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Article in Category:Adult Fiction category.

Traditional Westerns

Traditionally, Westerns are marked by their strong sense of place in their depictions of the American West (think cattle ranches, frontier towns), and focus on justice, grit, independence, pride, redemption, and strength. Readers might be attracted to historical detail in addition to descriptions of the landscape. Older traditional Westerns are light on graphic sex and violence and qualify as gentle reads, and - especially those from the heyday of the genre in the mid-twentieth century - sometimes succumb to outdated gender and racial stereotyping.

  • Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) by Zane Grey
  • Hondo (1953) by Louis L’Amour
  • The Virginian (1902) by Owen Wister
  • Warlock (1958) by Oakley Hall
  • The Big Sky (1947) by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (1940) by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
  • The Shootist (1975) by Glendon Swarthout
  • The Brave Cowboy (1956) by Edward Abbey
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1935) by B. Traven
  • Dakota Kill (2000) by Peter Brandvold
  • Fool's Gold (2003) Ken Hodgson

20th Century Authors of Traditional Westerns

21st Century Authors of Traditional Westerns

  • Johnny D. Boggs
  • Robert B. Parker/Robert Knott
  • Bill Brooks
  • Robert Conley
  • John D. Nesbitt

Literary Westerns

More modern literary westerns go beyond shoot-‘em-ups and cattle drives to introduce nuance to the traditional tropes, while maintaining the core focus on defining morality, a strong sense of place, and rugged characters. They can also demonstrate the frontier mindset as it survives - or attempts to - in modern times. These Westerns may contain more graphic violence or sexual scenes than older traditional titles. (The Library might shelve/classify some of these in the Fiction section rather than with the Westerns.)

  • Five Skies (2007) by Ron Carlson
  • Stories by Jane Candia Coleman
  • The Diary of Mattie Spenser (1997) by Sandra Dallas
  • The Sisters Brothers (2011) by Patrick DeWitt
  • In The Distance (2017) by Hernan Diaz
  • The Whistling Season (2006) by Ivan Doig
  • A Sudden Country (2005) by Karen Fisher
  • Snow Mountain Passage (2001) by James D. Houston
  • News of the World (2016) by Paulette Jiles
  • The Weight of an Infinite Sky (2018) by Carrie La Seur - a re-telling of Hamlet on a Montana cattle ranch
  • Cormac McCarthy
    • Blood Meridian (1985)
    • All the Pretty Horses (1992) - first book in The Border Trilogy
  • Larry McMurtry
    • Lonesome Dove (1985)
    • Horseman, Pass By (1961)
  • The Son (2013) by Philipp Meyer
  • True Grit (1968) by Charles Portis
  • Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx - collected in Close Range (1999) and Bad Dirt (2004); includes Brokeback Mountain
  • Shane (1949) by Jack Schaefer
  • Letting Loose the Hounds: Stories (2010) by Brady Udall
  • A Good Man (2011) Guy Vanderhaeghe
  • Butcher’s Crossing (1960) by John Williams

Westerns by non-Western Writers

Welcome to Hard Times (1960) by E. L. Doctorow

Journal of the Gun Years (1991) by Richard Matheson

Centennial (1974) by James A. Michener

Follow the Free Wind (1963) by Leigh Brackett

Elmore Leonard started out writing WEstern pulp, then became much more popular as a crime fiction writer

Modern Fiction about Real People

Doc (2011) by Mary Doria Russell - fictionalized biography of “Doc” Henry Holliday, and his friendship with Wyatt Earp

Ron Hansen

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (1983)

Desperadoes (1979) - tells the story of Emmett Dalton & the Dalton Gang

Deadwood (1986) by Pete Dexter - follows the exploits of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and friends in the Dakota Territory in the 1870s

In Calamity's Wake (2013) by Natalee Caple - the daughter of Calamity Jane seeks out her adventuring mother

Western Mystery Authors

Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box

Longmire series by Craig Johnson

Joe R. Lansdale's Hap and Leonard series

Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie

Tony Hillerman

Michael McGarrity Loren Estleman

Western Romance Authors

Mary Connealy

Lori Copeland

Deeanne Gist

Linda Lael Miller

Diana Palmer

The Weird West

Westerns that include supernatural, horror, or science fiction elements.

  • Karen Memory (2015) by Elizabeth Bear
  • The Six-Gun Tarot (2013) by R.S. Belcher
  • The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western (1974) by Richard Brautigan
  • Territory (2007) by Emma Bull
  • The Sixth Gun, Vol. 1: Cold Dead Fingers (2011) by Cullen Bunn
  • The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, starting with The Gunslinger (1982)
  • The Arrivals (2013) by Melissa Marr
  • Iron Council (2004) by China Miéville
  • The Builders (2015) by Daniel Polansky
  • The Guns of Santa Sangre (2013) by Eric Red
  • The Doctor and the Rough Rider: a weird west tale (2012) by Mike Resnick
  • Vermilion (2015) by Molly Tanzer
  • One Night in Sixes (2014) by Arianne "Tex" Thompson

Related Nonfiction

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind (1978) by Ivan Doig

Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West's Greatest Escape (2013) by Mark Lee Gardner

Empire of the Summer Moon : Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History (2010) by S. C. Gwynne

Blood and Thunder: an Epic of the American West (2006) by Hampton Sides

Black Gun, Silver Star: the Life and Legend of Frontier Marshall Bass Reeves (2006) by Art T. Burton

Wyatt Earp, a Vigilante Life (2013) by Andrew C. Isenberg

Winning the Wild West: The Epic Saga of the American Frontier, 1800-1899 (2002) by Page Stegner

Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp (2013) by Ann Kirschner

Movies & TV - Traditional and Modern

3:10 to Yuma

True Grit (both versions)

The Searchers

The Quick and the Dead

The Revenant

No Country for Old Men

There Will Be Blood


Dances With Wolves

Brokeback Mountain

Westworld (TV)

Longmire (TV)

Deadwood (TV)

See also

True Grit Big Read list by JMRL

Rural Noir (Adults), another list by JMRL which investigates questions of justice and independence, frequently revenge-driven, has strong characters, set in a distinctive American landscape

The Spur Awards, awarded by Western Writers of America

Western Heritage Awards, awarded by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

Willa Awards, for “women’s stories set in the West”