Holiday Gift Guide - Books
Updated: Nov 10
If you have someone on your holiday list that enjoys reading, particularly about history, early explorations, Native American culture, nature, wildlife, hunting, conservation, or fly fishing here are 19 outstanding books I've read over the last year and one that I've written – any of which would make a great gift.
1. The Wager by David Grann On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, and they had an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. The men, after being marooned for months and facing starvation, built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing nearly 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes until....
2. In the Hurricanes Eye by Nathaniel Philbrick In the concluding volume of his acclaimed American Revolution series, Nathaniel Philbrick tells the thrilling story of the year that won the Revolutionary War. In the fall of 1780, after five frustrating years of war, George Washington had come to realize that the only way to defeat the British Empire was with the help of the French navy. But coordinating his army's movements with those of a fleet of warships based thousands of miles away was next to impossible. And then, on September 5, 1781, the impossible happened. Recognized today as one of the most important naval engagements in the history of the world, the Battle of the Chesapeake – fought without a single American ship – made the subsequent victory of the Americans at Yorktown a virtual inevitability. A riveting and wide-ranging story, full of dramatic, unexpected turns, In the Hurricane's Eye reveals that the fate of the American Revolution depended, in the end, on Washington and the sea.
3. 1812 by Walter R. Borneman Although frequently overlooked between the American Revolution and the Civil War, the War of 1812 tested a rising generation of American leaders, unified the United States with a renewed sense of national purpose, and set the stage for westward expansion from Mackinac Island to the Gulf of Mexico. During the War of 1812, the United States cast off its cloak of colonial adolescence and – with both humiliating and glorious moments – found the fire that was to forge a nation. This is that story.
4. Dream Of Eldorado by H.W. Brands In Dreams of El Dorado, H. W. Brands tells the thrilling, panoramic story of the settling of the American West. He takes us from John Jacob Astor's fur trading outpost in Oregon to the Texas Revolution, from the California gold rush to the Oklahoma land rush. He shows how the migrants' dreams drove them to feats of courage and perseverance that put their stay-at-home cousins to shame-and how those same dreams also drove them to outrageous acts of violence against indigenous peoples and one another.
5. Astoria by Peter Stark Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. Peter Stark offers a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest and opened up what would become the Oregon trail, permanently altering the nation's landscape and its global standing.
Against the background of such names as George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, Arthur St. Clair, Anthony Wayne, Simon Girty, and William Henry Harrison, Eckert has recreated the life of one of America's most outstanding heroes, Simon Kenton. Kenton's role in opening the Northwest Territory to settlement more than rivaled that of his friend Daniel Boone. By his eighteenth birthday, Kenton had already won frontier renown as woodsman, fighter, and scout.
The Frontiersmen is equally the story of one of history's greatest leaders, whose misfortune was to be born to a doomed cause and a dying race. Tecumseh, the brilliant Shawnee chief, welded together by the sheer force of his intellect and charisma an incredible Indian confederacy that came desperately close to breaking the thrust of the white man's westward expansion.
No less importantly, The Frontiersmen is the story of wilderness America itself, its penetration and settlement, and it is Eckert's particular grace to be able to evoke life and meaning from the raw facts of this story.
7. Blood and Treasure by Bob Drury It is the mid-eighteenth century, and in the thirteen colonies founded by Great Britain, anxious colonists desperate to conquer and settle North America’s “First Frontier” beyond the Appalachian Mountains commence a series of bloody battles. These violent conflicts are waged against the Native American tribes whose lands they covet, the French, and the mother country itself in an American Revolution destined to reverberate around the world.
This is the setting of Blood and Treasure, and the guide to this epic narrative is America’s first and arguably greatest pathfinder, Daniel Boone―not the coonskin cap-wearing caricature of popular culture but the flesh-and-blood frontiersman and Revolutionary War hero whose explorations into the forested frontier beyond the great mountains would become the stuff of legend.
8. Tecumseh and the Prophet by Peter Cozzens Until the Americans killed Tecumseh in 1813, he and his brother Tenskwatawa were the co-architects of the broadest pan-Indian confederation in United States history. In previous accounts of Tecumseh's life, Tenskwatawa has been dismissed as a talentless charlatan and a drunk. But award-winning historian Peter Cozzens now shows us that while Tecumseh was a brilliant diplomat and war leader – admired by the same white Americans he opposed – it was Tenskwatawa, called the "Shawnee Prophet," who created a vital doctrine of religious and cultural revitalization that unified the disparate tribes of the Old Northwest. Detailed research of Native American society and customs provides a window into a world often erased from history books and reveals how both men came to power in different but no less important ways.
9. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer The received idea of Native American history—as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.
Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear—and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence—the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.
10. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque An all-time classic, All Quiet on the Western Front is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.
Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . . if only he can come out of the war alive.
11. The Old Man's Boy Grows Older by Robert Ruark The heartwarming sequel to the best-selling The Old Man and the Boy is a moving, nostalgic tale that will transport the reader back to a simpler time when going fishing was not about fish, but the stories told afterward.
12. Beyond the Wall by Edward Abbey Classic Abbey. In this wise and lyrical book about landscapes of the desert and the mind, Edward Abbey guides us beyond the wall of the city and asphalt belting of superhighways to special pockets of wilderness that stretch from the interior of Alaska to the dry lands of Mexico. If you enjoyed Desert Solitaire, you're sure to enjoy this one as well.
13. American Serengeti by Dan Flores America's Great Plains once possessed one of the grandest wildlife spectacles of the world, equaled only by such places as the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, or the veld of South Africa. Pronghorn antelope, gray wolves, bison, coyotes, wild horses, and grizzly bears: less than two hundred years ago these creatures existed in such abundance that John James Audubon was moved to write, "it is impossible to describe or even conceive the vast multitudes of these animals."
In a work that is at once a lyrical evocation of that lost splendor and a detailed natural history of these charismatic species of the historic Great Plains, veteran naturalist and outdoorsman Dan Flores draws a vivid portrait of each of these animals in their glory--and tells the harrowing story of what happened to them at the hands of market hunters and ranchers and ultimately a federal killing program in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
14. Grizzly Years by Doug Peacock For nearly twenty years, alone and unarmed, author Doug Peacock traversed the rugged mountains of Montana and Wyoming tracking the magnificent grizzly. His thrilling narrative takes us into the bear's habitat, where we observe directly this majestic animal's behavior, from hunting strategies, mating patterns, and denning habits to social hierarchy and methods of communication. As Peacock tracks the bears, his story turns into a thrilling narrative about the breaking down of suspicion between man and beast in the wild.
15. Dream Fish and Road Trips by E. Donnall Thomas If you have not yet read Donnall Thomas, you need to. In Dream Fish and Road Trips, the author recalls his numerous adventures on the casting end of a fly rod as he hops the globe in search of the ultimate angling experience, testing the waters of Alaska, Siberia, Hawaii, and Christmas Island along the way.
16. How Sportsmen Saved the World by E. Donnall Thomas Another selection from renowned sporting author E. Donnall Thomas, Jr. which tells, for the first time, the story of how sportsmen managed to make our world a much better place. A must read for any hunter of angler.
17. Wild Things by Michael McIntosh This book is devoted to animals native to North America and dear to McIntosh's heart. He is a master essayist, combining natural science, myth, history, poetry, and a lifetime of personal experience to bring these animals to life. One of the most interesting books I read in 2023.
18. Hidden in the Tall Grass by Johnny Carrol Sain Inspired by the words of Thoreau, Leopold, Abbey, and others exploring the intimate connections between people, place, and nature, Johnny Carrol Sain offers thoughtful commentary on the culture, wild places, and wild things of his home.
19. The Habits of Trout by Tim Schulz The Habits of Trout is a collection of essays about fishing for the things in life that are hard to catch, hard to hold, and – ultimately – hard to let go. Trout, Tim Schulz reminds us in this book, are but one of those things. Through his clear-headed, big-hearted, smart, funny, honest and fresh stories, Schulz shows us that in life in general – and trout fishing in particular – we sometimes need to be grounded by the humility of failure so we can be lifted by the hope of success. Beginning with a quest to explore the rugged backwoods environs where John Voelker found an abundance of wild trout and a dearth of crowds, Schulz shares his love of family, friends, wild trout, and bamboo rods in a collection of essays and yarns set in Michigan’s wild Upper Peninsula. With a tinge of self-deprecating humor and wit, Schulz shows how fishing can help you grow older without growing up.
20. Outside in Shorts by Allen Crater As outdoorsmen, it’s natural to measure time in seasons, each made up of immeasurable small moments. A handful of these experiences live on to become the fabric of tradition – mementos of victories and vestiges of failures that pay homage to pleasures and pains, fears and frustrations, trials and triumphs. Common bonds. We taste them in a cup of coffee poured before a winter trek in the big woods, and smell them in those first, fresh days of spring. We hear them in the soft chuckle of a summer river and see them in the silent sip of trout and the staunch point of a seasoned dog. We wear them like a trusty old flannel beside a campfire, where they become tall tales, or even legends, and celebrate our common bond with wild places and with each other.
Honored with the "Harold Opie Titus Award" for Best Book by The Michigan Outdoor Writer's Association in 2023, Outside in Shorts – Seasons of Life, Luck and Loss in the Outdoors is a collection of 29 short stories that explore a catalog of seasons passed among woods and water.