10 Authors Like Zane Grey: Frontier Adventures From Giants of Westerns

Discover our list of the best authors like Zane Grey. Revisit the Wild West and face a literary showdown with infamous gunslingers.

Westerns written by authors like Zane Grey gave American literature and film its most enduring theme. Keep reading to discover the writers behind our image of frontier life and the Wild West.

Born in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1872, Zane Grey went to the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship. However, he always wanted to write, according to his official website.

Grey’s wife supported him by editing and dealing with publishers. Lina, or Dolly as she was referred to by her husband, is quoted as being the single most important factor behind his success.

Grey was a literary giant of the American West, and his novels were especially beloved by teens and young adults.

“I need this wild life, this freedom.”

Zane Grey

Grey’s adventurous, rugged heroes persist in the contemporary imagination. Thoroughly American – in the best sense possible – each of his novels contributed to the spirit and image of the U.S.

Revisit our list of the 15 best Zane Grey books to immerse yourself in frontier life, with all its danger and excitement. 

Best Authors Like Zane Grey Ranked

1. Michael McGarrity, 1940 –

Michael McGarrity
AllenS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Known for his 1996 novel Tularosa, Michael McGarrity began his career not as a writer but in the criminal justice system. He is the holder of degrees in psychology and clinical social work and has 25 years of working with drug offenders and at-risk juveniles, not to mention the time spent as a deputy sheriff and patrol officer in Santa Fe.

Tularosa launched his career as a full-time writer, and he now has 18 titles to his name, including Long Ago, Under the Color of Law, and Serpent Gate.

McGarrity’s novels, set in his native New Mexico, delve into the region’s history and paint a powerful and vivid image of the American West.

“Wallace Stegner once wrote that the lessons of life amount to scar tissue.”

Michael McGarrity, Tularosa

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03/07/2024 05:30 am GMT

2. Louis L’Amour, 1908 – 1988

Louis L'Amour
Thomas J. Kravitz, Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Louis L’Amour left school at 15 to travel the world, reaching East Africa and Tibet, before starting to write in the 1940s. He is a best-selling author of more than 100 books. Overall, L’Amour sold over 200 million copies of his books, translated into 20 languages.

L’Amour is often named one of the greatest storytellers of the American West, and his works can be appreciated by both veterans of Westerns and those new to the genre. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he was also the first novelist to receive a Congressional Gold Medal. His novel Hondo became a successful movie starring the legendary John Wayne.

No less than thirty of his books were adapted for the big screen.

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Louis L’Amour
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03/09/2024 03:39 pm GMT

3. James Fenimore Cooper, 1789 – 1851

James Fenimore Cooper
John Wesley Jarvis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

James Fenimore Cooper, known for the frontier series Leatherstocking Tales centered around a no-nonsense wilderness scout, is often named the first prominent American novelist. His novels shaped how the frontier is imagined to this day.

Among his best-known works is The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, which is included in our list of all-time best adventure books.

Cooper juxtaposes coarse frontier characters against a rapidly progressing America and the untouched wild against the European-like world of the cities, revisiting timeless themes. A meticulous, careful writer, James Fenimore Cooper’s literary legacy is still powerful after more than two centuries.

Cooper was also one of the founders of espionage fiction. Find out more in our list of the best espionage authors.

“Every trail has its end, and every calamity brings its lesson!”

James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans
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03/07/2024 05:34 am GMT

4. William W. Johnstone, 1938 – 2004

Another author who formed our image of the American West was William W. Johnstone, whose tales featured lawless frontier towns and fearless gunslingers. A master of suspense and drama, the Missouri-born writer completed over 200 books during his lifetime, dominating the survivalist and Western genres for generations.

While adventure is key to any good Western, Johnstone’s books offer high historical accuracy. His Mountain Man series features themes of justice, American heroism, and family. Johnstone’s books still populate the shelves of libraries across the U.S.

“He that lies with the dogs, riseth with the fleas.”

William W. Johnstone, Matt Jensen, the Last Mountain Man
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03/09/2024 03:50 pm GMT

5. Jack Schaefer, 1907 – 1991

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Jack Schaefer started reading at an early age. One of his favorite authors growing up was Zane Grey. After studying Greek and Latin at Oberlin College and Conservatory, Shaefer worked as a journalist.

In 1945, he started writing fiction, and four years later, he published Shane, his most famous novel.

Schaefer’s eponymous hero was the picture image of the gunslinger, outside the law but noble nonetheless. The novel is a psychological Western that delves into topics such as identity and soul-searching. Loved by the public, Shane sold over 12 million copies, was translated into thirty languages, and was immediately adapted into a movie.

“A gun is as good—and as bad—as the man who carries it.”

Jack Schaefer, Shane
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03/07/2024 05:33 am GMT

6. Johnston McCulley, 1883 – 1958

Remembered for creating the character of the masked outlaw Zorro, Johnston McCulley was a playwright, and screenwriter, who wrote crime and Western novels.

The character of Zorro first appeared in the short story The Curse of Capistrano, published in a magazine in 1919. McCulley would go on to write 64 Zorro stories, The Mark of Zorro being the most famous.

McCulley shaped Zorro into a defender of the oppressed, a type of hero that matched the wild American frontier, where honor was still a prized currency. The rich historical backdrops of his novels, along with the moral dilemmas faced by his characters, make McCulley’s works an unmissable read for any fan of Westerns and adventure.

“He has robbed none except officials who have stolen from the missions and the poor, and punished none except brutes who mistreat natives.”

Johnston McCulley, The Mark of Zorro
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03/07/2024 05:34 am GMT

7. Matt Braun, 1938 – 2016

Matt Braun is perhaps best known for his 1976 novel The Kincaids, but also Texas Empire. A son of Oklahoma, he cherished the image of the Old West and strove to accurately portray the life of ranchers. Celebrated for their authenticity and level of detail, Braun’s novels are immersive journeys into the life of cowboys and the harsh realities they face.

The author, who weaved real historical figures and events into his stories, created relatable, credible, and full characters, stepping away from the Western caricatures of clean-cut heroes and villains. Braun’s novels are an ideal first step into the American frontier for readers new to the genre.

“Texas Rangers never said grace over those they killed.”

Matt Braun, Texas Empire
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03/07/2024 05:34 am GMT

8. Max Brand, 1892 – 1944

Frederick Schiller Faust, also known as Max Brand, is the author of more than 220 Western novels, such as The Black Muldoon. An orphan who grew up on the ranches of California, Brand penned works under no less than 21 pseudonyms in numerous other genres. His love of Westerns, however, was to define his legacy.

Timeless, his stories of the frontier explore the human condition and include themes of honor and redemption.

His gritty heroes, like those of Matt Braun, are far from caricatures but flawed men fighting personal battles. His descriptions of the West’s rough but superb landscapes and open plains provide the perfect setting for stories that capture us just as strongly now as they have for almost a century.

“He told them in words of one syllable that he knew he’d led a bad life for the past two years.”

Max Brand, The Black Muldoon
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03/07/2024 05:34 am GMT

9. Larry McMurtry, 1936 – 2021

Larry McMurtry
See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Larry McMurtry, whose novel Lonesome Dove won the Pulitzer Prize, wrote 29 novels, along with multiple essays and screenplays. He was also a producer known for the films Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Last Picture Show (1971), and Streets of Laredo (1995).

McMurtry’s novels are set in the American Old West and follow the region as it modernized. Lonesome Dove, his most famous work, follows two aging Texas Rangers on the road to Montana. The author’s books are more than fiction.

They read like a narrated history of the region, and his lovable characters are always caught in the middle of real and deep transformations.

“It’s a fine world, though rich in hardships at times.”

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
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02/19/2024 02:52 pm GMT

10. Charles Portis, 1933 – 2020

Hailing from El Dorado, Arkansas, Charles Portis served in the U.S. Marines in the Korean War and was discharged in 1955. In 1963, Portis started writing fiction full-time. Although he is best known for his 1968 novel True Grit, many of his other novels were adapted into films.

Nevertheless, it is the story of vengeful 14-year-old Mattie Ross, the heroine of True Grit, that continues to fascinate contemporary audiences and readers most. Thoroughly American and courageous, Portis’ memorable characters are perhaps the strongest aspect of his novels and earn him a spot on the list.

“You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God.”

Charles Portis, True Grit 
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03/07/2024 05:34 am GMT