My 10 Favorite Western Authors

71UgoZxb2ML._SL1500_I love a good western novel…but there are so few writers who can do them well, avoiding the dusty cliches and tropes of the genre to deliver a powerful, memorable, original story with flesh-and-blood characters. So here are my 10 favorite western authors, in no particular order:

Larry McMurtryLonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo are two of the best westerns ever. Some of his follow-ups were entertaining, but never matched these two.

Frederick Manfred (aka Feike Feikema) – His Lord Grizzly is a classic, but I’d also strongly recommend Scarlet Plume, Riders of Judgment (made into a miniseries entitled The Johnson County Wars scripted by McMurtry) and Conquering Horse.

Bill Crider – I loved his books Outrage at Blanco and Texas Vigilante, which should be read back-to-back as one, wonderfully-told tale. I’ve been trying for years to get a movie version of those books off the ground and have come tantalizingly close several times. But I haven’t given up hope! He’s also written several other great westerns, too.

A.B. Guthrie – His novels The Big Sky and The Way West are not only classic novels… but classic movies, too. His wonderful westerns should be read in order (Big Sky, Way West, These Thousand Hills, Arfive, The Last Valley and Fair Land, Fair Land) since they are essentially a series.

Ed Gorman – I’ve raved about his books Trouble Man and Wolf Moon on this blog many times. But you’ll also enjoy Death Ground,Guild, hell, anything with his name on it.

H.A. DeRosso – One of the darkest western writers out there…and one of the least well known. His books include .44 , The Gun Trail, and Under the Burning Sun.

Glendon Swarthout – His terrific novel The Shootist is a classic and, fittingly, was the basis for John Wayne’s final western.

Harry Whittington – His westerns (Trouble Rides Tall, Vengeance is the Spur, etc.) are every bit as tightly-plotted and leanly-written as his fine crime novels…and were his only books to be adapted for films and movies.9780618154623_p0_v1_s260x420

Elmore Leonard – Before he was the king of crime, he was the king of westerns…many of his books and stories became beloved western movies, too… like 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre and Valdez is Coming.

Thomas Eidson – His book The Last Ride became the vastly under-rated film Missing directed by Ron Howard. His western St. Agne’s Stand is also terrific.

Other western writers I love include James Reasoner, Richard Wheeler, Bud Shrake (The Borderland), Marvin Albert, Lauran Paine, Frank Bonham, Thomas Berger (Little Big Man), Robert B. Parker (Gunman’s Rhapsody and Appaloosa), Tom Franklin (Hell at the Breech)Scott Phillips (Cottonwood), Jonathan Evison (West of Here), Patrick DeWitt (The Sisters Brothers) and Philipp Meyer (The Son). There are many more. In fact, I’m sure other authors and their great books will occur to me the instant I’ve posted this list…but that’s the risk you take when you do one of these.

(Hat tip to James Reasoner…whose list of his favorite western authors inspired me to share mine).

59 thoughts on “My 10 Favorite Western Authors”

    • There are a few Louis L’Amours that I’ve really enjoyed, but for the most part, he leaves me cold with flat story-telling and one-dimensional characters. Never got much into Zane Grey, either.

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    • Zane Grey has very few good books although I’ve read them all. I have NO DOUBT that most are the product of his wife since they are cheesy women’s perspective romance novels. Grey’s BEST work I believe is the Last Of The Plainsman and that is one of the few of his that I own to reread every now and then.

      Louis L’Amour are all great reads but the characters are a bit formulaic. What I like is that his characters are mostly from a male perspective and give a romantic but realistic perspective of the West. You can tell that L’Amour did historical research and incorporates some survival techniques. By far his best works are the Sackett series since they cover a very wide range of the development of America.

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      • Agree… I have been a horse packer for 40 years and
        have packed in most wilderness areas in the west..
        I am 70 years old and Louis puts me back in the saddle..
        Great read…

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        • Read all the Louis L’Amour books I could find. Tried other authors that don’t hold a candle to his talent.

          He wasn’t included in the top 10…………….?? Well, someone missed the boat.

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  1. Lone Cowboy, My Life Story by Will James. I’ve read many cowboy stories and Will’s is by far my favorite. Absolute must read if you haven’t read it.

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  2. The Western story is compelling for me in a way that other genres are not. It may because a lot of the conflict comes from “man against nature.” Characters in westerns suffer from the environment in ways that just don’t happen in urban stories, where they drive cars, pull up to the drive-thru for a latte, and go to air-conditioned offices. My favorite sub-genre is “the pioneer story” and I’ve read several non-fiction books on it. In Canada, from 1896 to 1911, under the Laurier government, the west was settled, meaning Saskatchewan and Alberta. Homesteaders had to sail in crowded ships from Liverpool, spend up to 13 days on cold train cars, land in Saskatoon and get a horse and cart and tools together, settle their land claim, build a sod house, plough ten acres, plant potatoes and try to get work during the winter. It’s just more compelling than “boy meets girl at McD’s.”

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    • You got it brother…………………..I like to read the history. Louis L’Amour researched all his areas of interest. If he mentioned a river…….it was there. If it was a mountain, it was there. I loved his stories.

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  3. Johnny Boggs has some good novels. His Camp Ford was fun and West Texas Kill was damn good.

    I have a copy of Gorman’s Guild that I picked up at a thrift store two years ago.

    I still have not read Crider’s westerns. Heck, I still have not read all the Dan Rhodes novels.

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  4. I’m from Italy and I’ve read about 1400 western novels originals or Italian Translations. I know that the lists aren’t exhaustive,
    but you can’t forget the followings: the late G.D. Shirreffs (a personal friend of mine), James Warner Bellah (John Ford’s Cavalry trilogy) Charles Marquis Warren (novelist and film maker) W.r. Burnett (Saint Johnson, Mi Amigo, Adobe Walls) Chad Oliver (the Wolf is my brother) Elmer M. Parsons (Fargo) Ernest Haycox and Luke Short, Clair Huffaker, Bud Shrake.
    Last but not least with only a novel, but a masterwork in my opinion, T.C. Lewellen with the “Ruthless Gun” a novel that all the aficionados should read on time in a life at least (till now my score is five times)
    Probably your bloggers will wonder about Louis l’Amour: Well, I don’t like him very much except his first novel “Hondo” truly a masterpiece in the genre.
    Greetings from Italy with my compliments for your good job.
    Tiziano.

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  5. Larry McMurtry? Really? Really? But I guess that sort does translate well to current TV.
    He has very little skill as an author as far as I’m concerned and well below L’Amour. He conveys virtually no knowledge of history and his work is flat and barely entertaining. I’ve found I really don’t even CARE about his characters.
    I just finished the 4 Berrybender Narratives and consider them pure garbage! I should have quit while ahead and not even bothered after 50 pages in. McMurtry seems to have a rather unhealthy fascination with rape, murder, dismemberment and torture in those novels. He should really seek some psychiatric help as far as I’m concerned.

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    • I totally agree Terry C. Johnston was very good his characters have depth. What I like most is he incorporated historical facts in all his stories.

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  6. Oh, oh, oh! Don’t miss Max Brand! Happy Jack, Brothers on the Trail, his Silvertip series, and on and on. He is the best, and there’s always some twist…just when you think you’ve figured it out…nope, you haven’t. Good guys win, bad guys get their comeuppance. To think I lived my first 54 years without knowing Max Brand!

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  7. Dear Mr. Goldberg,
    I’m an Italian fan of western novels and I’ve appreciated very much your list about the authors. I’ve read over than 1400 novels of that genre, in my language or in original language, I trasnlated some of them for a little printing house back in the eighties, and I’ve been a personal friend of the late Gordon D. Shirreffs (I was at his home down in Granada Hills, CA, back in ’88).
    To your list I’d add Clair Huffaker, Charles Marquis Warren, James Warner Bellah, an author of horror novels that wrote some westerns by the name of David Case and Elmer Parsons with a very good one: Fargo. But there is a single novel that stand in the higher rank of the western’s Olympus: I’m talkin’ about The Ruthless Gun by a mysterious T.C. Lewellen, truly a masterpiece in my consideration and it’s a pity that the man didn’t write some other stuff, apart a spy story by the title of: The Billikin Courier.
    During many yeard I’ve tried to find some info about the mysterious Lewellen but I totalled a big zero. Perchance do you know something about him? I’d like to correspond with people that have an interest in western novels.
    Last but not least I’d like very much H.A. De Rosso (his ancestors went to the States leaving Italy) ’cause his westerns are very noirish.
    Best to you and your bloggers from,
    Tiziano Agnelli.

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  8. I am looking for a great book I read in the 80’s I believe about a young man’s adventures in the West ultimately becoming a rough rider and finding fortune, love, etc. and living into the early 1900’s somewhere in Ca. maybe San Francisco a wealthy man. I believe it was considered a historical fiction western. It was a marvelous read (thick) and maybe by a little known author. Does anyone know of it?

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  9. I appreciate and enjoy reading just about every western writer that were mentioned here. But, my favorite western writer is Ralph Compton.

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  10. I think it ridiculous to leave out Louis L’Amour. NOBODY WROTE WESTERNS AS ENTERTAINING, FUN, AUTHENTIC, AND EASY TO READ AS HE!

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  11. LOUIS L’AMOUR WAS THE BEST. CAN’T IMAGINE A TRUE WESTERN BOOK FAN NOT PUTTING HIM AT THE TOP OF THE LIST, MUCH MORE NOT EVEN ON THE LIST. EVEN TOP WESTERN WRITER LARRY WILLIAMS AND THE DUKE JOHN WAYNE SAID HE WAS THE BEST!-a true old western fan

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  12. What about; ‘The Last Frontier’; by Howard Fast; ‘Little Big Man’; by Thomas Berger; ‘Mountain Man’; by Vardis Fisher; ‘From Sea to Shining Sea’; by James Alexander Thom; ‘Wolf Song’; by Harvey Fergusson; and ‘Tough Trip Through Paradise’; by Andrew Garcia; (also include;’The Big Sky’; by A.B.Guthrie Jr.)

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  13. A Good Western to me is something like those written by Max Brand (and his pseudonyms), Louis L’Amour (including his pseudonyms), Bill Johnstone (not the “secret” authors after his death), and a bunch of others, even Jon Messman was pretty good if you overlooked the sex. And many, many old timers not with us any longer.
    Richard Wheeler started out really good until he started leaning toward “historical” writing.
    Looking at your “picks,” you seem to think Westerns with “historical” significance are best.
    I have found the newer writers are too liberal for me, and that includes those writing in other genres: action/adventure, mystery, etc.

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  14. Any advice for a young Western scribbler trying to get in the game? I can’t get any agents to look at my manuscript because it’s not steampunk middle-grade vampire porn. I haven’t come across more than 2 agents via google who have ‘Western’ listed under their ‘please submit’ blurbs.

    At this point I’m just querying it as historical fiction and hoping nobody notices the preponderance of horses and six shooters.

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  15. to each his own I guess- I can not imagine anyone roasting macmurtry and reading better than a 1000 pages of a four volume set. When did you think they were going to be good mr christain?

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  16. I am looking for western novels that have a lot of realism. I don’t like Zane Grey (I’m not looking for long, long descriptions of landscapes) but for the details that would help me learn about the life of the west while enjoying a good novel. I’ve read all of Louis L’amour, I like Luke Short, but I am trying to find an author who might give a sentence to a Dutch Oven instead of just say they cooked a meal, or mention more details about a horse and riding then just that someone rode, etc. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I don’t want ones with a bunch of sex in them, just a good, clean Western novel I can curl up and enjoy by a winter fire. Thanks!

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    • I am a big fan of William W. Johnstone, and after his passing, his nephew J.A. Is completing a lot of manuscripts and outlines that Bill left behind. I have over 250 of his westerns and really enjoyed all of them, especially The First Mountain Man series. Also the Last Gunfighter series, the Eagles series are very good in my opinion.

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      • I’m currently wrapping up the Eagle Series, and have just purchased some of the Last Mountain Man series. I also love Blood Valley, etc. Very well done storytelling without dragging out the decriptions of landscapes while still capturing it’s beauty. I personally very much enjoy the Johnstone’s works, and can’t wait to finish the 200 or so westerns currently published!

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  17. Sorry to see that Johnny D. Boggs was omitted. This award-winning author is considered by many–readers and critics alike–to be one of the “best of the west” story-tellers writing in this genre today!

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  18. For folks who like middle size western yarns, try to find Haycox’s pulp yarn, NIGHT RAID. This is in one of his collections.
    Haycox was one of the Great short story, western writers!

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  19. Interesting list. Gives me some ideas in regard to future reading.

    I know I’m late to this discussion, but I’m surprised how little attention Elmer Kelton gets.Who do Western writers themselves love? Well, let’s put it this way… Kelton was awarded 8 Spur Awards (Western Writers of America), 3 Western Heritage Awards, was the first recipient of the Lone Star Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities, and was named him the greatest Western writer of all time by the Western Writers of America.

    I have thought several times, when finishing a Kelton book, “Someone needs to make this into a film!” The only one that actually was, “The Good Old Boys,” was Tommy Lee Jones’s directorial debut and I was disappointed by the outcome. To Tommy’s defense, I think my expectations were way too high, since I’m such a Kelton fan.

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  20. I just finished an interesting Western the other day. it was by a science fiction writer. excellent Western I thought . called “The Last Lonely Trail” I was entranced. it reminded me so much of the excellent descriptions in the Louis L’Amour novels of whom I am a big fan . Left me wanting more westerns by this author but apparently this is the only one he’s written, so far.
    Best ,
    Karen

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  21. It’s hard to beat L’Amour. I have read quite a few Ralph Cotton novels, but not too many of the stories dealing primarily with cattle drives. Ralph Compton is good too. I read a lot of C.J. Petit since his books are free with Kindle Unlimited. His “Knight in shining armor wearing a cowboy hat rescues maiden in distress and marries her after a two day courtship” gets a little tiresome after a while.

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  22. Just found this blog. Considering that one person can’t possibly read every book by every Western author, you can’t blame Lee Goldberg for not including everyone’s favorites. And there are different types of Westerns, such as Cavalry vs. Indians, primarily cowboy based stories, stories about gunfighters, stories about mountain men, stories about the attempted rescue of captives, etc. When it comes to cowboy-based stories, the two best may be (based on my reading) Monte Walsh and Lonesome Dove. There are most certainly other greats, but these, off the top of my head, stand out for me. I’ve been reading Westerns for more than 40 years. There are a lot of great books out there waiting to be discovered by readers (the best way to find them is go to used bookstores). Many times I see great reviews for books that I think are not that good, if not downright bad. Everyone has their own preferences.

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  23. I guess every writer has his critics. I have always found that the pleasure of discovery was more than enough compensation for me to discover my own favorite western writers/storytellers. I find myself unable to criticize the work of someone published. As a published professor I find myself unable to criticize those who put forth the effort and time necessary to produce western novels. I wrote about real life, fact and figures in the field of criminology. I hope God blesses all western writers who helped me escape from the real world into a world where a could keep and / or recover my sanity. I never read a western novel that was not worth the time it took to read the novelists work.

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  24. My thanks to all who have left comments. I am new to the genre and was looking for advice as to where to start.

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  25. I agree with most of the above, which I’ve read through. Despite all the usual classics and some nice rare mentions of western authors, I don’t believe that anyone mentioned THE OX-BOW INCIDENT by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, who also wrote THE TRACK OF THE CAT, both made into fine movies, especially the former.

    Someone might have mentioned Oakley Hall’s great novel, WARLOCK, but if so, I missed it. It belongs in the same company.

    And if you haven’t yet read that wonderful western epic, BUTCHER’S CROSSING, by John Williams, I envy you your experience awaiting. You should read it just before the first snow.

    No one mentioned Cormac McCarthy, which I guess is telling, though BLOOD MERIDIAN, at least the first half of it, had to be very engaging for most of us here. I couldn’t finish Patrick DeWitt’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS the first time but I’m going to give it another try. Robert Olmstead, whom nobody mentioned, has written some solid westerns, probably too literary for some.

    No one mentioned Dorothy Johnson, author of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and THE HANGING TREE, both made into fine movies. I could probably think of a dozen others who deserve to be mentioned, but this is a good list, and you should see James Reasoner’s list at the link Lee Goldman provided.

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