Book List

Readings and Ruminations

I love reading about the history of ranching and the cattle business, but prefer accounts from actual cattlemen and cowboys. But don’t worry I also have my share of fiction thrown in. I own the collection of Lonesome Dove, many paperback Westerns, and all of John Grisham‘s work. Always open to suggestions for similar books.

This list is always changing. Let me know what you think, if you agree or disagree, or if you have suggestions for my shelf. I am always up for a book swap, but to some books I am attached.

The Fence Post

Books I have read and my thoughts about the material

  • We Pointed Them North by E.C. Teddy “Blue” Abbott: Have you ever wanted to sit down and have a conversation with an old timer cowboy, one who rode the trails from Texas to Montana during the late 1800s? This book give a truly unique perspective. Teddy Abbott was a big influence on the Montana Stockgrowers association and his stories tell of the first cattle to arrive in the area.
  • Lessons from a Desperado Poet by Baxter Black: This cowboy poet has learned a lot in his days, and gather’s many of these lessons learned in a humor-filled, yet straight to the point self-help book. Well worth the read for a little motivation when the road seems dim.
  • Big Sky Boots by Lauren Chase: This is the first in a series of books from my friend Lauren who is working to share the stories of hard working Montana ranching families. The book is filled with high-quality images from ranches across Montana, with the subjects being the working cowboys in action. The pages are filled with educational captions that help us learn more about the working seasons of the ranchers and includes QR codes that lead to even more information online.
  • 6,000 Miles of Fence by Cordia Sloan Duke: This book was recommended when I moved to Dalhart, Texas, home to the historic XIT Ranch. In the late 1800s the XIT covered over 3 million acres all surrounded by barbed wire fence, 6,000 miles to be exact. The writings and recollections of the actual XIT cowboys take readers back to the hay-days of the ranch, through blizzards, roundups, and fire storms. I love the reminiscing of literate cowboys and this is one of the best by far.
  • Up to My Armpits by Dr. Charles Edwards: Life as a veterinarian in West Texas is far from luxury, especially when Doc Edwards took the reins in 1949. This autobiography takes readers through ups and downs, good and dry times in the life of a large animal vet. Ride along on some of the most unique and interesting vet calls with Doc and learn what was going through his head while he was literally “Up to his Armpits.” If you’re looking for a book with humor and short stories for easy reading during a break, this book is great to take along.
  • The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan: The Dust Bowl and the Dirty 30s has always been an interest of mine since reading The Grapes of Wrath. After living in Dalhart, residents said this was a must-read. Egan takes his audience back to the era of hard times, from the days of homesteading, through the wheat boom, and the days when the soil simply blew away. Dalhart, Southwest Kansas, and the Oklahoma Panhandle where at the heart of the Dust Bowl. Compared to the Grapes of Wrath, Egan’s account follows those who endured and survived the black clouds of dust and lived to tell their stories.
  • John Grisham: I really can’t list just one because I own them all. Not sure what it is about this Arkansas Native’s ability to describe the life of small-town, Southern lawyers, but Grisham does it right. By the time I am 100 pages in, I’m glued til the end. My favorites are A Painted House, The Firm, A Time to Kill, and The Pelican Brief.
  • Deeply Rooted by Lisa M. Hamilton: Hamilton takes readers on a journey to visit three “Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness.” She does a great job of telling the story of each producer and bringing readers along with great detail. Hamilton is a great author and I think you’ll gain a little better understanding of unconventional dairy, cattle, and grain production through this book.
  • Cowboy Romance (of horsesweat and hornflies) by Bob Kinford: I do love first-hand accounts of cowboys and ranch life, and Kinford does a great job of sharing his stories with a good dose of humor. No one paints a picture with words better than cowboys that describe the scenes from daily life.
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry: In my opinion, one of the greatest Western Novels ever written. Most know Lonesome Dove, Augustus McCrae, and Capitan Call by the made for tv movie, but the book is well worth the read (all 945 pages). From beginning to end McMurtry does a great job of describing the trail from south Texas to the unsettled plains of Montana. If you love Western Novels or the movie, this is a must-read.
  • Cowboy Ethics by James P. Owen Photography by David R. Stoecklein: This book is a great addition to any coffee table. Aiming to show “what wall street can learn from the Code of the West”, Owen takes readers to the point and reminds us of our ethics, or what they should be. Although the “Wild West” is often romanticized by society today, ethics like “Ride for the Brand” and “Talk Less and Say More” are something of which we sometimes need to be reminded. Not to mention the awe inspiring photography of western and cowboy life by Stoecklein included in the pages of this book.
  • No More Food Fights! by Michele Payn-KnoperMichele Payn-Knoper has put together a great guide for both food producers and food consumers when it comes to critically thinking more about the conversations we have that center around food and farming. No More Food Fights! is two books in one; each side discussing issues relevant to either the Farm or Food side of the plate. Along with MPK’s experience, the book includes perspectives from 35 individuals from both sides of the plate that add so much to the conversation.
  • I Studied to be an Opera Singer – But I Married a Cowboy by Caryl Velisek: Even the title of this book catches your attention from the start. I met Caryl through Facebook and told me she had a book I needed to read. Studying Music in Cleveland, she met this Army guy, they saw some cattle at the county fair, and the rest they say his history. This collection of true stories comes straight from the lives of Augie and Caryl Velisek as they jump head first into the cattle business, traveling the show circuit, and learning all about the country life. Caryl shares the sometimes comical events of her life in the cattle business and continues to write for Agriculture publications today. Some have said this was a love story written for Aug, but I sure enjoyed the accounts of life in the cattle business of the 1900s.

On Deck

Books I’m reading now…

In the Chute

Books on actually on my shelf and waiting their turn…

12 Comments on Book List

  1. I’ve got a few books that come to mind.

    Recently read/listened to “Hot Flat and Crowded” by NYTimes reporter Thomas A Friedman and think it’s the best statement of the current world situation I’ve seen in a long time. The role of the growing global middle class has some enormous challenges for agriculture and he discusses it fully in this book. A lot to learn here.,+flat+and+crowded

    I loved “Guns, Germs & Steel” and although the focus is history, the role agriculture — cultivating crops and domesticating animals — had in enabling development of civilization is incredible and the sections that address this still blow me away years after I read it.

    If you like cotton (I do) and world trade impacts you (dare you to say it doesn’t), you should read The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy

    The one I currently have waiting for me to read is Tomorrow’s Table which is written by Pam Ronald a biotech prof who’s husband is an organic farmer. She was the woman who went on Dr. Oz and tried to bring lucidity to the conversation.

    Wow… that’s longer than I thought I’d be. Hope you add one or two to your list. :)


  2. Caryl Velisek // March 7, 2011 at 3:34 PM // Reply

    Jim Owen was the featured speaker at the banquet during our Maryland Cattlemen’s Convention last weekend. (Our 24th, by the way.) Enjoyed his talk very much. Just want to add that the ‘cowboy ethic’ is ‘cowboy’ and not just confined to the west. I’ve known cowboys from all over the world and if they are true to the name, they all have that cowboy ethic. Mr. Owen passed out his business card and it has a list of of his ten cowboy ethics on the reverse, including the ones you mention above, and as I read down the list, it was like reading my husband’s code that he lived by.


  3. Robin Rastani // April 1, 2011 at 8:35 AM // Reply

    James Herriot – “All Creatures Great and Small” – There are 4 in the series.


  4. 190degrees // July 16, 2011 at 6:11 PM // Reply

    I would heartily recommend “The Last Cattle Drive” by Robert Day.


  5. Ryan

    I have read Up to my Armpits, am a huge Grisham (I have read almost all of his books) and am McMurtry fan! I have also read The Omnivore’ s Dilemma, the Jungle and The Worst Hard Time.

    Excellent books on your list. I will have to check out some of the ones I have not read yet. I am an avid reader and always looking for good material.

    James Harriot is very good and along the same lines as Doc Edwards.

    I feel it is important to read what the anti-ag people are writing and the misconceptions they are planting. I plan to someday read more of Pollan’s books.

    One can never go wrong w/ Larry McMurtry; his non western novels are as entertaining as the westerns. I highly suggest the entire Lonesome Dove series of books.

    Thanks for sharing your reading list!


  6. Ryan

    Sounds like you’ve found some intriguing reads, I’ll keep my eyes open for them. I’m also an avid reader and (thanks to my dad who is a large animal vet) have come across some great first-hand accounts of cowboys, vets, etc.

    Some of my favorites are by Ben K. Green: The Village Horse Doctor, Wild Cow Tales, Horse Tradin’, Some More Horse Tradin’, and A Thousand Miles of Mustangin’. Doc Green grew up in the early 1900’s and cowboyed over a good portion of the West, and studied veterinary medicine.

    Another great series is by Ralph Moody. He also grew up in the early 1900’s, and gives a vivid account of his life as his family goes from the Eastern US to a ranch in Colorado, then to farms in Massachusetts and Maine. The series starts with Little Britches.

    Hope you find these wonderful books as fun to read as I did.


  7. Nop’s Trials – not about cattle really but good book. Even better by the same author – Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men. Both focus on stock dogs, border collies to be exact. The first is a novel, second true story. Maybe a couple other suggestions – were recommended to me but will read them first to see. :-)


  8. Hey Ryan,

    May I first just say – congrats on your blog! You do so much to provide insight for those who are agriculturally illiterate. You also give those involved in ag life a chance to learn, as well; as an agricultural major there are some things I’ve learned from your posts. Keep up the great work.

    I might also mention that I love that you’re a book worm. Reading is a second passion of mine as well. I recommend some of Cormac McCarthy’s work. There’s a trilogy of his I think you would enjoy. I know it’s not necessarily agrilculture-related but I also suggest The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman.

    Enjoy. :)


  9. Laura Fernandez // September 28, 2013 at 5:38 PM // Reply

    Wow! Thanks Ryan and Commenters for sharing all these book titles. I just read one that I think you might enjoy titled Real Dirt. It is written by an ex-industrial farmer in Canada who turned to organic farming to save his family farm. It is very transparent: he says he damaged his land more during his first years farming organically (because he was tilling), than when he was farming conventionally. Here is the link to his website


9 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Food For Thought: Good Cattle Producers « Agriculture Proud
  2. Winter on the Ranch « Agriculture Proud
  3. Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers « Agriculture Proud
  4. Cowboy Romance (of horsesweat and hornflies) « Agriculture Proud
  5. Book Review: The Worst Hard Time « Agriculture Proud
  6. Book Review: We Pointed Them North « Agriculture Proud
  7. Book Review: Lessons From A Desperado Poet – Baxter Black « Agriculture Proud
  8. Cowboy Ethics – Not just a Code of the West « Agriculture Proud
  9. Must Reads for the Farm -- Agricultural Magazines & Books

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