Park Related Books I Read in 2021

It’s time again to review the park related books I’ve read this year. I’ve previously cataloged NPS books in 2019 and 2020. I completed my Goodreads challenge of 40 books read for the year, and then some.

Have you ever read a book about, or set in a National Park? Would you recommend it? Here are the ones I read this year, in no particular order:


Gloryland by Shelton Johnson

I read Gloryland as a part of The Joy Trip Reading Project. Joy Trip is an online bookclub, founded by journalist and University of Wisconsin assistant professor James Edward Mills, to foster a dialog around diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. Each month’s title was discussed in a Goodreads forum and featured a Zoom with the author. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the one with Shelton Johnson.

Through the eyes of Elijah, we experience the life of a Black man during difficult times in America. The novel begins with Emancipation Day in the Deep South and travels with Elijah across the country on his journey to becoming a Buffalo Soldier protecting the newly created Yosemite National Park.

This book was painful to read at times; some of the things that happen are truly horrible. But Johnson’s writing is so vividly beautiful it carries you along for the ride. Shelton Johnson is a National Park Ranger In Yosemite who interprets Buffalo soldier history for the park, so his depictions are dead-on. The history is thoroughly researched and Elijah’s story provides a personal connection to the past for the reader.


When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle

I picked up this book on the recommendation of a National Park Traveler’s Club member. It’s set in Channel Islands National Park. The protagonist is a National Park Service biologist trying to restore endangered native species by eliminating invasive species like rats and feral pigs. Her restoration program is opposed by animal rights activists and the conflict between the two sides escalates throughout the novel.


Ill Wind by Nevada Barr

This is the third in the Ranger Anna Pigeon series. Nevada Barr was once a national park ranger and wrote a 19 book series of mysteries, with each novel set in a different National Park. Barr’s vivid descriptions transport readers to the park setting. Ill Wind features a murder mystery in the Anasazi Ruins in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.


The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo

This was another Joy Trip Reading Project selection. Derick Lugo was a Brooklyn comedian who’d never hiked. Temporarily out of work, he decided on a whim to hike the entire length of the AT, beginning in Georgia. This book is a funny, humble and engaging memoir of Lugo’s 2200 mile trek to Maine.


Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant

I learned about Grant’ Memoirs on a visit to the Grant National Memorial. At the end of his life, Grant was bankrupt and needed to provide for his family. He penned the work on his deathbed and Mark Twain published it. It sold very well.

I believe I read an abridged version. I found it to be interesting, though I did skim over a lot of the battle strategy part.


Leave Only Footprints by Conor Knighton

I’ve followed more than one quest to visit all the national parks in one year, but this book is the most poignant recap I’ve read. It made the parks come alive for me.


Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

The Zane Grey house is administered by the NPS as part of the Upper Delaware unit. Riders of the Purple Sage was Grey’s most popular novel. I thought it was just OK. Some of it really doesn’t age well, like the weak, simpering female characters. Or the use of the word “ejaculated” in place of ‘exclaimed!” But these novels did give rise to the American Western film genre.


Happy New Year!