Bandelier, Fanny, trans. The Journey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Chicago: Rio Grande Press, 1964. This strange first-person account marks the true beginnings of American literature. The conquistador spent years of privation with various northern Mexico Indian tribes after being shipwrecked near Florida in the late 1520s. He became a slave, a shaman, and a trader before finally finding his way back to civilization and inspiring the later “discovery” of the Southwest by the Spanish.
Barnes, Will C. Arizona Place Names. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988. The life’s work of a famous Arizonan who first came to the territory in 1854, this classic mixture of history, geography, and anecdote is a must-have for any serious Arizona explorer. First published in 1935, just a year before Barnes’s death, the book represents more than 30 years of work by the author.
Castañeda, Pedro de, et. al. The Journey of Coronado. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. There are dozens of editions of this useful and fascinating collection of some of the original documents from the Coronado expedition, which moved through southeastern Arizona on the way north looking for the mythical Seven Cities of Cíbola. In this book, translated from the original Spanish version, you get the story as it happened, written by members of the expedition and others.
Griffith, James S. Folk Saints of the Borderlands. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2003; and Beliefs and Holy Places. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992. Nobody explains the peculiar mixture of Catholicism and localized native beliefs that pervades the borderlands, creating new folk saints and holy places and infusing the land with meaning, better than “Big” Jim Griffith, a professor at the University of Arizona  and the Old Pueblo’s resident folklorist. Big Jim can often be seen on the local PBS affiliate, KUAT Channel 6, talking about the culture and legends of Pimería Alta.
Hart, John Bret. Tucson: Portrait of a Desert Pueblo. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, Inc., 1980. This out-of-print coffee-table history of the Old Pueblo  was sponsored by the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, but it’s still a dependable, well-written account of the city’s long history and has excellent historical photos throughout that really give one a sense of what the dusty old town was like not that long ago.
Miller, Neil. Kartchner Caverns: How Two Cavers Discovered and Saved One of the Wonders of the Natural World. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008. Miller tells the complete, thrilling story—based on interviews with nearly all those involved who are still living—of the long, secretive years in between the discovery of Kartchner Caverns  by two young cavers and the opening of the $30 million show-cave more than a decade later. Along the way, he brings up some interesting questions about whether this cave should be open to the public at all.
Monahan, Sherry. Tombstone’s Treasures: Silver Mines and Golden Saloons. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007. In a style that’s more sedate and considered, though no less interesting, than what you’ll find on Tombstone ’s dusty Allen Street , Monahan tells the real history of the world-famous mining camp.
Myal, Suzanne. Tucson’s Mexican Restaurants: Repasts, Recipes, and Remembrances. Tucson: Fiesta Publishing, 1997. This book appears to be out of print, but it’s still widely available online. It’s an interesting and comprehensive guide to Tucson ’s Mexican restaurant scene, with several recipes from locally famous cooks. It’s a bit out of date, but still a worthy guide to eating in Tucson.
Nequette, Anne M., and R. Brooks Jeffery. A Guide to Tucson Architecture. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002. This is an easy-to-read and relatively comprehensive guide to all of Tucson’s interesting and historic architecture. It also includes a good short general history of the region and its many architectural epochs.
Powell, Lawrence Clark. Arizona: A History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990. A more recent edition of the book first published in 1976, Powell’s history is not a definitive blow-by-blow, but rather a series of essays on various chapters in Arizona’s history and culture. A much-admired Southwestern writer, librarian, and scholar, Powell lived in Tucson for many years. His Southwest: Three Definitions (Benson, AZ: Singing Wind Bookshop, 1990) is an excellent trilogy of essays on the landscape and culture of the Southwest.
Sheridan, Thomas. Arizona: A History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995. This is a very well-written and informative general history of the state, one of the better examples out there of New Western history. Also by Sheridan, an anthropologist and professor at the University of Arizona , Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854–1941 is a very readable and interesting account of the influence this community once held in the community, and what happened to the community in the wake of the Anglo takeover after the Gadsden Purchase.
Smith, Dean. The Great Arizona Almanac: Facts About Arizona. Portland, OR: WestWinds Press, 2000. Former newspaperman Smith compiled this almanac, with entries on Arizona history, travel, current events, famous residents, mileage charts, zip codes, and area codes. It’s in dire need of a new edition, but is still very useful and interesting.
Sonnichsen, C. L. Tucson: The Life and Times of an American City. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. A thorough telling of the Old Pueblo ’s long history from its founding as a presidio in 1776 up to the early 1980s.
Brown, David E., and Carlos A. Gonzalez Lopez. Borderland Jaguars. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2001. The only comprehensive and complete book on the natural history of the borderland jaguar, this book includes a complete listing of the time, place, and circumstances of pretty much every jaguar sighting in Arizona from the 19th century until the turn of the 20th. Nearly all of those sightings resulted in the jaguar’s death by gunshot, by the way.
Carter, Jack L., et al. Common Southwestern Native Plants: An Identification Guide. Silver City, NM: Mimbres Press, 2003. A thorough but easy-to-use guide to plants you’re likely to see in Arizona; includes common species of the deserts, the forested mountains, and the plateau country.
Ffolliott, Peter F., and Owen K. Davis, eds. Natural Environments of Arizona: From the Deserts to the Mountains. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008. This recent collection of scholarly articles about the state’s various biomes contains a lot of very up-to-date information about the sky islands and other natural wonders of Southern Arizona.
Grubbs, Bruce. Desert Sense: Camping, Hiking & Biking in Hot, Dry Climates. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers Books, 2004. If you’re going to be hiking or riding a bike in the desert, especially if you’re doing it in the summer, consider picking up this or a similar book to familiarize yourself with desert survival beyond the basics of “bring water and wear a hat.”
Hanson, Jonathan. There’s a Bobcat in My Backyard! Living With and Enjoying Urban Wildlife. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2004. More than most cities its size, Tucson  is within easy and quick access to wilderness, and the more we encroach on that wilderness with our commercial and residential growth, the more contact we have with wild animals. This charming, informative book tells us how to avoid unwanted contact with the desert’s wild creatures as well as how to live with them, and watch them, for our own pleasure and edification.
Leavengood, Betty. Tucson Hiking Guide. Boulder,CO: Pruett Publishing Company, 1997. Widely available online, this is the best hiking guide to the most popular trails around the Tucson valley. It includes hikes in all of the area’s sky island ranges, and many desertland treks as well. Leavengood is something of a grand dame of Tucson hiking, and she prefers long, many-mile all-day hikes. If this isn’t really your bag, all of her hikes can be personalized and shortened quite easily.
Logan, Michael F. The Lessening Stream: An Environmental History of the Santa Cruz River. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002. A professor paints an attractive and elegiac portrait of what the river used to be like and explains why it isn’t that way anymore.
Olin, George. 50 Common Mammals of the Southwest. Tucson: Western National Parks Association, 2000. An introduction to Arizona’s mammals, this slim book with attractive illustrations is part of a series available throughout the state.
Quinn, Meg. Wildflowers of the Southwest. Tucson: Rio Nuevo, 2000. If you’re going to be hiking in the desert in spring, pick up this guide to the many wildflowers that bloom throughout the state.
Valenzuela-Zapata, Ana G., and Gary Paul Nabhan. Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003. This slim history of one of Tucson ’s favorite liquids will tell you all you need to know about tequila and mescal: what they are, how they’re made, and how they have influenced different Southwestern and Mexican cultures over time.
Jacoby, Karl. Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History. New York: Penguin, 2008. This book is part of a recent mini-rush of scholarly works about the Western Apache and the brutal Camp Grant Massacre of the 1871, which saw more than 100 sleeping Apache women and children slaughtered by a coalition of Anglo, Mexican, and Tohono O’odham leaders who wanted the band wiped out. This is a fascinating, well-researched book about a violent, shameful period of history that most Tucsonans, let alone Americans, know little about.
Nabhan, Gary Paul. The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in Papago Country. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982. Tucson-based ethnobiologist Nabhan writes with passion and verve about the Tohono O’odham and their desert homeland southwest of Tucson . This is a very readable, sometimes poetic account of this little-known people, form their ancient history to almost the present day, with a concentration on the unique adaptations they’ve made to the desert’s harsh patterns.
Record, Ian. Big Sycamore Stands Alone: The Western Apaches, Aravaipa, and the Struggle for Place. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. Record’s is the best book I’ve ever read about the Apache. He includes a diversity of Apache voices from the past as well as the present, and native voices, until quite recently, have always been the one rather obvious element missing from most studies of Native Americans.
Spicer, Edward H. Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the History of the Indians of the Southwest, 1533–1960. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962. The long title of this monumental, classic study by a late professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona  pretty much explains what it’s about. It’s a long, detailed book that chronicles the impact of the colonizers on all of Arizona’s tribes, and the chapters on the O’odham and the Apache are excellent.
Stockel, Henrietta H. Shame and Endurance: The Untold Story of the Chiricahua Apache Prisoners of War. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004. We’ve all heard of Geronimo, but few people know the story of how he and his people ended their days in captivity in Oklahoma, far from their beloved borderland home. This book is an eye-opening account of yet another shameful deed done to Arizona’s indigenous people.
Bowden, Charles. Blue Desert. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986; and Frog Mountain Blues. Tucson: University of Arizona, 1987. Bowden’s essays, reportage, and nature writing chronicle the darker side of the Sunbelt.
McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West. New York: Vintage, 1985. McCarthy, the finest living American writer, chronicles the brutal and bloody days when the Mexican government put out a $100 bounty for Apache scalps in Southern Arizona. It’s a beautiful, violent, and disturbing novel, but one that will never leave your consciousness. There’s even a scene that takes place at the Mission Tumacácori in the Santa Cruz Valley south of Tucson .
Shelton, Richard. Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007. Going Back to Bisbee. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992. Shelton is a world-renowned, award-winning poet and creative nonfiction author and longtime University of Arizona  professor. Crossing the Yard chronicles his decades-long efforts to teach creative writing classes in Arizona’s notoriously hard-core prison system. Going Back to Bisbee is the story of a job he had teaching school in the small mining town in the 1950s, and includes the natural and human history of the region.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Almanac of the Dead. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991. Large sections of this Southwestern epic take place in Tucson, but it is a dark, rather dirty and underground Tucson that Silko conjures in this ambitious, rollicking novel about native peoples struggling with the past and the modern world. Born at the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, Silko received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant and has lived in the Old Pueblo.
Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New York: Little Brown and Co., 1996. The author killed himself, at age 46, in 2008, but before that he wrote this epic story about addiction, America, tennis, and the funniest movie of all time. Portions of this huge novel take place in the Old Pueblo, and Wallace was enrolled in the University of Arizona’s Creative Writing Program for a few semesters long ago.