes a sense of place that can be achieved only by someone who knows it intimately.



Sacred Trusts - Michael Katakis (Editor)

These diverse and sometimes controversial essays redefine the concept of 'stewardship' in its modern context by exploring the fine line between interacting and interfering with nature. Touching on topics that range from catching a brook trout to taming a wild kestrel, the writers explore their own relationships with nature to illustrate and resurrect the dignity and economy of simple living.






My Life on the Range - John Clay



Combining the straightforward qualities of an effective writer with the rugged vigor of a plains cowman, John Clay was one of the most colorful and influential figures in the history of the American ranch cattle industry.






Earth in Mind - David Orr

In Earth in Mind, noted environmental educator David W. Orr focuses not on problems in education, but on the problem of education. Much of what has gone wrong with the world, he argues, is the result of inadequate and misdirected education that:

  • alienates us from life in the name of human domination

  • causes students to worry about how to make a living before they know who they are

  • overemphasizes success and careers

  • separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical

  • deadens the sense of wonder for the created world

The crisis we face, Orr explains, is one of mind, perception, and values. It is, first and foremost, an educational challenge.

The author begins by establishing the grounds for a debate about education and knowledge. He describes the problems of education from an ecological perspective and challenges the "terrible simplifiers" who wish to substitute numbers for values. He follows with a presentation of principles for re-creating education in the broadest way possible, discussing topics such as biophilia, the disciplinary structure of knowledge, the architecture of educational buildings, and the idea of ecological intelligence. Orr concludes by presenting concrete proposals for reorganizing the curriculum to draw out our affinity for life.


Mind of the Raven - Berndt Heinrich

Heinrich involves us in his quest to get inside the mind of the raven. But as animals can only be spied on by getting quite close, Heinrich adopts ravens, thereby becoming a "raven father," as well as observing them in their natural habitat. He studies their daily routines, and in the process, paints a vivid picture of the ravens' world. At the heart of this book are Heinrich's love and respect for these complex and engaging creatures, and through his keen observation and analysis, we become their intimates too.

Heinrich's passion for ravens has led him around the world in his research. Mind of the Raven follows an exotic journey—from New England to Germany, and from Montana to Baffin Island in the high Arctic—offering dazzling accounts of how science works in the field, filtered through the eyes of a passionate observer of nature. Each new discovery and insight into raven behavior is thrilling to read, at once lyrical and scientific.


We Pointed Them North - Teddy Blue Abbott

E. C. Abbott was a cowboy in the great days of the 1870s and 1880s. He came up the trail to Montana from Texas with the long-horned herds which were to stock the northern ranges; he punched cows in Montana when there wasn't a fence in the territory; and he married a daughter of Granville Stuart, the famous early-day stockman and Montana pioneer. For more than fifty years he was known to cowmen from Texas to Alberta as "Teddy Blue."


This is his story, as told to Helena Huntington Smith, who says that the book is "all Teddy Blue. My part was to keep out of the way and not mess it up by being literary.... Because the cowboy flourished in the middle of the Victorian age, which is certainly a funny paradox, no realistic picture of him was ever drawn in his own day. Here is a self-portrait by a cowboy which is full and honest." And Teddy Blue himself says, "Other old-timers have told all about stampedes and swimming rivers and what a terrible time we had, but they never put in any of the fun, and fun was at least half of it."


Grass Beyond the Mountains - Richmond Hobson

The first in a trilogy, Grass Beyond the Mountains is a story of discovery and endurance on North America's western frontier by three good old-fashioned cowboys.

With laconic cowboy humor and the ease of a born writer, Richmond Hobson describes the life-and-death escapades, the funny and tragic incidents peopled with extraordinary frontier characters, in a true adventure that surpasses the most thrilling Wild West fiction.

In the fall of 1934, three cowhands with a dream of owning a cattle ranch made their way from peaceful Wyoming to the harsh, uncharted territory of the British Columbian interior. In conditions as challenging as any encountered by the western frontier pioneers of a hundred years earlier, the three men and their equipment-laden horses conquered the tortuous miles over narrow passes and mountain summits, hewed their first cabin from virgin timber, and attempted to carve out a space for themselves on the unforgiving landscape. Gritty, fun, and endlessly entertaining, Hobson's story is sure to entertain country- and city-dwellers alike.


The Worst Hard Time - Timothy Egan

The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Timothy Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, he does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times). In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, The Worst Hard Time is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful reminder about the dangers of trifling with nature.


The Genius of Birds - Jennifer Ackerman

Birds are astonishingly intelligent creatures. According to revolutionary new research, some birds rival primates and even humans in their remarkable forms of intelligence. In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores their newly discovered brilliance and how it came about.

As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research, Ackerman not only tells the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds but also delves deeply into the latest findings about the bird brain itself that are shifting our view of what it means to be intelligent. At once personal yet scientific, richly informative and beautifully written, The Genius of Birds celebrates the triumphs of these surprising and fiercely intelligent creatures.






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