15 Best Zane Grey Books: Discover Your New Favorite Western Novel

Ready to take a ride into the Wild West? Discover the 15 best Zane Grey books to take you to a time of gunslinging adventure in our guide

Dentist and American author Zane Grey is known for his classic Western stories telling the tales of what life was like on the American frontier. Born in Zanesville, Ohio, the author attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he paid for his education with a baseball scholarship. He went on to play in the major and minor leagues before beginning a practice as a dentist in New York City.

After reading The Virginian by Owen Wister, Grey felt inspired to transition from writing articles to writing a full-length work inspired by his love of the West, entitled The Last of the Plainsmen. He followed Plainsmen with The Heritage of the Desert and Riders of the Purple Sage, and the author is known for creating rising action in a story that keeps readers engaged. 

Here Are The 15 Best Zane Grey Books

1. Riders of the Purple Sage

Riders of the Purple Sage follows Jim Lassiter, Jane Withersteen, and Bern Venters as they struggle to be accepted by the Mormon community in Utah. Withersteen’s hand has been promised to a Mormon elder, and Jim and Bern work to save her from a marriage she doesn’t want. The trio faces the trials and tribulations that come with love in the Wild West.

“Where I was raised a woman’s word was law. I ain’t quite outgrowed that yet.”

Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage

2. U.P. Trail

U.P. Trail chronicles the story of William Neale, an engineer who is fighting tough battles as he works for the United Pacific Railway. The trail winds from Missouri to Wyoming, and Neale must find a way to repeatedly escape the monotony of viewing the same cross-country landscape. Readers see Neale encounter badlands and bandits, all while staying focused on how he’ll get his train to its destination.

“In the eternal workshop of nature, the tenants of these unnamed and forgotten graves would mingle dust of good with dust of evil, and by the divinity of death resolve equally into the elements again.”

Zane Grey, The U. P. Trail

3. The Lone Star Ranger

The Lone Star Ranger gives readers an inside glimpse into the lives of Texas Rangers. Buck Duane is the novel’s protagonist. His tale of redemption from outlaw to law enforcer shows how the Wild West provided frontiersmen with the opportunity to turn their lives around.

“If Bain was drunk he did not show it in his movement. He swaggered forward, rapidly closing up the gap. Red, sweaty, disheveled, and hatless, his face distorted and expressive of the most malignant intent, he was a wild and sinister figure. He had already killed a man, and this showed in his demeanor.”

Zane Grey, The Lone Star Ranger

4. The Rainbow Trail

The Rainbow Trail follows John Shefford on his search for a new life in the Utah Valley. There, he met the love of his life, Fay Larkin, who changed everything. Shefford doesn’t care that Larkin is currently in jail, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her out. This book is a follow-up story to Riders of the Purple Sage.

“Red Lake must be his Rubicon. Either he must enter the unknown to seek, to strive, to find, or turn back and fail and never know and be always haunted.”

Zane Grey, The Rainbow Trail

5. The Spirit of the Border

The Spirit of the Border is a historical novel based on true events in the Ohio River valley in the late 1700s. The story details how white settlers attempted to convert Native Americans to Christianity and how the erasure of tradition negatively affected indigenous people.

“I was a preacher, and now I am thirsting for vengeance,” answered Christy, his face clouding darkly. “Wait until you learn what frontier life means. You are young here yet; you are flushed with the success of your teaching; you have lived a short time in this quiet village, where, until the last few days, all has been serene. You know nothing of the strife, of the necessity of fighting, of the cruelty which makes up this border existence.”

Zane Grey, The Spirit of the Border

6. Desert Gold

Grey’s novel Desert Gold follows Robert Burton, a solitary gold prospector. Burton is running from his past and eventually meets up with Jonas Warren, a man searching for his daughter, who has been shamed by a man Warren has yet to find. Burton reveals that he’s the man Warren is looking for, and together, the unlikely pair face the adventure of a lifetime.

“Strangely it came to Gale then that he was glad. Yaqui had returned to his own — the great spaces, the desolation, the solitude — to the trails he had trodden when a child, trails haunted now by ghosts of his people, and ever by his gods. Gale realized that in the Yaqui he had known the spirit of the desert, that this spirit had claimed all which was wild and primitive in him.”

Zane Grey, Desert Gold

7. The Last Trail

Written in 1909, The Last Trail makes it clear that Grey was enamored with the Wild West. The novel follows Jonathan Zane and Lewis Wetzel as they work to figure out life on the frontier. The Last Trail takes place in the Ohio River valley, an interesting departure from Grey’s typical Western-focused novels.

“What makes life worth living? Better surely, to yield to the stain of suicide blood in me and seek forgetfulness in the embrace of cold dark death.”

Zane Grey, The Last Trail

8. To The Last Man

To The Last Man is based on the Hashknife gang, a group that existed in Northern Arizona. Jean Isbel leads his family against that of Lee Jorth. The families have been battling one another for generations in the Southern heat. The story follows two families on the frontier as they feud through the war of the Tonto Basin until only one man remains.

“Unhappiness is only a change. Happiness itself is only change. So what does it matter? The great thing is to see life–to understand–to feel–to work–to fight–to endure.”

Zane Grey, To The Last Man

9. The Heritage of the Desert

The Heritage of the Desert was published in 1910 and was Grey’s first Western novel. Met with wide critical acclaim, the story paints a clear picture of what life was truly like for those living in the Southwest. Today, critics praise the novel for its realistic portrayal of American Indians.

“August Naab did not hold to the letter of the Mormon law; he argued that if the children could not be raised as Mormons with a full knowledge of the world, they would only be lost in the end to the Church.”

Zane Grey, The Heritage of the Desert

10. The Last of the Plainsmen

The Last of the Plainsmen takes readers to a time when the Wild West was quickly disappearing, and only a few men left could handle the toughness of unexplored terrain. The story details what it took to survive in the West, from tracking buffalo to wrangling cougars.

“If you want fame or wealth or wolves, go out and hunt for them.”

Zane Grey, The Last of the Plainsmen

11. The Man of the Forest

The Man of the Forest details the journey of a young woman who is taken captive. The novel’s titular character is committed to doing what it takes to return her to safety. The kidnapping has a lot at stake, as the woman taken is set to receive a monstrous inheritance. This novel was adapted into a feature film in 1933.

Looking for American novels to binge on a weekend? Check out our round-up of the best Erskine Caldwell books! Or you can use the search bar at the top right of the page to search for other best authors.

“Instinct may not be greater than reason, but it’s a million years older. Don’t fight your instincts so hard. If they were not good the God of Creation would not have given them to you.”

Zane Grey, The Man of the Forest

12. The Mysterious Rider

Hell Bent Wade takes center stage in The Mysterious Rider, a story that follows Wade through his journey as a gunfighter in the West. A young woman named Columbine’s hand in marriage has been promised to do a man she does not want, and Wade steps in to see if he can make the situation right. Like many of Grey’s stories, readers see how Wade turns his life around in searching for peace, redemption, and meaning.

“Get up, an’ take my scarf,” said Wade, “an’ bandage these bullet-holes I got.”

Zane Grey, The Mysterious Rider

13. Last of the Duanes

Last of the Duanes tells the story of Buckley Duane, a sharpshooter, and outlaw who tries to stay true to his morals while also running from the law. Eventually, Buckley works to find redemption by helping a Texas Ranger infiltrate a group of rustlers. If he succeeds, he’ll earn a pardon for his past crimes.

“He was the gunman, the gunthrower, the gunfighter – passionate and terrible.”

Zane Grey, Last of the Duanes

14. The Call of the Canyon

The Call of the Canyon is a Western novel that follows the story of Glenn Kilbourne, a WWI veteran who returns to America as a changed man following his overseas tour. While he looked forward to returning home to his fiance while he was away, he found that after he returned home, he was no longer satisfied by the life he left behind, and he needed to head out West to start anew.

“I knew you” d never be American enough to help me reconstruct my life.”

Zane Grey, The Call of the Canyon

15. The Border Legion

The Border Legion was published in 1916 and tells the story of Jack Kells. In the novel, Kells falls in love with Joan Randle, a captive of his legion. Grey takes readers on a journey of figuring out whether the captor is the bad guy – or if he’s saving Joan from something nefarious. The book was made into a feature film in both 1924 and 1930. Looking for the best books from the “Queen of Crime”? Check out our round-up of the best P.D. James books!

“She had grown now not to blame any man, honest miner or bloody bandit. She blamed only gold. She doubted its value. She could not see it a blessing. She absolutely knew its driving power to change the souls of men.”

Zane Grey, The Border Legion
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