Books

Notable Books

These books, although not selected as top picks, are ones worth reading.

F  indicates fiction.

50 Common Edible & Useful Plants of the Southwest
By David Yetman. Western National Parks Association. pp. Index. $34.13.
It is interesting to consider that before the arrival of Europeans, as well as after, native Americans in the Sonoran Desert were able to live quite well on indigenous plants and animals. The latest product of David Yetman’s explorations of the Southwest’s ethnobotanical heritage is this nifty basic introduction to fifty plants that were useful to them. Nicely illustrated with good photos, his discussions are interesting and sometimes surprising. In one case, his advise is to avoid even touching the plant in question. Readers who would like to explore this subject further might also be interested in these books:
* The Great Cacti: Ethnobotany and Biogeography, by David Yetman;
* Enduring Seeds, by Gary Paul Nabhan;
* People of the Desert and Sea, by Richard S. Felger. []
All About Saguaros: Facts, Lore, Photos
By Leo Banks. Arizona Highways. 96pp. Index. $19.95.
Arizona’s iconic columnar cactus is a continuing wonder and marvel of nature for everyone - and rightly so. In so many ways, Saguaros are central to the character and ecology of the Sonoran Desert. Not many plants have national parks dedicated to them. Park rangers report that almost everyone who encounters the charismatic cacti wants to know more about them. Arizona Highway’s previous book of a similar title, by Carle Hodge, went through multiple editions. Now it has brought out a whole new book with Leo Banks. Well researched and packed with the great photography emblematic of Arizona’s renowned publication, this delightful new version does not disappoint. It is a fun and informative read that readers will want to share. Readers who would like to explore this subject further might also be interested in this book: The Great Cacti: Ethnobotany and Biogeography, by David Yetman. []
Amigoland
By Oscar Casares. Little, Brown & Co.. 368pp. $23.99. F.
Some readers might want to think of this as a “roadtrip” novel. Alienated for many years, brothers Fidencio (he’s 90-something) and his younger brother Celestino (he’s not too old to have a housekeeper who is also his lover) set out from Fidencio’s nursing home to return to their childhood home in a small village in northern Mexico. By turns touching and laugh-out-loud funny, this is a story you will remember for a long, long time. Fidencio’s names for the staff of his nursing home are a hoot. He calls the women patients the Old Turtles and one of them is the One With Big Ones while a male staff member is the Gringo With Ugly Fingers! []
Big Sycamore Stands Alone: The Western Apaches, Aravaipa, and the Struggle for Place
By Ian W. Record. University of Oklahoma Press. 383pp. $31.96.
In this provocative study, Record uses the 1871 massacre of peaceful Western Apaches on Aravaipa Creek by Anglo, Hispanic, and Tohono O'odham vigilantes as a lens through which to view Apache culture and lifeways and as a way of unraveling the complex political, social, and economic threads that erupted in frontier violence. Exhaustively researched in manuscript sources and Apache oral tradition, Record's richly textured examination of history and memory offers a compelling argument for the importance of place in defining how a people see themeselves and provides an overdue forum for native voices. []
The past few years have seen the publishing of exceptional works by historians revisiting the Camp Grant massacre, in which a large group of vigilantes from Tucson attacked a peaceful village of Indians while they slept and killed 144, almost all of them women and children. This is a story of the dark side of how the West was won. In this case, the winners turned out to be some of Tucson’s most prominent people, people whose names appear today on streets, schools, neighborhoods and geographic features. This book, extensively researched in cooperation with descendants of the dead, looks at the importance of place to a people and the profound effects of displacement. Readers who would like to explore this subject further might also find these books interesting:
* Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History, by Karl Jacoby;
* War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War, by Brian DeLay []
Border Bandits: Hollywood on the Southern Frontier
By Camilla Fojas. University of Texas Press. 235pp. Index. $55.00.
Anyone with a serious interest in Westerns [the movies, that is] will enjoy Fojas evaluation of the genre. Although it is “academic” in presentation (i.e., footnotes, bibliography, etc.) it is readable and candid in style. Fojas has plenty of opinions, and she shares them freely! The title and subtitle can both be faulted as misleading; the geographical coverage here is broader than the border and as much if not more the southwestern frontier rather than just the southern frontier, the latter being generally restricted to Texas/Mexico. []
Bury Me Deep
By Megan Abbott. Simon & Schuster. 240pp. $15.00. F.
A re-conceptualizing of the Winnie Ruth Judd case; different names, similar yet dramatically changed scenario. You remember Judd from Phoenix journalist Jana Bommersbach’s The Trunk Murderess. In an afterword the author admits her fascination with Judd’s case over the years, and here creates an alternative but very realistic world. One in which both the characters and the Roaring Twenties come to life. []
Comb Ridge and its People: the Ethnohistory of a Rock
By Robert S. McPherson. Utah State University Press. 252pp. Index. $26.95.
A unique geological feature spanning southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona, Comb Ridge is a jagged monocline 100 miles long that presents sheer Navajo Sandstone cliffs up to 200 feet high on its western face and highly eroded fractured gullies on its eastern slopes. The huge, bent, folded, faulted and eroded rock formation is both a striking barrier to travel and a complex sheltering warren of protective micro environments. Archeological studies have revealed a record of habitation going back to the paleo-Indians of 12,000 BC. This is an exploration of this unusual geographical feature and its effects over time on the region and its people, from those remote beginnings to the present. The author is a historian of the region who also lives there and is very familiar with his subject and locale. While it is based on a federally sponsored five-year study and very well researched, the book is written for popular audiences and beautifully illustrated with striking photographs. This is an important contribution to our understanding of the region and its history. []
Common Kingsnakes: A Natural History of Lampropeltis getula
By , Brian Hubbs. Tricolor Books. 436pp. $60.00.
I love books by passionate people who devote their lives to arcane studies. This book by Brian Hubbs fills that bill, for he has assembled a virtual library of information about common kingsnakes that range across the lower USA from coast to coast, including much of the Southwest. If you are seeking information on kingsnake habitat, biology, subspecies and morphs, regional differences, rearing, or finding, this is your book. The many (560-some!) color and B/W photos are excellent. It even comes with a dose of enthusiasm and camaraderie. Hubbs has been part of a large community of herpetologists and amateur observers for 25 years. Long live kingsnakes and authors like Hubbs! []
Conflict and Commerce on the Rio Grande: Laredo, 1755-1955
By John A. Adams. Texas A&M University Press. 286pp. Index. $29.95.
Filled to the brim with tables, glossary,photographs, maps, and extensive notes along with a comprehensive bibliography, the volume details the business history of Laredo. Texas' second oldest town was strategically located on the Rio Grande ultimately to become a primary inland port for trade and commerce. The book will mainly be enjoyed by academics []
Conflict on the Rio Grande: Water and the Law, 1879-1939
By Douglas R. Littlefield. University of Oklahoma Press. 312pp. Index. $39.95.
Newcomers to Western American water law have every right to scratch their heads at the apparent lack of reason and logic as well as what seems to be purposeful lack of clarity. The conundrum only deepens when it comes to the laws governing U. S. relations with Mexico, vis a vis water, that are largely governed by decisions made on the Rio Grande. Douglas Littlefield's book explains early interstate and international water-apportionment conflicts that shaped the institutions whose general outlines remain the same today. This book should be of interest to environmental historians, water scholars, and others who like their reading about water detailed, complex, and without happy endings.
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Cool Plants for Hot Gardens
By Greg Starr. Rio Nuevo Publishers. 328pp. Index. $24.85 (pbk).
Gregg Starr freely admits that his hobby has gone wild. For three decades he and a posse of hard-core plantsmen have scouted and touted wild native plants for town gardens. These nursery-men collect a few wild seeds or cuttings and then nurture and “tame” them into viable landscape plants for Southwest homes and offices. This book is a colorful catalogue of what’s possible. Using arid-land plants from the Southwest, and a few from Africa and Australia, yards go from drab to fun, as well as provide habitat for native wildlife. This book lets the reader interview over 200 plant-candidates for home planting. The text, clear and instructive, ranges from how to identify plants to how to keep them alive, and the plants themselves range from A to Z, Abutilon palmeri, a golden-flowered fuzzy-leafed favorite to Zinnia grandiflora, a wild zinnia that lends cheer much of the year. Everyone from the advanced gardener to the desert newcomer will enjoy this one. []
Creed of Violence, The
By Boston Teran. Counterpoint. 260pp. $25.00. F.
It’s 1910. What would become the Mexican Revolution is just heating up. Agent John Lourdes (not his birth name) of the recently organized Bureau of Investigation is working undercover in El Paso. When he becomes involved in relaying a truck load of German -manufactured weapons it becomes clear that the “salesman” known as Rawbone is none other than the father who abandoned him at birth. Rousing tale of intrigue, double-cross, triple-cross and international politics. Not nearly so prosaic as this short review might make it sound: Teran writes good believable dialog and moves the story along at break-neck speed. []
Crossers: A Novel
By Philip Caputo. Alfred A. Knopf. 448pp. $26.95. F.
Beginning in Lochiel before the Mexican Revolution Caputo opens a vista for understanding the Arizona-Sonora borderlands. In today’s world Gil Castle, who has lost his wife in the 9/11 disaster, tries to escape his mental misery by moving into a cabin on the border ranch of a distant relative. Naturally there are illegal border crossers to contend with, but one severely desperate one becomes a way to get back in touch with humanity. Alternately, Caputo spans the 20th century in the form of a transcript of a memoir from 1966 stored in the Arizona Historical Society. Believe me, not all the bad guys on the border are modern drug runners and people smugglers. Smoothly written, the connections from past to present and culture to culture are insightful and exciting.
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Dead in Their Tracks: Crossing America's Desert Borderlands in the New Era
By John Annerino. University of Arizona Press. 242pp. Index. $17.95.
It is one of the hottest issues in America today: deteriorating conditions in other countries are driving large numbers of desperate people to attempt to enter the United State through our southern border with Mexico illegally under very dangerous circumstances. For the past decade, hundreds have died each year in the attempt. Many books have been written about this situation, but this one is special. Over many years, John Annerino has come to know the southern border regions like few others and he is an accomplished journalist and photographer. This book tells of his remarkable experiences investigating the realities of the border crisis from the points of view of both the migrants coming from Mexico and the U.S. Border Patrol personnel who apprehend and save many of them. In the process, Annerino risked his own life to travel with migrants from Mexico into the U.S. across the very desert in which thousands have died, in order to understand them and their lives. He also accompanied Border Patrol personnel in airplanes, helicopters, patrol vehicles and on foot to get to know them and the reality of their dangerous experience as well. As if that weren’t enough, he researched the subject so well that he created one of the first compilations of many related records for his extensive appendices. This update to the previous edition is an important and significant contribution to our understanding of these matters. Readers who would like to explore this subject further might also be interested in these books, all previous or current Southwest Books of the Year:
* Vanishing Borderlands: The Fragile Landscape of the U.S.-Mexico Border, by John Annerino;
* Exodus / Exido, by Charles Bowden, et al.;
* The Reaper's Line: Life and Death on the Mexican Border, by Lee Morgan; and this year’s
* Into the Beautiful North: A Novel, by Luis Alberto Urrea. []
This third edition of a Southwest classic is much revised and even more powerful. Based on extensive first-hand research, including risking death on foot in the desert, John Annerino chronicles deeply personal events for both the immigrants and for the Border Patrol. This vivid book is mandatory reading for anyone wishing to understand the human costs of illegal immigration, costs for crossers, locals residents, and Border Patrol agents themselves. Copies of both this and the first edition are on my short shelf of favorite books. It would be a pick of the year except that it was previously chosen in 1999. Dead in Their Tracks is Annerino’s finest and most noble work. []
Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West
By James lawrence Powell. University of California Press. 283pp. Index. $27.50.
This excellent book is about fictions, and it skillfully portrays the fictions behind western water policies over the past century. Starkly put, the Southwest faces an increasingly dry future. Think of the glass half empty, perpetually. As Powell clearly and logically explains, “We can save either Lake Powell or Lake Mead, but not both” (page 246). By extension, we can save cities or farms, but not both, and some cities but not all. Regardless, we must carve for ourselves new lifestyles that conserve water. If a neighborhood book group would select this one instead of fiction, the group’s discussion would go long into the night. []
Edge of the Sea of Cortez, The: Tidewalkers' Guide to the Upper Gulf of California
By Betty Hupp, Marilyn Malone. University of Arizona Press. 94pp. Index. $27.95.
When I studied oceanography and contributed in very minor ways to research of the Northern Gulf of California years ago, there were no guidebooks to tell us about much of what we were finding along the shores, tide pools and estuaries of that wondrous region. I was pleased to find that the authors of this new book noticed the same deficiency and did something about it. Prepared in cooperation with experts at the University of Arizona, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) and others, this delightful guide is a nice introduction to the remarkable flora and fauna of these desert shores. Beautifully illustrated with exceptional photos, diagrams and maps, this is just the thing for visitors who would like to find out about the things they are most likely to find there. Nicely done. Thank you Betty and Marilyn. []
El Rancho de las Golondrinas: Living History in New Mexico's La Ciénega Valley
By Carmella Padilla. Museum of New Mexico Press. 207pp. Index. $39.95.
Twenty miles and 300 years south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is Rancho de las Golondrinas – Ranch of the Swallows -- a 200-acre living history, open-air museum that spans centuries and cultures. This vision of Leonora Curtin and Y. A. Paloheimo stands at the intersection of yesterday and tomorrow as weaving, farming, blacksmithing, cooking, and carpentry are reenacted by authentically dressed docents. The buildings were salvaged from old barns and well houses or built new as replicas of old homes in the Santa Fe area. With a mellow and accurate voice, Carmela Padilla narrates this rich history, enormous passion, and compelling preservation of architecture, lifeways, and community cooperation. Jack Parsons’ photos, taken over a period of 35 years, perfectly complement the text and enliven our sense of being there. It is rewarding to know that such places – and people -- exist. If you have become jaded by overly commercial Southwest crafts and arts, a visit to Golondrinas or a reading of this book may return you to the real roots and liberating meanings of function and form. The ranch is a national treasure. []
I can not improve upon Bill Broyles' review of this fine book. This is history at is best []
Forester's Log, The: Musings from the Woods
By Mary Stuever. University of New Mexico Press. 264pp. Index. $24.95.
The author is a career forester and fire fighter, and this book is a compilation of her brief articles told with gentle humor and first-hand authority for local newspapers. But this book is much more than that. It is the adventure of fighting forest fires in Arizona and New Mexico, the challenge of managing forests, and the joys of being in the woods. It is also insightful. Forest ecology has evolved since Smokey the Bear– “Where foresters in the 1960s and 1970s were focused on ‘board feet,’ today’s decisions are based on values such as ‘preserving biodiversity’ or ‘restoring ecosystem functions’ (p. 108).” Forester’s Log is worth reading, especially for its descriptions and discussion of the infamous Rodeo-Chediski fire of Arizona’s White Mountains. []
Frequently Asked Questions About Butterflies
By Rose Houk, Paul Mirocha, Abby Mogollón. Western National Parks Association. 18pp. $5.95.
Butterflies happen when caterpillars put on their best duds in order to find a mate and reproduce. Having just visited the Tucson Botanical Gardens’ wonderful annual butterfly exhibit, we were pleased to encounter this book. In the first paragraph, we learned that there are over 18,000 species of butterflies worldwide and over 600 in the western U.S. The states with the greatest number of species in the U.S. are Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, due largely to size, location, and wide range of habitat. Beautifully illustrated, sticking to basics and very readable, this is a another fine book in the Western National Parks Association’s great series on the wonders of nature. For those who wonder about butterflies, this is just the ticket.

Readers who enjoy this book might also be interested in others in this series like:
* Frequently Asked Questions about Hummingbirds, * Frequently Asked Questions about the Saguaro, and * Frequently Asked Questions about Western Sand Dunes. []
From Guns to Gavels: How Justice Grew Up in the Outlaw West
By Bill Neal. Texas Tech University Press. 364pp. Index. $29.95.
Only in Texas! If one likes to read a collection of real-life stories of murder, violence, and nasty politics in exhaustive detail, this book is for you Just about every individual is an angry man filled with desire for revenge. There is a tiring number of posses and vigilante justice. Moreover, sitting judges often made their own law, depending on the situation and his point of view of the moment. The author, a criminal lawyer, has amassed an amazing number of facts to present first the background, and second, both the prosecution and defense opinions of the various trials recorded here. []
Gila Country Legend: The Life and Times of Quentin Hulse
By Nancy Coggeshall. University of New Mexico Press. 280pp. Index. $29.95.
Historian Durwood Ball describes the late Quentin Hulse as "the real thing"; readers of this eloquently written biography of the New Mexico rancher, hunter, guide, and outfitter will quickly understand why. Coggeshall, Hulse's companion during his twilight years, has assembled a moving portrait of the man that never descends into hagiography. Rather, what emerges from her recollections, interviews, and painstaking research is the story of a southwestern original, complete with the full complement of flaws and shortcomings, who nonetheless did the right thing as he saw it and was of one piece with the land he inhabited. Coggeshall has produced a rare thing: an uncommon testimonial to a common man. []
Glass of Water, A
By Jimmy Santiago Baca. Grove Press. 240pp. $23.00. F.
Baca brings to his first novel all the passionate intensity that infuses his award-winning poetry and autobiographical writings. Two brothers - one angry and rebellious, the other thoughtful and committed to the land - fight in their own ways to overcome injustice and prejudice until the search for their mother's killer unites them in a common cause. Baca offers a bracing, no-holds barred view of immigrant field workers and their stuggles to carve out a piece of the American dream from a landscape where "a glass of water is the most important thing." []
Great Basin, The: People and Place in Ancient Times
By Catherine S. Fowler, Don D. Fowler. Santa Fe, N.M. : School for Advanced Research Press. 166pp. Index. $24.95.
The Great Basin is a large area in the heart of the American West that is notable for having streams and rivers that do not reach the sea: they drain into basins like the Great Salt Lake, most of which evaporate into dry salt pans. When latter day settlers arrived, they discovered scattered oases with good water where people could survive, and claimed it for themselves. Modern archeologists have found evidence of an even more remarkable story: the habitation of this dry desert by humankind goes back for millennia. This very readable book is part of a series published for popular audiences by the School for Advanced Research Press in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Written by a selected group of archaeologists who are experts in the region, it tells the fascinating story of what science has learned so far of the peoples who have inhabited this region during the past 13,000 years. Readers who enjoy this book might also be interested in this book, a 2008 Southwest Book of the Year: Fragile Patterns: The Archeology of the Western Papagueria, edited by Jeffrey H. Altschul, et al. []
Greg Lasley's Texas Wildlife Portraits
By Greg Lasley. Texas A&M University Press. 128pp. Index. $30.00.
Acclaimed photographer Greg Lasley’s work has taken him around the world, but this fine collection focuses on the wildlife of his home state, much of which is common to other parts of the Southwest. With telephoto and macro shots, he brings the birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and arachnids to life, up-close and amazing. These stunning images must rank among the best you’ll find anywhere: a memorable and exciting visual treat. []
Guarding the Border: The Military Memoirs of Ward Schrantz, 1912-1917
By Jeffrey L. Patrick, Ward L. Schrantz. Texas A&M University Press. 205pp. Index. $29.95.
This is the memoir of Ward Schrantz, a US Army soldier stationed along the Texas-Mexico border during the hey-day of Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa. He tells the human side of serving in military outposts and tent encampments. He candidly, and without complaint, tells the realities of sleeping on army cots and trying to keep dry under G.I ponchos. His camp humor, such as sneaking into Nuevo Laredo against orders, mixes with sympathetic character sketches or his bunkmates and even his sergeants. When in 1917 the US joined the battle of WWI, Schrantz was sent to the Meuse-Argonne offensive in France, and he later served in WWII. This is an excellent “duty tour” of soldier life, backed by Jeff Patrick’s thorough background research. []
Actually, there were fewer scrapes and fewer battles during the time Ward Schrantz served with the U. S. Army to keep peace along the Texas-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution. Here is a good memoir that describes how the army worked, traveled, ate, and lived during an interesting period in history. By the way, It is a good read. []
Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel
By Jeannette Walls. Scribner. 288pp. $26.00. F.
The true-life to which the subtitle refers is that of Walls’ grandmother, Lily, a no-nonsense woman who grew up in the old western way, on ranches around horses. Not a novel in the strict sense it might better be thought of as fictional autobiography for it is a life personally revealed by the woman who lived it. Filled with down-home wit and wisdom (“If you can’t stop a horse, sell him, Dad liked to say, and if you can’t sell him, shoot him”), the tale moves through hard times as bad as the Great Depression, and worse, the suicide of a sister, to good times with expanding business, private planes and private landing strips. Fine book. []
Hummingbirds of Texas: With Their New Mexico and Arizona Ranges
By Clifford E. Shackelford. Texas A & M Univ Press. 112pp. Index. $19.95.
Texas was awarded firs place in the title simply because the state could lay clam to regular visits to backyard feeders by 18 species of hummingbirds. Arizona and New Mexico were close seconds with 17 species observed and counted. Well writen and finely illustrated, this book should be in every car library, handy for travelers interested in these tiny, beautiful, and energetic birds. Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. is responsible for much of the material here wince it organized and encouraged a citizen-science backyard survey. The authors also discuss gardens that attract these little birds, the best of feeders, migratory behavior, and notes on identification along with spectacular photographs. To add to interest, each species is described in depth. A map shows location where birds are found along with a chart noting seasonal abundance. []
In the Sun's House: My Year Teaching on the Navajo Reservation
By Kurt Caswell. Trinity University Press. 299pp. $17.95.
Following a year of teaching in Japan, Kurt Caswell moved to the Navajo Nation, where he hired on at Borrego Pass School near Crownpoint, New Mexico. He soon discovered an ocean of difference between the Japanese culture and that of the Navajo.The author was not prepared for dealing with unruly Navajo students and didn't understand this bilagaana from a foreign country they knew nothing about. The students didn't like him and he responded angrily to their efforts. Gradually as the year moved on, he author wrote about his emotional growth as he began to deal with his own problems.One delightful sketch unfolds when Caswell decides that his Navajo students should become familiar with Romeo and Juliet by acting out the various scenes. []
Indian Alliances and the Spanish in the Southwest, 1750-1750
By William B. Carter. University of Oklahoma Press. 312pp. Index. $34.95.
Here we have a very good overview of the peopling of the Southwest by Athapaskan and pueblo peoples. It covers the building and settlement of culture areas, ceremonies, alliances, and social and environmental changes long before the arrival of the Spanish and the missionaries. Included are the effects of Spanish occupation, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the departure and return of the Spanish. The book should be required reading for those beginning studies in Southewest history and culture. It should also be of interest for the general reader. []
Inland Fishes of the Greater Southwest: Chronicle of a Vanishing Biota
By Paul Marsh, W. L. Minckley. University of Arizona Press. 576pp. Index. $75.00.
This large-format, handsome production updates and vastly expands Minckley’s 35-year old Fishes of Arizona by presenting in-depth accounts of nearly 170 fish species throughout the American Southwest and ranging down into northern Mexico. While the descriptions of habitats, behaviors, and biological aspects are the center of the book, it is perhaps more important in today’s world for its detailed discussion of the bad times ahead for these fish if we do not change our ways and stop destroying their environment. As Jim Deacon says in the foreword “This book makes it obvious that human-induced loss of biodiversity is not...restricted to tropical rain forests.
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This remarkable life-long labor of love catalogues the native and non-native fishes of Arizona, Sonora, and selected drainages and gulf waters in neighboring states. Replete with a thorough bibliography and extensive citations, the book is meant for serious ichthyologists and fisheries specialists. The entries are detailed, with descriptions, discussions, and histories. Color plates or drawings of each species, distribution maps, and identification keys accent this major contribution to our knowledge of Southwest fishes. []
Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre
By Will Bagley, David L. Bigler. Arthur H. Clark Co. 508pp. Index. $45.00.
In September 1857, a handful of Paiutes and about 70 men of he Mormon Church disguised as Indians assaulted a peaceful group of Arkansans on their way to California. It became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. In an attempt to search for motives for what some say was the most notorious crime in the southwest, the authors assembled hundreds of documents in an effort to provide evidence of what happened and why. In searching for motives and have suggested answers to the following: Was John Lee acting alone? Did Brigham Young order the atrocity? Did the emigrants provoke the Utah settlers? How and why did this come about since the crime was against Mormon beliefs. There is plenty of evidence here for the reader to ponder. []
Into the Beautiful North: a Novel
By Luis Alberto Urrea. Little, Brown and Company. 352pp. $24.99. F.
This novel is a farce comedy that will delight Southwest readers even though it does not take place in the Southwest. With flawless dialogue Urrea seamlessly tells the story of a merry band of Mexicans who venture to the United States to recruit seven retired Mexican cops or soldiers who will come to Sinaloa and save their village from narcos (banditos) in the style of The Magnificent Seven (or The Seven Samurai, one of whom magically appears in a Tijuana domp). Led by strong women, Nayeli Cervantes and Aunt Irma, mayor of her fishing village in Sinaloa, the characters are huggable and the plot predictable, but who cares. This romp reads as crisp as a stage play and deserves to become a movie. Along the way there are a few scares and many laughs about both cultures – movies, blonde actors, restaurants, NAFTA, Johnny Depp, immigration, apparel, and a junkyard “dawg” name Atómiko. If you’re looking for fun reading, this is the book. Let's hope a sequel is in the works. []
Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends
By Allen Barra. University of Nebraska Press. 426pp. Index. $1995.
The popular concept of Wyatt Earp that we know and love is the stuff of legend, one that is continually reinterpreted in books, movies and television. Sifting through a large portion of all that material to try to sort fact from fiction, this provocative study is interesting not only for the historic picture that emerges, albeit murkily, but also for its insight into how legends are formed and how much of the popular stories of Wyatt Earp and his associates was the product of many imaginations. The is an updated paperback edition of the 1998 edition. Readers who enjoy this book might also be interested in this book, a previous Southwest Book of the Year: Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend, by Gary L. Roberts.
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J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind
By Steven L. Davis. University of Texas Press. 284pp. Index. $24.95.
The near-mythological stature of the great Texas folklorist (much of it his own making) has diminished in the half-century since his death. In this critical-but-admiring biography, Davis takes an honest measure of the man and his contributions to southwestern regionalism. The Dobie who emerges from these pages is by turns provincial, opinionated, occasionally bigoted, and ultimately a courageous and open-minded champion of intellectual freedom and progressive ideals. Academics and general readers will find much to admire in this book and its subject. []
Jedediah Smith: No Ordinary Mountain Man
By Barton H. Barbour. University of Oklahoma Press. 288pp. Index. $26.95.
It is hard to believe that the adventures described in this book are true--they are not only the stuff of legends but surely would provide an exciting story that would delight producers looking for something new. And they would not have to addd material to improve the story--Jedediah Smith's life is something out of this world. He had guts. he was determined. His three expeditions covered unexplored areas of the west between 1826 and 1831 when the young trapper was killed by Indians. Up to that time, he had survived long treks without food or water, battles with Indians, upset keep boats, gad weather, and a ferocious attack by a bear. The question to ponder is, "What kept him going back for more?" []
Jedediah Smith ranks with Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett before him, and Kit Carson after, as a seminal figure in the exploration of new lands and America’s expansion to the West. A leader of the fabled mountain men, he traveled all over the West, overcoming extraordinary hardships and dangers, and was one of the first to document and tell about it. In particular, he was the first to discover and map the key route that later became known as the Oregon Trail. He was also the first American to reach California overland, rather than by sea. While Lewis and Clark were the first to go overland to the West coast, Jedediah Smith was the one who filled in the map. Using newly discovered journals, documents and other material, this fascinating biography not only describes the life and times of a remarkable man at a key time in our history, it also offers striking insight into how the difficulties arose among Americans, Indians, Mexicans and Europeans in the West, which remain with us today. While written as a history, this fascinating book reads like an adventure story, as indeed it is. Readers who enjoy this book might also be interested in these books, both previous Southwest Books of the Year: Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, by Hampton Sides; and
Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, by Michael Wallis. []
Land Arts of the American West
By Bill Gilbert, Chris Taylor. University of Texas Press. 422pp. Index. $60.00.
Here is a rather unusual book coming out of the College of Fine Arts, University of New Mexico in collaboration with the University of Texas, Austin. The field program operating between 2003 and 2006, involved some 14 students working in various areas in the southwest. Art could be wherever the found it such as the form of an old building, drawings in the sand, creations involving dried brush, garbage, petroglyphs, pueblo ruins -- the choice is endless. Each site was labeled with elevation, ecological niche, ownershi8p, and location and each was acco9mpanied by a written history and impression by one or more of the students. There is definitely an ecological focus as each work should not harm the environment. []
Land of Black Volcanoes and White Sands: The Pinacate and Gran Desierto De Altar Biosphere Reserve
By Clark Blake, Larry G. Marshall. Environmental Education Exchange. 0pp. .
Sonora’s Pinacate Biosphere Reserve is one of the wonders of the natural world. Vast lava flows, many craters including several magnificent maars, moving sand dunes, fascinating cactus, and a long archaeological history make it a “must-see” for desert rats. It has long deserved it own guidebook on a par with those available for US national parks. This is it. With full-color photos and crisp text, readers can appreciate the lure of the Pinacate. We hope to see a Spanish-language edition soon. []
This is one of the least hospitable places in North America, a land devastated by the molten fury of volcanoes, blanketed by vast spreading dunes, blasted by wind blown sand, and scorched by a fiery sun through a sky in which clouds are rare, transient visitors that do not tarry. This is real desert, bone-dry and desolate, where life itself is generally fleeing or fleeting. Its otherworldly nature has been attested by the Apollo 14 astronauts, who trained there for the moon, and by other astronauts in orbit as one of the most prominent land features of the region as seen from space. This well-illustrated book is a nice introduction to the area, now a 2760 square mile U.N. Biosphere Reserve.

Readers who would like to explore this subject further might also be interested in these:
* Sunshot : Peril and Wonder in the Gran Desierto, by Bill Broyles (a recent Southwest Book of the Year);
* The Sierra Pinacate, by Julian D. Hayden;
* Desert Heart: Chronicles of the Sonoran Desert, by William K. Hartmann.
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Law Into Their Own Hands, The
By Roxanne Lynn Doty. University of Arizona Press. 176pp. $50 hardcover, $19.95 paper.
I would agree that border security and illegal immigration along the Arizona-Mexico border has been one of the hot topics under discussion in the past few years. Author, Doty, has interviewed and discussed border vigilante groups that consist of an interesting assortment of individuals from the anti-immigrant movement, white/supremacists/nativist groups, and the Christian Right. she notes that publicity was the key to the success of the various movements and details the coveraqe they have received on television, radio, talk radio, the Internet, and published books. Sheriff Joe Arpaio's efforts in rounding up undocumented aliens is discussed along with how it has affected Hispanic citizens in Arizona. This is an important contribution to the literature in the field. []
Liars Anonymous
By Louise Ure. Minotaur Books. 275pp. $25.95. F.
Ure takes her place in the front rank of mystery writers with this intricately plotted story of truth, lies, guilt, and absolution set in Tucson. While investigating a murder she overhears while working as a telephone operator for an automobile navigation service, Jessie Dancing uncovers a child-kidnapping ring and, at the same time, confronts the deceits lurking in her own past. In Dancing, Ure has created one of the genre's memorable flawed and conflicted heroines. []
Life on the Rocks: One Woman's Adventures in Petroglyph Preservation
By Katherine Wells. University of New Mexico Press. 211pp. $21.95.
Sometimes you sit down with a book and one page leads to the next until you’ve spent the whole afternoon listening to a gentle story well told. In this one a lady leaves California, moves to northern New Mexico, and helps save the new neighborhood. Along the way she discovers a chunk of land with Native American petroglyphs, builds a house, finds love, and wraps herself in the local community and its fascinating history. She even reforms the villain to some extent. Fun, touching, inspiring. []
Lipan Apaches, The: People of Wind and Lightning
By Thomas A. Britten. University of New Mexico Press. 336pp. Index. $34.95.
Here is a thoroughly researched history of a Texas tribe long considered a threat to the development of New Spain's northern frontier. They faced enormous pressures and ultimately forced removal caused them to join the Mescalero and Kiowa Apache, thus fading from history. The book is minutely researched with a fine bibliography. It is however, not for the casual reader. Students and scholars of Native history will no doubt welcome its addition to their libraries. []
Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide
By Lawrence C. Jones, Robert E. Lovich. Rio Nuevo Publishers. 567pp. Index. $24.95.
This book calls for a technical reviewers term: Wow! Pulling together photos, data, etc. from 77 experts (let’s call them lizardologists), Jones and Lovich provide detailed coverage of the 96 species so far identified within the six southwestern states, plus Texas west of the Pecos River. Color coded distribution maps show that many species range far outside these boundaries, especially into Baja and other northern Mexican states. For each species there are sections of text with headings for description, similar species, habitats, natural history, range, viewing tips and other information. Certain to be a standard guide for many, many years to come.
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Lost Mines and Buried Treasures of Arizona
By W. C. Jameson. University of New Mexico Press. 200pp. $23.95.
Said to be the best-selling treasure author in the world, author of some sixty books, and one who believes Billy the Kid lived to his eighties, Jameson has created another tome of legends of lost mines. He admits that many of his "facts" come from oral histories and handed down legends. These, he says, he has tried to authenticate. No sources are listed and there is no index. As one might expect, it is well-written and will be enjoyed by a general reader looking for adventure and not citations. []
Masters of Contemporary Indian Jewelry
By Nancy Schiffer. Schiffer Publishing Ltd.. 256pp. Index. $50.00.
This book offers dramatic proof that Indian jewelry has reached new heights of excellence. The beautiful work of sixty top artists is presented in 250 pages of lavish photographs. Although all regions of the U.S. are represented, the Southwest clearly dominates the field. Those interested in jewelry and Indian art won’t want to miss this one. []
Michael Lundgren: Transfigurations
By Rebecca Solnit. Radius Books. 64pp. $31.50.
For those of you who think that desert photography begins and ends with colorful Arizona Highways magazine, take a look at Michael Lundgren’s Transfigurations. You’ll see the desert in many moods and times of day, from noon to midnight. His stunning and sometimes puzzling images try and succeed in expanding our awareness. The text by Rebecca Solnit seamlessly expresses the images: “If you come here seeking something particular you may find only it. Or find nothing. But if you come seeking the desert it will be given to you in time, if you take care not to get so irrevocably lost that you too become bones out here, but lost enough to find what you did not know you were looking for.” In a section called “Skylighting,” William Jenkins explains that “these pictures serve to define the boundaries of desert experience.” The book is short but intense, and well worth your visit. The title, "Michael Lundgren, Transfigurations," may be arty but it's also confusing, for most readers will think of it as "Transfigurations" by Michael Lundgren. We missed a related 2007 book by Mark Klett (Saguaros, Radius Books, Santa Fe). With its thoughtful text by Greg McNamee, Saguaros too brings us indelible images to chew and words to mull. After reading Transfigurations and Saguaros, you may find more power and insight in a black and white world at least part of the time. Michael Berman is part of this group, too, and in 2006 we reviewed and raved about his photos in Charles Bowden’s Inferno; see Bowden's Trinity (2009, reviewed elsewhere on the SWBOY list) for more of Berman's intense photos. And hidden among the internet offerings of blurb.com you’ll find two stunning and beautiful treasures by Richard Laugharn: 21 Visits to the Sykes Crater Saguaro (2007) and Following Desert Plants (2008). These originals, along with inviting color offerings by greats such as Jack Dykinga (for example, Images: Jack Dykinga’s Grand Canyon, 2008), indicate the pulse of Southwest desert photography is healthier than ever. []
Model Interstate Water Compact
By Jerome C. Muys, Marilyn C. O'Leary, George William Sherk. University of New Mexico Press. 528pp. Index. Sponsored by the Utton Transboundary Resources Center, University of New Mexico School of Law. $75.00.
Not specific to the Southwest, this important volume is the product of a multi-year study and two national conferences held by the Utton Center at the University of New Mexico. The introduction notes that there are at least 26 interstate water agreements, most of them in the arid West. The book provides, in eleven parts with such titles as “Interstate Water Apportionments”, a formal approach to interstate water agreements. Each proposed segment is followed by detailed commentary. Not easy reading, of course, but a very important book concerning the future of our limited water resources. []
Mojave Desert, The: Ecosystem Processes and Sustainability
By Robert H. Webb. University of Nevada Press. 481pp. Index. $65.00.
The Mojave Desert is not only beautiful but fascinating. Behind the beauty are complex processes of climate, geology, biology, and ecology that are still being explained. This volume provides 19 chapters by experts who ask the questions and dig for answers that will help us better understand and appreciate this desert region. All of the chapters are interesting, but especially inviting are ones on global climate change, resources and sustainability, desert root systems, and restoration. It is required and invigorating reading for anyone studying the natural history – or natural future -- of the Mojave. []
Navajo Folk Art
By Chuck Rosenak, Jan Rosenak. Rio Nuevo Publishers. 168pp. Index. $18.95.
Navajo folk art has become a saleable commodity as never before. Moreover, it has found its way to museums and galleries that have in the past sold only the best of pottery, rugs, paintings, and jewellry. Individual artists and their work have contributed a new art form, sometimes whimsical, always delightful. Here creativity knows no bounds. Johnson Antonio's carved dolls show distinct personalities, while Delbert Buck can always find something for his cowboys to ride whether it be rabbits or bulls. Here are chickens, weavings, beaded figures, pots, and furry goats. Nicely published []
New Deal for Native Art, A: Indian Arts and Federal Policy, 1933-1943
By Jennifer McLerran. University of Arizona Press. 299pp. Index. $59.95.
It is not difficult to find museums and galleries illed to the brim with American Indian arts and crafts. These are also available from reservation trading posts and Indian markets, which pop up at regular intervals all over the country. The indigenous productions include pottery, massive sculpture, jewelry, carvings from wood, and whatever treasures the imagination can produce. Add folk art which is fast becoming a collector's item. It was not always this way. The Great Depression affected the Indian tribes along with the rest of the country.The New Deal for Indian Policy sought ways to improve the market for Indian art with Civilian Conservatiion Cotrps projects,cooperatives, and more. John Collier was one who was actively involved in numerous projects. More importantly, the Santa Fe Indian school encouraged Native art, a change from earlier Indian policy. []
New Mexico Colcha Club: Spanish Colonial Embroidery & the Women Who Saved It
By Nancy C. Benson. Museum of New Mexico Press. 168pp. Index. $23.50.
The word colcha refers to a particular stitch in sewing but is often applied to finished products such as bedspreads and coverlets decorate with it. Benson describes its evolution in the New World, and particularly in the Southwest where it arrived with immigrants from farther south in Mexico. In addition to showing designs in excellent color photos she provides details of the lives of women in north central New Mexico, around Espanola, whom she credits with keeping the colcha tradition alive.
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Power of the Texas Governor, The: Connally to Bush
By Brian McCall. University of Texas Press. 172pp. Index. $24.95.
According to the author, the Texas governor's office is fairly weak since gubernatorial powers are not specifically enumerated. The governor can however, take advantage of the fact that the legislators' jobs are part-time and the mere threat of calling a special session is one way to get goals passed. More importantly, personality and highly developed social skills are necessary in order to build relationships and get things done. George W. Bush, and Ann Richards are two who were most successful in this area. They are contrasted with the terms of John Connally, Preston Smith, Dolph Briscoe, William Clements, and Marc Smith, each of whom had his own personality problems in dealing with the legislature. []
Private Women, Public Lives: Gender and the Missions of the Californias
By Bárbara Reyes. University of Texas Press. 246pp. Index. $50.00.
The author presents the translations of testimonios of three California women during the mission period in California: the head housekeeper for Mission San Gabriel;an Indian woman accused of conspiring to murder; and a request by the first lady of California for a divorce. Here is a very interesting study of gender relations in Colonial California. A fine addition to gender and women's studies. []
Putrefaction Live
By Warren Perkins. University of New Mexico Press. 253pp. $21.95. F.
Half Navajo, his father is an Anglo, James is not sure of anything, a classic case of “maybe I’ll grow up tomorrow”. In his late twenties and drifting between Flagstaff and the deserted ranch his parents own on the Navajo Reservation, he finds two things to care about: his neighbor (a woman with two young children and a mean s.o.b. husband) and “his” loud as thunder and ultimately profane four piece band, Putrefaction. []
Rain Gods
By James Lee Burke. Simon & Schuster. 448pp. $25.99. F.
Burke, author of the popular Dave Robicheaux mysteries set in the bayou country of southwestern Louisiana, has produced a haunting masterwork in this complex morality tale played out in the bleak southwest Texas borderland. The discovery of the bodies of nine Asian prostitutes buried in a mass grave sends aging sheriff Hackberry Holland on a quest for the killers and an endangered witness to the crime. The hunt resurrects demons from Holland's own past. In Burke's world, good and bad dissolve into shades of gray, as flawed human beings struggle to do the right thing. If that weren't enough, in Preacher Jack Collins, a god-fearing killing machine, Burke has created one of modern fiction's most intriguing and memorable villains. []
Ranch Gates of the Southwest
By Kenneth I. Helphand, Daniel M. Olsen, Henk Van Assen. Trinity University Press. 139pp. $45.00.
More than 200 well-framed color photos display just what the title suggests, and the range of possibilities is astonishing! Simple, but elegant, maps show locations which are, as we might expect, often on state and county roads from South Texas to southeastern Nevada. The gates themselves are not always gates but rather signs along a fence line and they range from the quirky (a spur large enough for a truck to pass through with its rowel in the air) to the cute (two quail on a post holding a mailbox) and on to the somewhat pretentious (massive white cement columns). Helphand’s text does not attempt descriptions. Rather it tackles the subject in mini-essays with titles such as “Origins”, “Language in the Landscape” and “Branding and Type Design.” Altogether a fascinating glimpse of a piece of Americana that we’ve all seen but probably ignored.
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Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains
By Jan MacKell. University of New Mexico Press. 458pp. Index. $34.95.
Whether referred to as harlot, daughter of joy, scarlet woman, painted woman, fallen woman, erring sister, hooker, illicit lady or lady of the night, it all comes down to the fact that prostitution was a lively trade in towns throughout the West. Business in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, was every bit as active in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. This is a scholarly, well-written history, respectful of the thousands of women who, for numerous reasons found themselves earning a living as a lady of easy virtue. Living conditions varied, many faced abuse, just as many became addicts and died young either of disease or by their own hand. Some were respected as good business women. Some became celebrities. Some were revered for their kindness and charity and often eulogized with elaborate burials. Here is a fine and sympathetic history of the oldest profession. []
Road to Mount Lemmon, The : a Father, a Family, and the Making of Summerhaven
By Mary Ellen Barnes, Tony Zimmerman. University of Arizona Press. 202pp. Index. $17.95.
What was it like to grow up in the small mountain community of Summerhaven high atop the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson? Most of us would have loved the chance to do just that, and Mary Ellen Barnes brings us a filling set of essays on what it was like. She focuses on her father, Tony Zimmerman who essentially founded the mountain top community. He was an eternal optimist who loved the mountains, and even at age 99 he dug a hole in his backyard so he could plant a pecan tree. When asked why, he replied that he wanted to harvest some good pecans someday. That’s the pioneer spirit in a, shall we say, nutshell. The book is quite well-done and interesting. []
Scarecrow, The
By Michael Connelly. Simon & Schuster. 448pp. $27.99. F.
Veteran crime novelist Connelly is at the top of his game in this fast-paced story of a pink-slipped Los Angeles Times reporter on the trail of a serial killer. The search takes him to Las Vegas and finally to Phoenix, where he steps into the world of computer hacking and identity theft. Connelly not only keeps readers' attention riveted to the page, but he also provides a sober and informed commentary on the dying newspaper business. []
Secret War in El Paso, The: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920
By Charles H. Harris, Louis R. Sadler. University of New Mexico Press. 504pp. Index. $37.50.
This 500-page history of El Paso during the Mexican Revolution has been put together using eighty thousand pages of previously classified FBI documents. It includes a marvelous cast of real-life characters and adds new information t what is known about the Revolution. it should make a good research tool for those interested in the history of the area. []
Shadows of Death
By David Sundstrand. Minotaur Books. 336pp. $25.95. F.
In this novel, BLM Ranger and desert rat Frank Flynn is called in to investigate the deaths of two men who had been illegally killing burros and other wildlife in the California desert. They died by gunshots from a hunting rifle fired from a considerable distance. Then the FBI shows up. They’re trying to connect the dots on a number of other murders of people who had similarly abused animals in particularly heinous ways and met deaths that mirrored what they had inflicted. The FBI and Frank both can visualize those dots leading next to the coming grand opening nearby of an exclusive game ranch where wealthy would-be hunters can pay big bucks for opportunities to bag big game, success guaranteed. As someone whose sympathies have long lain with the birds, bighorns and bobcats, Frank can see that this is going to be a challenging case in more ways than one. By looking at this situation from many perspectives, Sundstrand provides his readers with an opportunity to explore how pursuit of good causes can go awry - for people on every side of an issue. However the challenges to the writer in doing this are formidable too. I felt that he didn’t quite pull it off this time, but deserves appreciation for a good effort. This would also be a good book for book groups, classes or friends to take up: the discussions could be very interesting. Readers may be interested also in reading David Sundstrand’s previous novel, Shadow of the Raven, which was a Southwest Book of the Year in 2007. []
Shine Boy
By Annie Galvez, Jose Galvez. Shine Boy Media. 93pp. $19.95.
Galvez provides about a dozen short memories of his growing up in Tucson matched with excellent photos he took later in life after he became a professional photographer. Good, clean black and white images that relate perfectly to the brief texts displaying nicely what Tucson was like 40 or so years ago.
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Some of the Dead are Still Breathing: Living in the Future
By Charles Bowden. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 243pp. $24.00. F.
This book could have been titled “The Biology of Desire, Southwest Style.” Or “The Hunger Artist Chows Down.” Or “Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places.” This is Bowden raging to live in a dying world, a gifted writer saying “yes” to life – “I wanted to say yes, shout yes, be yes” (page 161). You ask, what is the book about? Merely life, death, and all between. It is not a book for the timid, but hey, if you’re still breathing, maybe you can still feel serpents and oceans, canyons and love. One thread through Bowden’s work reappears here as thick as hawser: “I will never forget the dread… of living my life and yet having my life pass me by” (page 59). He is a messenger from the heart of darkness; the book is like dancing with a dervish. He portrays a world where relationships are like interviews and sex is as casual as conversation, but one wonders if this lifestyle is as affirmative as the author claims. This is the third volume of a trilogy that includes Blood Orchid and Blues for Cannibals -- seldom have words performed so well on a page.
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Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado, The: a Linguistic Atlas
By Garland D. Bills, Neddy A. Vigil. University of New Mexico. 383pp. Index. $80.00.
An academic milestone, this scholarly volume presents results of the first large-scale systematic linguistic survey of a unique form of Spanish found in New Mexico and southern Colorado. One of the world’s major languages, Spanish became the first European language used by residents of land now in the southwestern United States, in 1598. Through early influences of native peoples of the Caribbean and Mexico, its subsequent isolation in the far northern extremity of Spanish America, its later contact with American English and, more recently, with the modern Spanish of Mexican immigrants, this dialect has become a linguist’s dream. It’s impact can be appreciated by recognizing that Anglos represented less than 10% of New Mexico’s population in 1880 and did not become a majority in that state until the 1940s. To this day, Spanish and English continue to influence each other and the cultures of the American Southwest. Written for a broad audience, this book offers a special insight into the cultural diversity of the Southwest. []
Sunbonnet, The: An American Icon in Texas
By Rebecca Jumper Matheson. Texas Tech University Press. 240pp. $29.95.
Here is a charming history of the sunbonnet, once the icon for women trodding overland during the great migration to California in the mid-800s. But there is more to the story. The author tells us that Texas women treasured their bonnets well into the 1940s. Ah, yes. Perfect white skin was the reason since the bonnet shaded both the face and the neck. Ad did you know there were two kinds, the poke and the slat? They kept these bonnets pristinely clean, but problems arose with the starch used for a perky stand up shade -- sometimes little varmits managed to find a good meal with the starch. There are plenty of photos, oral interviews and patterns for creating one's own bonnet. []
Texas Rattlesnake Roundups
By Clark E. Adams, John K. Thomas. Texas A&M University Press. 113pp. Index. $19.95.
Not only in Texas, but in Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Pennysylvania, Alabama, and Georgia,do the aficionados gather rattlesnakes for yearly roundups during January and July. Though the reptiles have been hunted for years to rid the country of perceived threats to people and livestock, ultimately these roundups became community events with snake shoots, sacking, stomping, racing, and decapitation contests. Curios were created from the skin and other snake parts. Snaked dens were gassed to aid in collection and many died during transportation. The book is filled with statistics. It also includes a fine anatomy and natural history of the reptile. A number of organizations oppose these roundups including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelto to Animals and the Human Society of the United States. []
Long known for its arts and crafts, Santa Fe was designated a UNESCO “creative city” in 2005. As this book shows in several hundred superbly selected and presented photographs covering 140 years, Santa Fe is also a photo city. The cameras of luminaries such as Gilpin, Vroman, Adams, Porter, and Lown have caught the magic of the town’s sense of place, identity, and history. The combination of fine art, historical photography, and documentary work makes for more than just a magnificent volume – it gives a full and inviting sense of North America’s oldest capital. Personally, I’ve always felt Santa Fe is too glitzy, commercial, and snobby – a home for reclusive rich folks and aesthetes, but this photo celebration portrays a vibrant and diverse community. Now I will look forward to strolling around town this book in hand. It is wonderful. []
Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe
By Mary Anne Redding, Krista Elrick. Museum of New Mexico Press. 268pp. $50.00.
Long known for its arts and crafts, Santa Fe was designated a UNESCO “creative city” in 2005. As this book shows in several hundred superbly selected and presented photographs covering 140 years, Santa Fe is also a photo city. The cameras of luminaries such as Gilpin, Vroman, Adams, Porter, and Lown have caught the magic of the town’s sense of place, identity, and history. The combination of fine art, historical photography, and documentary work makes for more than just a magnificent volume – it gives a full and inviting sense of North America’s oldest capital. Personally, I’ve always felt Santa Fe is too glitzy, commercial, and snobby – a home for reclusive rich folks and aesthetes, but this photo celebration portrays a vibrant and diverse community. Now I will look forward to strolling around town this book in hand. It is wonderful. []
Time of the Rangers: Texas Rangers: From 1900 to the Present
By Mike Cox. Forge. 496pp. Index. $27.95.
This second volume continues the long history of the oldest law enforcement agency in a North American state. By this time, the rangers have dismounted in favor of the auto and helicopter to locate trouble and hand out justice. Their pursuits are legendary and this book should satisfy any reader looking for well-documented adventure. Here the rangers handled border troubles with Mexico, got tough with killers and bootleggers, settled oil field riots and more recently, investigated the marriages of the under-age females in the YFZ Ranch, home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This is real life stuff -- better than fiction. []
Touring the West: With the Fred Harvey Co. & the Santa Fe Railway
By Kathleen Nickens, Paul R. Nickens. Schiffer Publishing. 110pp. Index. $24.99.
It was a perfect marriage, that of the Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad. Between 1880 and 1960 he pair promoted tourism in the west with a vigorous promotional campaign. Postcards were particularly effective since the images were calculated to encourage travel and included the Harvey House hotels and grandiose scenes along with the exotic -- photos of Navajo and pueblo peoples at daily tasks. The book contains hundred of color replicas of many of these postcards. The layout is badly designed and detracts from total enjoyment of the historic cards. []
Travails of Two Woodpeckers, The: Ivory-Bills & Imperials
By David E. Brown, Kevin B. Clark, Noel F. R. Snyder. University of New Mexico Press. 170pp. Index. $27.95.
Although half of his book is about the Southeast, former home to the now probably extinct ivory-bill woodpecker, much of it deals with the imperial, once widely found in Mexico’s Sierra Madre. The authors chronicle the loss of these birds and make some penetrating points about endangered-species management, which is important to the Southwest. The book is good ornithology and a very thoughtful analysis. []
Trickster in the Front Yard: Still Semi-Native
By Jim Belshaw. University of New Mexico Press. 210pp. $19.95.
For many years, readers have turned to Jim Belsaw's column in the Albuquerque Journal. He has selected a potpourri of delightful vignettes drawn from real life for Trickster. These are sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes reflective, sometimes he plays with human hypocracies. Who would believe that he and Tony Hillerman were long-time buddies who never talked of writing, instead, enjoyed their Tuesday poker club. He makes fun of Corrales where a local committee wanted road side signage reminding travelers that "Coyotes live in Corrales." []
Trinity
By Charles Bowden. University of Texas Press. 260pp. Bill and Alice Wright Photography Series. $55.00.
In parallel stories reminiscent of Eduardo Galeano’s masterful Memory of Fire, Charles Bowden explores the sweep of Southwest history and peers into the future. Bowden tries to make sense of modern America by visiting Geronimo, Billy the Kid, Pancho Villa, Robert Oppenheimer, and Lola Casanova. He powerfully narrates a dark side, one where detonation of the atomic bomb at Trinity Site is not out of character for the Southwest. The clash of cultures, extermination, fear, crime, savagery, and wars on the land itself are not new here, but the lesson has yet to be learned: “The land must be earned, not taken” (page 225). The result is a rewarding but wringing look at ourselves, for Bowden seats us uncomfortably close to the fire. Haunting, stark black-and-white photos by Guggenheim fellow Michael Berman ably serve the mood of the book. Trinity completes a memorable trilogy with Inferno (2007) and Exodus (2008). []
Never a writer with an optimistic view of human nature and behavior Bowden’s text surveys our, that is we human beings’, history in terms of such colorful figures as Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid, discovering in the process a connection to Robert Oppenheimer and the Trinity Project. Teamed with photographer Berman, as he was in the first book of this trilogy (Exodus/Exodo came in the middle), the text reminds us constantly that there is surely a human obligation to protect and preserve the land/earth, while the black and white photos suggest, without optical bludgeoning, that vast, mostly un-populated, vistas are not necessarily cheery sites.
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True West: An Illustrated Guide to the Heyday of the Western
By Michael Barson. TCU Press. 175pp. $29.95.
The "True West" is one of the imagination and brings back childhood memories of those "ride 'em" cowboy movies that feature Indians, runaway wagon trains, criminals, beautiful women, and romance. Here are Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, John Wayne, Amanda Blake and James Arness. Included is an annotated list of every western movie, a list of authors and their books, songs, and even comic books. Hundreds of colorful ads are reproduced here. A delightful trip back to the West as Hollywood saw it. []
Contrary to the satirical title, this book is not about the real West, but the fictitious one of 20th century pop culture. A nostalgic personal remembrance of the mythical West in movies, television, books, comic books and other manifestations, it comes complete with compilations of lists and reproductions of original graphics from old movie posters, TV publicity and book covers. We were recently trying to remember TV westerns of the fifties and sixties and didn’t even come up with half of them. If you don’t remember the protagonist of “Gunsmoke” or the answer to the lyrics, “Who is the tall dark stranger there?,” this would be a good way to reconnect your synapses. []
Valles Caldera: A Geologic History
By Fraser Goff. University of New Mexico Press. 114pp. Index. $18.95 paperback.
This outstanding book covers millions of years of volcanic activity that ultimately created the Valley Caldera, a twelve-mile wide collapsed crater in New Mexico's Jemez Mountains. Formerly part of the Baca Ranch, the Valle Caldera National Preserve was established by Congress in 2000. Here is some of the most beautiful scenery in the Southwest. Those familiar with roads to Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument in the north and Jemez Springs to the south are treated to dramatic vistas of mountains, mesas, and cliffs showing the color and strata laid down over millions of years. Outstanding photos and a glossary defining geologic terms are welcome additions. []
Visions Underground: Carlsbad Caverns Through the Artist's Eye
By Lois Manno. Rio Grande Books. 192pp. Index. $19.99.
The West’s most famous caverns have inspired and confounded artists from the time of its discovery. The initial postcards of this unique national park were all drawn by hand. It used to be very dark down there. After accepting an assignment to photograph this natural wonder in 1936, Ansel Adams wrote to Alfred Stieglitz, “Pray for me.” In 1951, Sylvania donated 2.400 of its new technological marvels, the flash bulb, for a photographic first: a photo of the Big Room in a single shot. Compiled by an artist, writer and spelunker with many years experience in Carlsbad Caverns, this is a beautifully illustrated story of art from the depths of one of America’s natural wonders. []
Walking Nature Home: A Life's Journey
By Susan J. Tweit. University of Texas Press. 177pp. $24.95.
This is a very gentle, touching survival story about the author’s 27-year battle against a vague connective-tissue disease that threatened to kill her within five years of her first diagnosis. She fought back and rewards us with the details of her battle. She drew inspiration from nature and the stars, from love and learning to cope with everyday stresses. It is a tightly told story of Everywoman, one highly worth reading. Although much of the setting is in Wyoming and Colorado, there are episodes in New Mexico and Arizona. The author is renowned for her books about nature, and as we can see in this book, that connection goes straight to her soul. []
Water in the 21st Century West: A High Country News Reader
By Char Miller. University of Oregon Press. 312pp. Index. $24.95 (pbk).
If you’ve even been thirsty, truly too-dry-to-talk thirsty, you know the anguish of urgency. The 44 journalist essays in this book explain that urgency, how we got here, what it means, and how we might wet our parched throats. These provocative essays originally appeared in High Country News. Especially interesting are the pieces on tribal water rights and how they may reshape western water economics. The future will not be easy. []
West of the Imagination, The
By William H. Goetzmann, William N. Goetzmann. University of Oklahoma Press. 640pp. Index. $65.00.
In 41 chapters, this book displays and discusses the gamut of Western art and photography. It is much more than an art history that portrays culture and regional identity, that explains aesthetics and artistic technique, and that pays tribute to artists and photographers. In essence, it is uniquely an American history. This is the second edition and it adds five new chapters, including ones on Currier & Ives, Jackson Pollock, and postmodern Western photography. The book has a host of my old favorites by Moran, Remington, Bierstadt, and Russell, and ones new to me such as Patrick Nagatani, David Hockney, and Richard Hovendon Kern – and even a new favorite, Mark Tansey’s oil on canvas “Constructing the Grand Canyon” (pages 542-543). Your favorite will be in here someplace. The West of the Imagination will be an excellent addition to your home library. []
When the Rains Come: a Naturalist's Year in the Sonoran Desert
By John Alcock. University of Arizona Press. 334pp. Index. $45.00.
Readers who remember Alcock’s Sonoran Desert Summer, Sonoran Desert Spring, and In a Desert Garden will know what to expect with this latest book: well-written descriptions and personal accounts of desert life, in this case especially the Usery Mountains. In addition to his descriptions Alcock has taken his camera along on many trips and frequently gives us photographic proof of the changes that have occurred in 10, 15 or even 20 years. Self-identified as “an entomologist of sorts” he has paid particular attention to the small creatures of our region and in this regard is particularly concerned about what changes are occurring in the environment that threaten life as we know it. []
Whole Damned World, The : New Mexico Aggies at War, 1941-1945: World War II Correspondence of Dean Daniel B. Jett
By Daniel B. Jett. New Mexico State University Library in collaboration with Rio Grande Books. 384pp. Index. $35.95.
What a wonderful story. College men and women go off to war and write home to a favorite professor, Dean “Dad” Jett, who by return mail sends them encouragement, news from home, and extra postage stamps. The letters are funny, touching, and inspiring. Here are the best of the letters. Never underestimate the power of a personal letter.
Interestingly designed, but the font is a smidge small or light for older eyes.
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Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics, 1883-1950
By Heidi J. Osselaer. University of Arizona Press. 218pp. $45.00.
Osselaer describes the fight for political equality in Arizona through the activities of the women who waged it, from temperance and suffrage crusader Josephine Brawley Hughes to state auditor and gubernatorial candidate Ana Frohmiller. This seminal study, rich in anecdote and analysis, provides a solid foundation for future research into women's roles in Arizona politics. []
On July 12, 2009, Steve Benson's cartoon in the Arizona Republic featured Governor Jan Brewer in an outfit complete with oversized boxing gloves standing over a knocked-out GOP Hardliner musing "I hate girls," unhappy with the governor's point of view. What a long way we have come in Arizona since the beginning of time with the guys continuously rejected women's suffrage. They had numerous excuses: "married women were a detriment to public welfare," or it "might increase the Mormon vote," or "no self-respecting woman would be found in a saloon, so how could the corporations keep control of state politics if women voted?" Another asked" Why should women vote when they might eliminate vice and usher in a dry era in Arizona?" The book is replete with such stories as women stubbornly stood their ground and battled for equal rights. This culminated in 1998 when five women captured the top five positions in Arizona government. []
Xerophilia: Ecocritical Explorations in Southwestern Literature
By Tom Lynch. Texas Tech University Press. 264pp. Index. $35.00.
As used here, xerophilia represents one's immersion into the natural world both physically and psychologically. This book is for readers familiar with such writers as Frank Waters, Pat More, Charles Bowden, Edward Abbey, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ann Zwinger, Janice Emily Bowers,Gary Paul Nabhan, Ofelia Zepeda, and numerous others. Among the topics discussed are a acequias in the upper Rio Grande bioregion along with the distinctive culture that grew around them. The biological diversity of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, which include both the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts is an important topic,and we learn that thirty-one percent of its species is listed as endangered. A chapter studies the importance of invertebrates to the desert's ecology, which the author refers to as bioregional consciousness. In additon, chapters look into various authors' philosophical and sensory immersion into naturalo or ecological aesthetics. []
This book can be read, and enjoyed, on at least three levels: a reprise of passages from Ed Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, Ann Zwinger, Charles Bowden, Jan Bowers, and Gary Nabhan. Or, a discussion of nature writing and how to enliven it with five senses or by looking at overlooked creatures like invertebrates. Or, a pitch for the value of regional literature, bioregional emphasis, and what the author calls eco-criticism. You’ll be challenged on all fronts (how do you keep regional literature from becoming provincial?) and you’ll enjoy new insights (the Spanish language, with its Arabic borrowings, is suited to our arid Southwest landscape, but English is not). Literary criticism smacks of academia, but think of those lively English class free-for-all debates not the stupefying standardized grammar tests. It can lead to a better understanding of our region. []
Zeckendorfs and Steinfelds: Merchant Princes of the American Southwest
By Bettina Lyons. Arizona Historical Society. 416pp. Index. $24.95.
A very thorough history of the Zeckendorf and Steinfeld families who helped build Tucson. In essence it is a very readable history of frontier commerce and civic development. In many ways the frontier was won with a bag of flour and a bolt of cloth. []
While cowboys, Indians, bandits, sheriffs, soldiers and miners figure prominently in modern western dramas, the actual winning of the West depended heavily on supplies, trade and the merchant adventurers who built the basis for economic growth and prosperity. Before Macy’s, Dillard’s and Target got here, Tucsonans shopped at Steinfeld’s, Jacome’s and Myerson’s, local stores owned by local families whose contributions to our community go back many years. Thoroughly researched and written by a modern descendant, this history of a major pioneer family of Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Tucson provides a rare and fascinating glimpse of this important part of the story of our past. []
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