There are few gifts better than a Southwest Montana book, quarantine has given us more time to read, and we are always looking for books to add to our personal reading list – especially at the beginning of a new year!
While we would love to provide a top to bottom guide of Southwest Montana books and authors, there are far too many to list here. As a University of Montana alumnus, for example, I am convinced that every book list should feature the likes of James Welch, Debra Earling, and Dick Hugo. But for this list, we’ve decided to limit ourselves to just a few books where Southwest Montana features large.
The best way to find your new favorite Montana writer is to head over to our local bookstores, like the Montana Book and Toy, Co. in Helena, Second Edition Books in Butte, or The Bookstore in Dillon and ask the experts.
So, to scratch the surface:
A River Runs through It by Norman Maclean: A River Runs through It may well be the perfect novella. A beautiful story of fishing, family, and Montana, it is a classic; and the 1992 movie featuring Brad Pitt is still incredibly good which, I have to admit, is not something I expect from an early ’90s film.
Work Song, Sweet Thunder, and Prairie Nocturne by Ivan Doig: Work Song and Sweet Thunder follow the exploits of Morrie Morgan as he navigates the the tumultuous world of Butte during the height of the battles between the union and the mines. Doig’s epic Prairie Nocturne spans the country, but it centers on Helena during the 1920s–suffrage, range wars, race, and opera.
Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr: Weaves together stories of Gilded Age excess and twenty-first century excess, this is the story of the enormous wealth of Copper King W.A. Clark across the centuries.
Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West is set just outside of Southwest Montana in the small community of Willow Creek. This story follows the Class C basketball team as they travel throughout Montana (even through the Southwest Montana Region) to take on rivals like the Twin Bridges Falcons.
Girl from the Gulches: Mary Sheehan Ronan came to Montana in the 1860s with her family, and her beautiful memoir traces some of the most important moments in Montana history.
Buster Midnights’ Cafe: from the imagination of Sandra Dallas, this is the story of a group of friends from Butte who grew up and went their separate ways. It is a touching story of friendship, but also of murder, scandal, intrigue, and rumor.
Back of Beyond and The Highway: If you are looking for something a bit grimmer, try these novels from the crime-thriller best-seller C.J. Box. These dark, gripping stories are the inspiration for the recent TV series Big Sky.
It’s also worth mentioning long-time Helena residents Stephen and Hugh Ambrose, even though most of the books took place far outside of Southwest Montana. The father/son duo wrote best-selling histories (they had achieved the dream). Hugh wrote The Pacific while Stephen’s credits include Band of Brothers and, most importantly for our purposes, Undaunted Courage, one of the best histories of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
What Southwest Montana books and authors are on your list?
If you choose to travel through Southwest Montana, make sure you are up-to-date on the latest travel information for the State!