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2017 was a solid year of reading that played out even better than expected—I discovered some older titles that I should’ve read long ago, enjoyed some new releases that I’d been anxiously awaiting, and had the opportunity to meet and chat with several of my favorite authors. As usual, the books’ subjects varied widely, and I hard-headedly stuck to 100% non-fiction.
It was difficult (silly? pointless?) to try and pick the absolute best books I read last year, but below, in no particular order, is my feeble attempt at My 10 Favorite Books of 2017:
Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton – The most entertaining and comprehensive history of cattle ranching in the American West that I’ve ever read… and I’ve read a lot on this subject. (November/December list)
Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban – Interesting and new (to me) insights into the settlement of Montana’s eastern Great Plains, with an eye-opening emphasis on the role that corporations and the government played in convincing (i.e. tricking) would-be settlers to head West. (September/October list)
American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains by Dan Flores – A “biography” of North American megafauna, including pronghorn, coyotes, horses, grizzlies, bison, and wolves. A must read for anyone who loves the American West. (July/August list)
Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores – Coyotes are the most scorned large mammal in North America, yet they’re surprisingly the most human-like in their behavior. A wonderful overview of this fascinating animal and its complicated relationship with us humans. (May/June list)
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder – A short and to-the-point historical examination of how well-meaning countries fell prey to fascist rulers and tyrannical governments. Timely reading in this day and age. (July/August list)
All Waves are Water: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment and the Perfect Ride by Jaimal Yogis – Part memoir, part meditation manifesto, and part surf travelogue, Yogis nails it again with his follow-up to one of my all-time favorites, Saltwater Buddha. (July/August list)
Free Will by Sam Harris – Harris argues that free will is an illusion and that no one is truly in control of themselves or their actions. I don’t want to believe this, but, despite my best efforts, it’s tough for me to poke holes in his rationale. (September/October list)
What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength by Scott Carney – Since reading this book, I’ve taken a freezing-cold shower every day. And even after pushing the breathing exercises a little too far, passing out, and “bumping” my face on the floor, I’m still a huge fan! (March/April list)
Hellhound on his Trail: An Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History by Hampton Sides – The true story of the nutjob loner who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. and the ensuing international manhunt that followed. Hampton Sides never disappoints. (January/February list)
Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram – A deep dive into the mind of an obsessed, unconventional, take-no-shit-from-anybody soldier, whose commitment to his craft changed the course of US military history. (March/April list)
Matt Barber and Joel Doub are the owners of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a Bozeman-based fly rod company known for its unyielding commitment to quality, craftsmanship, and enduring performance. The duo purchased the company in early 2017 from Tom Morgan, a fly fishing legend who, along with his wife Gerri, built the company into one of the world’s most unique and renowned rod builders. Rather than focus on the latest fads or selling a high volume of products, Tom was dedicated solely to building the highest quality rod, one that could be passed on from generation to generation, decade after decade.
You may be surprised to learn that Matt and Joel are not fishing industry veterans—their previous careers were in education and medical device sales, respectively. But when Tom Morgan decided to sell the company, Matt and Joel’s passion for fly fishing, their willingness to learn from the best, and their commitment to continuing the company’s legacy allowed them to stand out from the crowd of competing buyers. To everyone’s dismay, Tom passed away unexpectedly soon after the sale of the company, but only after imparting his wisdom, craftsmanship secrets, and high standards to Matt and Joel. Building on Tom and Gerri’s rock-solid foundation, the company is now entering its next phase, and the future has never looked brighter.
Matt and Joel were in Denver for the annual Fly Fishing Show, so we met up to chat about the company and their journey into fly fishing entrepreneurship. We talked at length about Tom and his laser-like focus on quality, and how he was willing to snap a rod in half if it did not meet his high standards. We chatted about the “secret” to making these rods, which mostly boils down to being willing to work harder than anyone else. We talk about Tom’s unique partnership with his wife Gerri, and how the couple went about transferring decades of knowledge and experience to Matt and Joel. We discuss the company’s unique business model, and how it flies in the face of most mainstream, MBA business theories. And as usual, we discuss favorite books, films, crazy outdoor experiences, and plenty more.
This was a very fun conversation, and I’m excited to watch the company continue to grow and thrive under Matt and Joel’s ownership. Be sure to check out the episode notes for everything we discuss, and follow Tom Morgan Rodsmiths on Instagram and other social media. Enjoy!
All photos courtesy of Paige McAfee
Cate Havstad is a hat maker and farmer based in central Oregon whose abundant curiosity, creativity, and love of place have allowed her to transform her passions into a full-time and fulfilling career. As a hat maker, Cate’s unique style and unwavering commitment to quality have attracted customers ranging from music stars like Gillian Welch and Nikki Lane to hard-working ranchers and farmers throughout the American West. As a farmer, Cate and her partner are deeply committed to regenerative agriculture and the positive impact that their local efforts can have on a global scale. It’s safe to say she’s living a life guided by purpose and passion.
Born and raised in northern California, Cate was a driven athlete in her youth, as evidenced by her desire to be the first woman to play in the NBA (that’s the NBA, not the WNBA). As a young woman, a fortuitous series of events landed her in a hat maker’s workshop, where she applied that same focus and drive toward learning the craft of hat making. After accumulating experience and confidence as an apprentice, she struck out on her own and now creates some of the most sought-after, stylish, and functional hats on the market today. Cate’s life and work are closely connected to the landscape of central Oregon, and her other job as an organic farmer has given her a deep understanding of the role that regenerative agriculture can play in conservation, community building, and reversing climate change.
As you’ll hear in our conversation, Cate is extremely curious, well-read, and and knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. We talk about her journey as a hat maker, and how she cultivates creativity and consistent production in a world filled with an increasing number of distractions. We discuss regenerative agriculture and how many people, including well-meaning environmentalists, don’t fully understand the importance of farmers and ranchers in the conservation movement. Cate is a devoted meditator and runner, so we talk about how both of those practices have improved her creativity and outlook. We also chat about Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Steven Pressfield, and how those authors’ works have impacted her life. There’s a lot to learn in this episode.
This was a fun conversation that could have continued for hours. Be sure the check the episode notes below for links to everything we discussed—it’s a long list! Hope you enjoy!
Header photo by Amanda Leigh Smith, others courtesy of Cate Havstad
Sarah King is a rancher, conservationist, wife, and mother of two who lives and works on her family’s 55,000-acre cattle ranch in southern Arizona’s Altar Valley. The King’s Anvil Ranch was established in 1895 and has operated successfully within their family for generations, setting an example of how to run a financially viable agricultural business, while simultaneously protecting the long-term ecological health of their vast desert ranch. The Kings understand that in order for their business to thrive, the land must thrive, and they are leaders in pursuing a variety of outside-the-box land stewardship techniques, including the focused use of prescribed fires.
The King family spearheaded the creation of the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, a cutting-edge land conservation organization that collaborates with a wide range of stakeholders, including private landowners, ranchers, government entities, conservation non-profits, and environmental advocacy groups. Thanks to focused, diligent efforts over the course of two decades, the AVCA has managed to bring together groups that have historically been at odds, allowing them to focus on shared goals and creative solutions to complicated challenges, rather than dwelling on their differences. As you’ll hear Sarah explain, AVCA understands that open, honest, face-to-face communication has been the key to tackling the Altar Valley’s complex challenges, and their success gives me hope that other organizations throughout the West can adopt their approach and enjoy the same success.
This was a very enlightening episode for me, because I personally just don’t know enough about the landscapes and heritage of the deep southwest. We dig into many of the details of the King’s Anvil Ranch and its operation, including the unique climate and ecology of the Arizona desert. Sarah explains how the AVCA came to be, and offers some insights into exactly what they do and how they’ve managed to have such success. We discuss Sarah’s personal background, specifically how an east coast native ended up on an expansive cattle ranch in Arizona. We talk about the benefits of raising children on a ranch, and the lessons she hopes to impart as they grow up closely connected to the land. Given that the ranch is located less than 40 miles from the Mexico border, we discuss how illegal border crossings have a significant effect on the ranch’s operations. And, of course, we discuss favorite books and documentaries, with links to everything in the episode notes.
I had such a great time chatting with Sarah, and I walked away from the conversation with a much deeper understanding of ranching, conservation, and life in the American southwest. She and her colleagues at AVCA are doing important, groundbreaking conservation work, so I encourage you to follow them and learn from their efforts. Also, be sure to follow Sarah on Instagram—on top of everything else, she’s a talented photographer, too. Enjoy!
Header photo courtesy of Sarah King, other courtesy of Roni Ziemba
Charles Post is an academically trained ecologist with a gift for communicating complex and sometimes emotionally charged issues in a thoughtful manner to diverse audiences. Whether he’s discussing the intricacies of ranch management, the ecological implications of ethical hunting, or controversies surrounding the BLM’s wild mustang program, Charles has honed his ability to consider all sides of issues, then educate the public in a style that is positive, comprehensive, and intellectually honest. His academic credentials, combined with his photography, writing, filmmaking, and popular social media channels have made Charles a rising star in the world of conservation.
Born and raised in northern California, Charles has enjoyed a deep connection with Western landscapes for as long as he can remember. He grew up hunting, fishing, and exploring the seascapes and mountain ranges of the West Coast, then earned both a Bachelors and Masters in ecology from UC Berkeley. After considering pursuing a PhD followed by a career in academia, Charles changed course and pursued a less traditional track that melded his two passions of science and storytelling. Since then, he has settled in Bozeman, Montana where he works on a wide range of projects that all tie back into conservation and stewardship in the American West.
Charles and I talked for well over an hour, and could’ve easily continued for several more. We discuss his recent work for Filson covering Ranchlands, a progressive, forward-thinking ranching operation in southern Colorado. We also chat about the ecological importance of ranching for Western landscapes and the progress that Charles has made trying to change some of the unfounded negative impressions of ranching and livestock. We talk about his recent elk hunt, and how that adventure was one of the richest, most meaningful experiences of his life. Charles speaks fondly about his relationship with Ben Masters, who helped him break into the filmmaking world. It also turns out that we have a shared love of the American Dipper (which is a bird, for those of you out of the loop), and we nerd out on that subject for a few minutes. As usual, we discuss favorite books, films, and the best advice he’s ever received.
If you’re a long-time listener, you will love this episode… and if you’re brand new, I hope you will, too! Be sure to check out Charles on Instagram at @charles_post and check the episode notes for everything we discuss. Enjoy!
All images courtesy of Rachel Pohl
Mark Maggiori has taken the western art scene by storm with his dramatically realistic paintings of cowboys, horses, landscapes, and scenes from the American West. But painting is only a small part of Mark’s journey as a professional artist—he is also an accomplished director, filmmaker, drawer, photographer, and musician, working for companies like Disney as an illustrator and fronting a major-record-label rock band. To make his story even more interesting, Mark was born and raised in France, and is a relative newcomer to the western United States.
When he was 15, Mark took a road trip across America with his adventurous uncle, igniting his passion for Western landscapes and planting the seed of his western art career that would flourish two decades later. Between then and now, he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to dive headfirst into a wide array of artistic endeavors with single-minded focus and work ethic, enjoying success at every level. At little over three years ago, at age 36, all of Mark’s talents and experiences melded together when he decided to try and paint his first cowboy. In what he describes as an epiphany, Mark immediately knew he had found his true identity as an artist.
Mark and I had a fun conversation. We talk about all the stages of his prolific career as an artist, and how he has approached each one with a laser-like focus and uncompromising work ethic. Mark explains how he discovered his talent for drawing—a talent that he had no idea he possessed until after he had enrolled in art school. We also chat about how being new to America has afforded him a fresh perspective on the people and landscapes of the American West, a perspective that shines through in his paintings. He gives details on his workman-like approach to painting and ensuring the historical accuracy of his work, and how exercise helps to fuel his creativity and work ethic. As usual, we cover favorite books, documentaries, and the craziest thing that’s ever happened to him in the outdoors, which is a ridiculous and pretty damn scary story!
Be sure to check out the webpage for links to all of Mark’s work, his upcoming solo show, and everything we discuss in this episode. Hope you enjoy!
All images courtesy of Mark Maggiori
Modern Huntsman is a biannual publication and online forum for conservationists, creatives, and outdoor enthusiasts. If you enjoy this podcast and my guests’ depth of thinking on topics related to the natural world, then you’re going to love Modern Huntsman. Through thoughtful writing, captivating photography, and elegant design, Tyler and his all-star team intend to improve the perception of hunting in our society by highlighting its thoughtful and conservation-focused aspects, which are often ignored by established media.
I like to hunt, although I’m not obsessed with it like I am with endurance sports. But my work in conservation and deep reading of natural history have given me a firsthand appreciation for the importance of hunting, and the vital role it plays in conserving landscapes and species around the world. Without the efforts of visionary hunters like Theodore Roosevelt, the healthy wildlife populations we enjoy here in the American West would be a mere fraction of what they are today, if they existed at all. Thanks to their deep respect for wildlife born from their love of the sport of hunting, TR and his contemporaries set in motion a conservation ethic that continues to grow and evolve. Now, over 100 years later, Modern Huntsman will carry that ethic forward.
Once again, Tyler and I had a wonderful conversation, and I was incredibly impressed with his ability to discuss complex, sometimes emotionally charged issues in a respectful, intelligent, and non-arrogant tone. Of course we discussed the details of Modern Huntsman, its origins, and why there is a need for such a publication. We chatted about Modern Huntsman’s current Kickstarter campaign, which I highly recommend you support—links are in the notes. We also talked in depth about some of the misconceptions around hunting and specifics about why hunting is so important for conservation throughout the world. And just like last time, Tyler had some excellent book recommendations.
This was a fun and enlightening conversation, so I hope you enjoy. Check out the episode notes for links to everything, and be sure the check out the Modern Huntsman Kickstarter page, watch the film, and support the project.
All images courtesy of Tyler Sharp & Modern Huntsman
Scott Slusher is an Oklahoma native and Texas-based photographer who is best known for his stunning images of cowboys and life on working ranches. After seeing Scott’s work, it is crystal clear that he has a deep understanding of the ranching lifestyle and has invested more than his share of time out in the heat and dust, on horseback or in the branding pen. Given his immersion in the tough, hard-nosed world of ranching, you may be surprised to learn that Scott was trained as a fashion photographer and still works with a variety of big-name companies on their fashion and clothing line spreads.
So what allows Scott to have success in two worlds as diametrically opposed as ranching and fashion? Well, as you’ll hear in this interview, Scott has a habit of pursuing his interests with a single-minded intensity and curiosity, unafraid of getting in over his head, venturing outside his comfort zone, or working harder than expected. Combine those traits with endless energy and a knack for making friends with everyone he meets, and you’ll understand how Scott has managed to work his way onto iconic ranches, riding alongside and photographing some of the best ranch hands in the business.
Scott’s enthusiasm and love of people really come through in our conversation, so I know you’ll enjoy it. We talk about his childhood in Oklahoma and how his father’s work as a veterinarian and horse breeder shaped his outlook. We chat about his time as a photography intern and how he chose to dive head first into no-fun chores (like mopping the floor), and how that optimistic, high-energy approach has paid off time and again throughout his career. We also discuss how he broke into photographing cowboys, and how his respectful approach has allowed him to be accepted by ranch hands throughout the West. We cover a ton, so check out the episode notes for a full list of topics and links.
If you don’t already, be sure to follow Scott on Instagram at @slusherphoto—if you love the West and the ranching lifestyle, I can guarantee you’ll love his work. Hope you enjoy this episode.
All images courtesy of Scott Slusher
2:45 – How Scott describes his work
4:50 – Where Scott grew up
8:30 – Time working at a vet clinic
12:00 – Applying to art school in Dallas
14:00 – Finding focus in art school
18:00 – Work ethic during his first internship
22:30 – First time taking photos of cowboys
26:00 – Making folks feel comfortable during photo shoots
27:20 – How he broke into the cowboy culture
33:00 – Working at the Four 6s Ranch
36:15 – Importance of networking
40:00 – Close calls during ranch photography
44:45 – Close call during a rodeo
49:30 – Importance of social media in Scott’s career
1:04:00 – Important books
1:09:00 – Favorite films
1:14:00 – Words of advice to the listeners
1:15:00 – Connect with Scott online
Duke Beardsley was well on his way to a career in medicine, when, just before med school, he took a hard turn onto a new path when he decided to pursue art as a full-time vocation. Since then, he has become one of the West’s most revered artists, producing paintings of cowboys, anglers, and the Western way of life in a style that is uniquely his own. His work is big, bold, and completely original, and it continues to grow and evolve in ways that surprise even Duke himself.
Thanks to a childhood spent between Denver and his family’s eastern Colorado ranch, Duke has been immersed in cowboy culture for as long as he can remember. He has been drawing non-stop since he could hold a crayon, and as a child (sometimes to the dismay of his parents) he demonstrated a proclivity for sketching western scenes on the walls of his family’s home. Duke is also a committed conservationist with a deep devotion to preserving the West’s landscapes and heritage. This eclectic mix of experiences and interests, combined with a formal art education, allows Duke to produce works that are ambitious, inspiring, and engaging.
I stopped by Duke’s Denver studio earlier this week, where we had a fun and wide-ranging conversation. We chat about his decision to change his career goal from medicine to art, and the value he gleaned from a formal art education. He explains that life-long obsession with drawing on walls, and he tells some stories about how, as an adult, drawing on walls has led to surprising professional opportunities. We talk about his artistic process, his meditation practice, and how he managed his extroverted personality in the solitary world of creating art. He also discusses why land conservation is an issue that is so near and dear to his heart, and offers up some excellent book recommendations.
This was a lot of fun and I really appreciate Duke inviting me into his studio. Be sure to check the episode notes for links to everything we discuss, and check out Duke on Instagram, Facebook, and his website.
All images courtesy of Duke Beardsley
Over the past year and a half, I’ve interviewed dozens of innovators who are shaping the future of the American West—writers and ranchers, athletes and artists, conservationists and entrepreneurs, to name a few. While their vocations and backgrounds vary widely, they’re all connected by a shared love of books. All of my guests read widely and deeply, and they credit books with shaping their outlooks, work, and lives.
On each episode’s webpage, the exhaustive “episode notes” link to all books, authors, and other pertinent information discussed in the interview. So in an effort to consolidate all of this valuable information in one easy-to-access location, I compiled every book mentioned by each of my guests into this single comprehensive super-mega-list—the Innovators of the American West Book List. I’ve tried my best to organize them into logical categories, taking into account that many of the books span several genres.
As you’ll see, the books are as diverse as the guests, with topics ranging from the obvious western history and biographies, to more esoteric subjects such as military history, religion, and philosophy. Each book has played an important role in at least one of my guests’ fascinating lives, so it’s safe to say these books have been vetted and come highly recommended. rrr curious readers who love the American West, this list is a treasure trove.
I will continue to update this list after each new episode (last update: 1-5-18), adding newly mentioned books or authors to their respective categories. I hope this list directs you to some books that you would not have otherwise discovered and that you will continue to check back as the list grows. Enjoy!