7 Best Karl May Books For Fans Of Adventure

Discover the best Karl May books in our guide, and add some exciting new books to your reading list.

German author Karl May was known for his books about Western America–even though the furthest he ever made it west was Niagara Falls, New York. While Karl May wasn’t one of the great travel authors of his time, many readers look to his style when they decide they’d like to become travel writers. Even though May never visited the Wild West, his depictions of the events of the time make readers feel like they’re next to the characters he created. Until his death in 1912, Karl May worked to provide his readers with fanciful tales that let them feel like they’d traveled to America, fighting crime and making friends alongside fellow greenhorns.

Let’s take a look at the seven best books by Karl May.

1. The Oil Prince

This 1894 novel has comedy, adventure, and suspense–everything a reader could want in a Wild West novel. This story takes place in Arizona in the 1860s, where criminals attempt to con a group of German immigrants out of a fortune. This story entails a multicultural adventure full of excitement as May’s hero, Old Shatterhand, teams up with his Apache blood brother Chief Winnetou to con an unsuspecting banker. This book is renowned as an exciting tale for all, with villainy, courage, and a touch of comedy. 

“Mary immediately fell into a gallop, against which all of Buttler’s efforts were in vain, took a turn toward the cabin’s lower corner, then paralleled the wall so closely that Buttler’s right leg got hung up at the corner. If he did not want to have it severely scraped or even broken, he had to get out of the saddle. He was “stripped off” and once again landed sitting on the ground.”

Karl May
The Oil Prince
  • Karl Friedrich May (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 368 Pages - 04/01/2003 (Publication Date) - Washington State University Press (Publisher)

2. Winnetou

Apache chief Winnetou comes up regularly in May’s stories, and readers are first introduced to the character in this 1893 novel. The story follows May’s fictitious journey into the Wild West, where he’s working as a railroad surveyor and meets Winnetou, future Apache chief. This book is the first in a much-loved trilogy, following Winnetou through his adventures and Wild West escapades.

“Not just one murder, but mass murder. Just consider: When you make a carbine that shoots twenty-five times in succession and sell it to anyone at all, the murdering that will take place out on the prairies, the forests, and ravines of the mountain will become horrible. The poor Indians will be shot down like coyotes, and in a few years, none will be left. Do you want that on your conscience?”

Karl May
Winnetou I
  • May, Karl (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 353 Pages - 06/28/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

3. The Treasure of Silver Lake

This 1891 tale follows bandits preparing a heist in the Wild West but are stopped by Winnetou, Old Firehand, and Old Shatterhand. Readers love seeing the gang come together to fight off those trying to claim what doesn’t belong to them. This classic and exciting tale is loved amongst the wild west genre fans worldwide.

“They wore leather trousers with fringes, and yellow moccasins. Their shoulders were covered by fine blankets that would have fetched sixty dollars in the East. In contrast their guns looked very shabby. Their smooth black hair reached down their back. Their round face showed goodwill, which was only emphasized by the two painted red patches on their cheeks.”

Karl May
The Treasure of Silver Lake
  • May, Karl (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 252 Pages - 11/03/2014 (Publication Date) - CTPDC Publishing Limited (Publisher)

4. The Son of Bear Hunter

Karl May’s 1887 tale of life in the Wild West takes readers on the journey of Vohkadeh as he makes his way to the Black Hills. Once he arrives, he asks for help in rescuing his father, who an opposing tribe has captured. Vohkadeh puts together a group of men who are willing to help. The crew joins Winnetou, a group of Shoshone tribe members, and several Absaroka tribe members as they make their way through Yellowstone Park to save Vohkadeh’s father: Bear Hunter.

“His age was mysterious. There were thousands of small wrinkles on his lean face, yet it was youthful. As if joyful little devils had looked out of these wrinkles, ready for any joke. He shaved his face every morning, even in the most difficult circumstances, which showed his bravery, and announced, ‘Even if the wind blows, and a thousand tomahawks fall from the sky, my face is well groomed!’”

Karl May
The Son of Bear Hunter
  • May, Karl (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 212 Pages - 12/01/2014 (Publication Date) - CTPDC Publishing Limited (Publisher)

5. Old Surehand I

In this 1894 story, Winnetou works with Old Shatterhand to protect their new companion, Old Surehand. Despite not knowing much about Old Surehand, the trio can come together as they make their way through Llano Estacado, where they must protect others against attacks from the Comanche tribe. An exciting tale of friendship, villainy and tough decisions makes for a page-turner that you won’t want to put down.

“As long as I was on the Sierra, I had fewer concerns; there was enough cover, and I was used to taking great care. But then there were open plateaus on which I could have been detected from a great distance; they were crisscrossed by precipitous gorges and deep canyons with only scarce vegetation behind which a rider could hardly find shelter.”

Karl May
Old Surehand I
  • May, Karl (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 377 Pages - 07/05/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

6. The Ghost of the Llano Estacado

May’s 1888 novel details adventures that take place in Yellowstone National Park. The protagonists of the book come together with members of the Apache tribe. Together, the travelers and the Apache must support each other through heroic feats as they work to keep others in Yellowstone safe. With mystery and intrigue, this novel is a thrilling tale that makes the readers appreciate the importance of companionship and friendship.

“By one of the tables an elderly man sat, and smoked his pipe. He was a broad shouldered, strong man. His once blonde beard was now greyish. It was broad and long like a patriach’s. His big, veiny hand showed that he rested little in his life, but worked a lot.”

Karl May
The Ghost of the Llano Estacado
  • May, Karl (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 194 Pages - 12/15/2014 (Publication Date) - CTPDC Publishing Limited (Publisher)

7. Black Mustang

In 1897, Black Mustang told the tale of two cousins working on getting rich while riding through the West. The two cousins meet Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, and together, the four rides through the Rocky Mountains and work to stay safe from attacks by Tokvi-Kava. This novel provides oversight of the struggles in the time of the Wild West. Follow along to discover how these cousins build a life for themselves and survive the challenges they face.

“Despite the unrelenting thunder and lightning, as well as the dangerously close vicinity of the river, which tore and dug at its banks, they conversed as uninhibited with each other as if they were riding across a prairie in bright sunshine.”

Karl May
Sale
Black Mustang
  • May, Karl (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 263 Pages - 07/06/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

FAQs About The Best Karl May Books

Did Karl May ever visit America?

Yes, Karl May eventually make it to America, but contrary to the subjects of several of his books, he never visited the American Wild West. Instead, the author was an avid reader and gained much of his knowledge of America from books.

How many books did Karl May write?

Karl May wrote 70 books, including The Oil Prince (1894), The Treasure of Silver Lake (1891), The Son of Bear Hunter (1887), Old Surehand I (1894), Winnetou (1893), and The Ghost of the Llano Estacado (1888). May’s books surrounded fictional adventures and were typically set in Western America.

What is the name of Karl May’s most famous book?

According to many Karl May fans, Winnetou is his most famous book, followed closely by Old Surehand. May made the Winnetou stories into a three-book series and did the same with the Old Surehand series.

Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best books by Sylvia Day!

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