Reading List for Adults

We have compiled a list of books that delve deeper into our nation’s history of travel. The titles are divided into sections reflecting the “Journey Stories” exhibit set up. We hope you enjoy these many different journey stories!

Click here for a printable version.

One Way Trip

917.304 Col    Colonial American travel narratives by Various Authors

Mary Rowlandson tells of her capture, in 1676, by native Americans, Sarah Kemble Knight’s journal reflects her growing resourcefulness as she travels from Boston to New Haven in 1704, William Byrd II records the “secret history” of the 1728 expedition to survey a disputed boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina, whilst Dr. Alexander Hamilton vividly describes colonial life in 1744.

973.2 Tay       American colonies: The Settling of North America  by Alan Taylor
This is a very readable and accessible survey of the history of the American Colonies.

973.22 Phi      Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick.
This book has been hailed by critics for attempting to strip the mythology from the fateful
voyage of the Mayflower and the dynamic of those who traveled to the New World on its

977.0049 Whi The middle ground: Indians, empires, and republics in the Great Lakes region, 1650-1815 by Richard White

This book tells how Europeans and Indians met, regarding each other as alien, as virtually nonhuman, and how between 1650 and 1815 they constructed a common, mutually comprehensible world in the region around the Great Lakes that the French called the “Pays d’en haut”.

B Hutchinson American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman
Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante.

Written by an 11th-generation granddaughter of Anne Hutchinson, this book explores the life of Anne Hutchinson and vividly describes her conflicts with the Puritan church. The book provides an interesting look into the roles of women in the early colonies.

Pushing the Boundaries 

F Morrison     Beloved: a novel by Toni Morrison

Acclaimed author Toni Morrison tells the story–set in post-Civil War Ohio–of Sethe, an escaped slave who has risked death in order to wrench herself from a living death; who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad: a woman of “iron eyes and backbone to match.” Sethe lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing intruder who calls herself Beloved. Morrison was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Literature for Beloved.

917.804 Rau   Surviving the Oregon Trail, 1852 by Weldon Willis Rau.

The 1852 overland migration was the largest on record, with numbers swelled by Oregon-bound settlers as well as hordes of gold-seekers destined for California. It also was a year in which cholera took a terrible toll in lives. Included here are firsthand accounts of this fateful year, including the words and thoughts of a young married couple, Mary Ann and Willis Boatman.

973.7 Bor        Bound for Canaan the Underground Railroad and the war for the soul of America by Fergus M. Bordewich.

A history of the Underground Railroad as the movement reflected America’s moral complexities and political divisiveness offers insight into the role played by the nation’s westward expansion, the spiritual beliefs that motivated each side of the conflict, and the efforts of black and white citizens to save tens of thousands of lives.

973.7115 Pas  Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory by David Blight

Beautifully illustrated collection of collection of essays on the Underground Railroad written by 15 distinguished historians.

977.311 Cro   Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon

Cronon’s history of 19th-century Chicago is in fact the history of the widespread effects  of a single city on millions of square miles of ecological, cultural, and economic frontier. Cronon combines archival accuracy, ecological evaluation, and a sweeping understanding of the impact of railroads, stockyards, catalog companies, and patterns of property on the design of development of the entire inland United States to this date.

978 Dar          The Santa Fe Trail: its history, legends, and lore by David Dary

The Santa Fe Trail which ran between Missouri and Kansas and New Mexico–a lifeline to and from the Southwest for more than two centuries. Drawing from letters, journals, expedition reports, business records, and newspaper stories, Dary brings to life the people who laid down the trail and opened commerce with Spanish America: Native Americans and mountain men, traders, trappers, and freighters, surveyors and soldiers, men and women of many different nationalities.

978.02 Unr     The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60 by John David Unruh

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, Unruth presents a new picture for the overland journey on the Oregon Trail.

Across the Great “Desert” to the West

333.7 Ste         Beyond the hundredth meridian: John Wesley Powell and the second opening of the West by Wallace Stegner

John Wesley Powell fought in the Civil War and it cost him an arm. But it didn’t stop him from exploring the American West. Stegner gives a thrilling account of Powell’s struggle against western geography and Washington politics and appreciate his unparalleled understanding of the West.

813.4 Twa      Roughing it by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens)

Mark Twain’s recounting of his Western crossing through Nevada Territory in the 1860s. His keen eye as journalist, humorist, and novelist emerges, along with bitingly accurate recounting of Americans’ many journeys and re-settlements.

970.5 Bro        Bury my heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian history of the American West by Dee Brown.

First published in 1970, this extraordinary book changed the way Americans think about the original inhabitants of their country. Beginning with the Long Walk of the Navajos in 1860 and ending 30 years later with the massacre of Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, it tells how the American Indians lost their land and lives to a dynamically expanding white society.

978 Lim          The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West by Patricia Nelson Limerick

The “settling” of the American West has been perceived throughout the world as a series of quaint, violent, and romantic adventures. But Limerick interprets the stories and the characters in a new way: the trappers, traders, Indians, farmers, oilmen, cowboys, and sheriffs of the Old West “meant business” in more ways than one, and their descendants mean business today.

978.02 Wom   Women’s diaries of the westward journey [collected by] Lillian Schlissel

An expanded edition of one of the most original and provocative works of American history of the last decade, which documents the pioneering experiences and grit of American frontier women. A stirring collection of the diaries of women on the Overland Trail.

979.437 Rar   Desperate passage: the Donner Party’s perilous journey West by Ethan Rarick

Drawing on fresh archaeological evidence, recent research on topics ranging from survival rates to snowfall totals, and heartbreaking letters and diaries made public by descendants a century-and-a-half after the tragedy, this is an intimate portrait of the Donner party and their unimaginable ordeal.

Railroads Span the Nation 

385.0973 Amb Nothing like it in the world: the men who built the transcontinental railroad, 1863-1869 by             Stephen E. Ambrose.

In this account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage, Stephen E. Ambrose recounts the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad — the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks.

385.0973 Bai  Empire express: building the first transcontinental railroad byDavid Haward Bain

The building of the transcontinental railroad was the nineteenth century’s most transformative event, second only to the Civil War. Haward’s narrative captures three dramatic decades in which the U.S. doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national identity. 

Accelerated Mobility

F Arnow         The Doll Maker by Harriette Arnow

Uprooted from her backwoods Kentucky home, strong-willed Gertie Nevel and her family are thrust into the confusion and chaos of wartime Detroit. Gertie battles unendurable poverty to protect her children and her heritage, yet is still amazingly able to create beauty in the suffocating shadow of ugliness and despair.

F Steinbeck    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature for this work.

304.809 Gre   The southern diaspora: how the great migrations of Black and white Southerners transformed America by James N. Gregory

Between 1900 and the 1970s, twenty million southerners migrated north and west. Weaving together for the first time the histories of these black and white migrants, James Gregory traces their paths and experiences in a comprehensive new study that demonstrates how this regional diaspora reshaped America by “southernizing” communities and transforming important cultural and political institutions 

388.122 Lew   Divided highways: building the interstate highways, transforming American life by Tom Lewis

The interstate highway system, begun far back in the 19th century but completed only a few years ago, was the largest work of civil construction ever undertaken by a democratic power. Lewis, describes the building of the first national and post roads, the great parkways that connected such far-flung cities as Winnipeg and Miami, the once rural roads that, over the decades, blossomed into multilane highways.

973 Lem         The promised land: the great Black migration and how it changed America by Nicholas Lemann.

Lemann particularizes and personalizes in life stories the forces that shifted five million blacks North after 1940 and then trapped most of them and their progeny in poverty. His essay in social causation and consequences  rings as a manifesto of public policy for the 1990s with the clear theme that the nation can and must undo what its racism has done.

 Our Expanded World

F Kerouac      On the Road by Jack Kerouac

The semi-autobiographical novel describes Kerouac’s road-trip adventures across the United States and Mexico with Neal Cassaday in the late-40’s. It’s one of the classic ‘road trip’ literary pieces and describes Kerouc’s relationships with other Beat writers and friends.

F McCarthy   The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006. It is a post-apocalyptic tale describing a journey taken by a father and his young son over a period of several months across a landscape blasted years before by an unnamed cataclysm that destroyed civilization and, seemingly, most life on earth.

388.122 Hos    Lincoln Highway: the Main Street Across America by Drake Hokanson

A text-and-photo essay and history explaining the mystery of this once-famous highway.

388.122 Wal   The Lincoln Highway: coast to coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate by Michael Wallis and Michael S. Williamson.

One of America’s most popular historians joins with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer to celebrate America’s first transcontinental highway in all its neon glory, the road of Gettysburg, Pretty Boy Floyd, Notre Dame, the Great Salt Lake, and the Gold Rush Trail. Once a symbol of limitless potential, it is now undergoing (as Route 66 did twenty years ago) a miraculous revival.

720.978 Sco    Along Route 66 by Quinta Scott

An architectural study of various styles found along the famous Route 66 trail from Chicago to Los Angeles. Stories of the buildings discovered along the way supplement historical photographs.

917.3 Bry        The lost continent: travels in small-town America by Bill Bryson.

The Lost Continent is a book by celebrated travel writer and humorist Bill Bryson, chronicling his 13,978 mile trip around the United States in 1987-88. This is the first of Bryson’s travel books.

917.304 Ste     Travels with Charley: in search of America by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley is a travelogue that documents the road trip Steinbeck took with his French standard poodle, Charley, around the United States in 1960. He wrote that he was moved by a desire to see his country on a personal level, since he made his living writing about it. He had many questions going into his journey, the main one being, “What are Americans like today?”

917.3049 But  Greetings from the Lincoln Highway: America’s First Coast-to-Coast Road by Brian Butko

A comprehensive coffee table book which serves as a complete guide to the road, with maps, directions, photos, postcards, memorabilia, and histories of towns, people, and places. A mix of research and on-the-road fun, the book placed the LHA’s early history in the context of road building, politics, and geography, explaining why the Lincoln followed the path it did across the United States

917.804 Wal   Route 66: the mother road by Michael Wallis

Historian Michael Wallis revisits people and places that made the Mother Road on American icon, and uncovers new treasures. A tribute, the book takes us on an unforgettable journey through the secret corners and hidden towns of America’s most famous and beloved highway.


The Quaker Heritage Center and Watson Library at Wilmington College have compiled a reading list for children and adults about the Quaker “journey stories.” From the beginnings of Quakerism in England in the 1640s, Quakers have been on the move: England to the American colonies, the mid-Atlantic states to the South, the South to the Northwest Territory, the Ohio country to the West Coast, and beyond.

Reading List: A Quaker Journey Story—Read More About It!