True West: Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America
Betsey Gaines Quammen cut her teeth writing about the Bundy family (of ranchers-turned-vigilantes-over-grazing-rights fame), and her newest book True West builds on her experience with cults, hyper-individualism, rural-vs-urban attitudes, and other cultural myths and misconceptions that permeate the American West. Step by step, Quammen dives into various communities in the West in a quest to bust some of the biggest Western myths, chatting up creationist museum directors, self-identified radicalized ranchers, the ex-wife of a far-right cult leader, environmentalists, and plain regular folks trying to cut a living in this vast region. Though this book covers topics from Covid to the reintroduction of wolves, a common thread is the myth that the West is a land where rugged individualism is the status quo, instead of a land where a person lives or dies by their community. If you’re someone who lives in the West, particularly in a rural area, this book will ring true in a multitude of ways. If you’re someone just visiting our area or if you’ve ever romanticized the cowboy lifestyle, I would encourage you to crack open this book and get an idea of what’s really going on out here. Above all else, Quammen emphasizes this: talk to your neighbors, because our society depends on it.
"True West disentangles reality from centuries of myth and mystique."
--HAMPTON SIDES, New York Times bestselling author of Blood and Thunder
From the Northern Rockies to the Southwest deserts, Betsy Gaines Quammen explores how myths shape our identities, heighten polarizations, and fracture our shared understanding of the world around us. As she investigates the origins and effects of myths of the American West, Gaines Quammen travels through small towns and big cities, engaging people and building relationships at every stop. Misperceptions about land, politics, liberty, and self-determination threaten the well-being of people and communities across the country, and Gaines Quammen interrogates it all as she seeks to reconcile the anger and misunderstandings that continue to be fueled by the West's enduring myths and complex history. Whether sitting down with a militia member seeking to protect his rural Utah town from Antifa or talking with grassroots organizers working across ideological divides, Gaines Quammen brings to life connections and contradictions that shape our politics and our lives far beyond the West.