Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (1912, Harper and Brothers; 452 pages)
Initially published in 1912 and the first of Zane Grey's many bestsellers, this stirring tale of adventure in the high country established the prototype for western novels of the twentieth century. The plot's focus is a proud young heroine who's determined to defend her Utah ranch. She stands alone against the villains who rustle and stampede her cattle — until a stranger rides into the territory. Notorious as the scourge of Mormon transgressors, the stranger stays on to assist in the inevitable showdown, and romance blooms amid the canyons and cottonwoods. A classic of American frontier fiction, Riders of the Purple Sage teems with color, authenticity, and thrills. One of the truly great westerns.
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Recommended by: Greg
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster, 1985; 964 pages)
A love story, an adventure, and an epic of the frontier, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize— winning classic, Lonesome Dove, the third book in the Lonesome Dove tetralogy, is the grandest novel ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America. Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Indians and settlers. The story introduces us to the talkative, colorful Gus McCrae and the taciturn, deliberate Woodrow Call - aging former Texas Rangers who run a down-at-the-heels ranch near the Mexican border that they subsidize with cattle stolen on nocturnal raids across the border. And we follow McRae and Call on an epic cattle drive from southern Texas to Montana, experiencing rainstorms and stampedes, treacherous crossings of swollen rivers, disloyal comrades, raiding Indians and a deviant, sadistic half-breed killer who stalks the cowboys and their retinue. While the leading characters, cantankerous old comrades, are the center of the story, the secondary figures in the drama are also beautifully written - Newt, Call's young son who is struggling to become a man, Lorena, the tenderhearted and beautiful young "soiled dove," and Jake, the charming former Ranger undone by his appetites. Richly authentic, beautifully written, always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make us laugh, weep, dream, and remember. Far more than the greatest Western ever written, this is quite simply one of the greatest books ever written. Even after 900-plus pages, you'll lament its ending.
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Recommended by: Greg