Our Picks: 14 Montana Books to Keep you Busy
Practicing social distancing? These books about Montana’s wildlands, history, and culture will keep you company
While you’re following CDC recommendations to help stop the spread of COVID-19, you may find yourself going a little stir-crazy.
We’ve rounded up a bookshelf’s worth of books about Montana’s wild places to keep your mind busy during these difficult times. And check out our blog “12 Children’s Books About Wilderness” if you’re looking for suggestions for adventure-loving kids.
“A Wild Land Ethic: The Story of Wilderness in Montana”
Edited by Dale Burke and Wayne Chamberlain
About the book: This new anthology features first-hand accounts from the front lines of wilderness advocacy in Montana. Contributions from over 40 authors (including MWA members and staff) illuminate the history of wilderness areas across the state and will inspire you to protect Montana’s wild places.
Why we like it: A plethora of insightful contributions from MWA staff and supporters past and present, combined with stories that empower current and future advocates. If you’re interested in this book’s background, read this recent article by the Helena Independent Record.
“100 Days of Solitude”
By Amy Pearson
About the book: Amy is the current MWA Flathead-Kootenai Chapter board president and an avid hiker. This book of poetry recounts her time as a fire lookout in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in the summer of 2015 and her connection to the natural world.
Why we like it: Amy is a dedicated MWA member, teacher, and writer. She eloquently lays bare her love for Montana’s wild public lands in this collection of poems about her time spent alone in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
By James Welch
About the book: This 1986 novel is set in the Two Medicine Territory of Montana shortly after the Civil War. It paints a powerful picture of the colonization of the West through the eyes of Fools Crow, a young Niitsitapi (Blackfeet) boy, culminating in the Marias Massacre of 1870.
Why we like it: A literary masterpiece by Blackfeet tribal member James Welch about tragedy, survival, and the Indigenous experience during the colonization of the West.
“Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter Alone in the Wilderness”
By Pete Fromm
About the book: A first-person account of Fromm’s winter guarding salmon eggs as a young man in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Completely unprepared for several months of backcountry living, he discovers what he needs to survive both physically and mentally.
Why we like it: Fromm’s memoir feels right for this time. In turns comedic, introspective, and instructional, it shows the challenges and beauty of living alone along with the deep well of hope we can find in wild places.
By Judy Blunt
About the book: Judy Blunt’s memoir about her life growing up on the eastern Montana prairie in the ‘50s and ‘60s is an extraordinary story that every Montanan should read. Blunt recounts her struggle fitting into the rigid gender rules of ranch life, marriage, and motherhood, before she decides to take her children and flee the only life she’s ever known.
Why we like it: Blunt's story paints a portrait of rural life in Montana, breaking down a romanticized version of the West while paying respect to the way of life of rural Montanans.
“The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America”
By Timothy Egan
About the book: In 1910, the fires that raged across Idaho and Montana forever changed the landscape, the way the U.S. Forest Service responds to wildfires, and the communities that experienced this event. Published on the fire’s centennial, the book recounts the stories of the people who fought the fire and how the “Big Burn” continues to shape American public lands.
Why we like it: Straddling the Idaho-Montana border, what we now call the Great Burn is the largest unprotected roadless area in the Lower 48. Thanks to the fire, its open ridges offer vast views and sheltered pockets of hundred-year-old cedar forests shade babbling streams. Egan’s chronicle is a page-turning account of the fire and a chance to reflect on the future of this iconic landscape, a place we hope to one day see permanently protected as Wilderness.
Ed.: You too can shape the future of the Great Burn. The Forest Service is accepting comments on their plan for the Idaho portion of the Great Burn through April 20. The Forest Service’s proposed alternatives threaten the wild, non-motorized nature of this area. Learn more and submit a comment today.
“American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains”
By Dan Flores
About the book: What happened to the big fauna that used to move across the American plains like a herd of zebra on the Serengeti? Dan Flores dives into the ecological history of six species (antelope, elk, bison, grizzlies, horses, coyote) that used to once blanket the plains and the developments that led to their much-reduced current populations.
Why we like it: Flores provides sharp analysis of the “big five” species of the plains and offers great insight into how the United States can reverse the declines of these magnificent animals.
“The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present”
By David Treuer
About the book: Melding history with reportage and memoir, David Treuer uncovers a narrative demonstrating that Native American life continued to evolve and thrive following the massacre at Wounded Knee. Because of Native Americans’ intense struggles to preserve their tribes, cultures, and existence in the face of colonization of North America, the true story of Indigenous people is that of resilience, resourcefulness, and reinvention.
Why we like it: A captivating history of Native American life after Wounded Knee, this book is made better by the author’s insight and input as an Indigenous person himself. This book will broaden readers; understanding of Indigenous history and the consistent repression Indigenous people have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government.
“The Backbone of the World”
By Frank Clifford
About the book: Tracing his experiences visiting small communities along the Continental Divide from New Mexico to Montana, the author paints vivid and stark pictures of the realities facing the folks who are trying to maintain vanishing ways of life along the spine of North America.
Why we like it: An ethnography as much as anything, this book highlights the characters that call the Continental Divide home and chronicles the ways in which their lives are inextricably linked to their wild (or fast-developing) surroundings, for better or worse. The juxtaposition between new and old west is moving and fascinating, and there’s a chapter about Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine area.
“Lasso the Wind”
By Timothy Egan
About the book: A collection of essays about western landscapes, woven through with history and current issues.
Why we like it: Egan’s writing is descriptive, beautiful, accessible, and a pleasure to read. If sitting down with a full tome seems overwhelming, you can lose yourself in one of his essays without forgetting to walk the dog or come up with activities for the kids.
“Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Makings of the National Parks”
By Mark David Spence
About the book: Taking the reader through Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite, Spence shares the largely untold history of these iconic national parks. Each revered park was the cultural homeland, hunting ground, or gathering place for the Miwok, Piikani (Blackfeet), Oglala Sioux, and many others.
Why we like it: Using three of the most iconic national parks to represent the countless parks across the U.S. and around the world that have displaced people in the name of conservation, Spence merges written and oral histories, geography, and politics to share the stories of people and place. It’s a relatively short read and is a remarkably engaging read.
“A River Runs Through It”
By Norman Maclean
About the book: Based on Norman Maclean’s life growing up in Montana, “A River Runs Through It” is a semi-autobiographical novella about the very different lives of the Maclean brothers and the solace they find fly fishing on the Blackfoot River. This book will draw you in, regardless if you’re an angler yourself.
Why we like it: If you’re from Montana, you’ve probably read this book. But if you haven’t, perhaps now’s the time. Perhaps the most famous book about Montana, “A River Runs Through It” is haunting and its prose will stick with you for years.
“This House of Sky: Landscapes of the Western Mind”
By Ivan Doig
About the book: Doig’s memoir traces his youth growing up in central Montana in the ’40s and ’50s as his father ekes out a livelihood among a number of local ranches.
Why we like it: While not expressly about wilderness or public lands, this beautifully written book captures the ways that we are shaped by this landscape. It shows both the beauty and the heartbreak of trying to make a living in rural Montana and the unique gifts bestowed on those who grow up in a wild landscape.
“The Wolverine Way”
By Doug Chadwick
About the book: The wolverine, often villainized, is shrouded in mystery. Naturalist, author, and biologist Doug Chadwick spent time volunteering with the Glacier Wolverine Project, and he unravels some of the animal’s stereotypes, shares its history, and warns of the wolverine’s uncertain future in the face of global warming and shrinking wilderness.
Why we like it: This is the perfect winter companion for any armchair wildlife adventurer. Get to know these elusive, powerful creatures that epitomize the need for big and protected wild country. Experience wolverines as close to first-hand as possible in this page-turner that won’t ever make you feel like you’re actually “learning.
Local bookstores offering alternatives to in-store shopping during COVID-19
We encourage you to shop local and support small businesses during this time of hardship for many independent business owners. There are many great local bookstores across the state that are open for business. Here’s a handful that we know of that are offering alternatives to in-store shopping.
Cassiopeia Books - home delivery, curbside pick-up, and shipping
Country Bookshelf - curbside pickup and free delivery in Bozeman and Livingston. Media mail shipping for $1.
This House of Books - online ordering and delivery, free local delivery to Billings addresses for any in-store products (books, toys, games, tea, etc).
Bookworks - taking extra sanitation precautions in-store and shortened hours to:
10 a.m-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and open noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Note: if you are a local, independent bookseller adapting your business model because of coronavirus, let us know and we’ll add you to the list.