When planning your trip to the South, it’s important to research where you’re going. So we’ve compiled a list of the best books about Arkansas and by Arkansas authors to help you prepare. No matter whether you’re a resident looking to learn more about your home state or a first-timer curious about history, these books are sure to help you enjoy it more.
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Books by Arkansas Authors
True Grit by Charles Portis
El Dorado native Portis wrote the Western classic True Grit, which became a New York Times bestseller and subsequently two films. Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross wants to avenge the murder of her father in Fort Smith, Arkansas. She hires a US Marshal named Rooster Cogburn, known for having one eye and a mean streak. Together they embark on a journey to track down the coward that killed her father.
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green
The modern classic Summer of My German Soldier was written in 1973 and has become a film and musical. Set in Jenkinsville, Arkansas during World War II, a Jewish girl named Patty befriends an escaped German prisoner of war named Anton. He moves away from the Nazi ideology as she hides him in the garage above her parents’ house.
The Pitcher Shower by Donald Harington
In The Pitcher Shower, Hoppy drives into the Ozarks towns and is welcomed with food and attention for his shows that he puts on. But when a teenage stowaway shows up in his truck and a traveling preacher follows close behind, it threatens to take away their audience.
South of Little Rock by George Rollie Adams
A fictionalized account of real-life events, South of Little Rock is set around the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. It tells the stories of people within a community south of Little Rock as they reckon with changes, including a school teacher adapting to new students, an unmarried Northerner with a secret, and an elderly woman clinging to a long-gone way of life.
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Written in the style of Southern Gothic, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake centers around the Moses clan and their annual reunions on a sprawling Arkansas farm. Charismatic preacher Samuel Lake brings his wife Willadee Moses and their three children to the festivities. But tragedy strikes, sending a ripple through the extended family.
Fiction Set in Arkansas
A Painted House by John Grisham
Based on Grisham’s own summers spent in Arkansas, A Painted House tells of a boy who works on a cotton farm in the Arkansas Delta. Two groups of migrant workers arrive, along with two dangerous men, and a murder finds the town at odds with accusations. The story is told through the eyes of a young boy who witnesses the events.
Hot Springs by Stephen Hunter
Set in the town of the same name in 1946, Hot Springs is the center of corruption and greed for gamblers and the criminal underworld. Gangster Owney Maddox runs his empire with an iron fist, wearing stylish suits. A prosecutor looks to take down these operations, recruiting an ex-Marine friend to be his deputy.
Blood Ties by Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen
In Blood Ties, LiAnna and daughter Karina settle into their new life in Sheridan, Arkansas, moving from chaotic Los Angeles. She cares for her aging parents on their farm and tries to forget her life as a former detective. LiAnna finds love again and is asked to investigate theft at an assisted living facility. But it turns out that this petty theft is just the tip of the iceberg.
Sugar by Bernice L. McFadden
In Sugar, a young sex worker named Sugar arrives in Bigelow, Arkansas for a fresh start. She moves next door to Pearl, whose daughter was murdered fifteen years prior. The novel weaves together the friendship between the two African-American women.
Non-Fiction Set in Arkansas
Concentration Camps on the Home Front by John Howard
Most Americans don’t know about the Japanese-American internment camps in Arkansas, which are the topic of Concentration Camps on the Home Front. Without trial or due process, over 20,000 people were sent to two camps in the state. The book covers one of the nation’s darkest secrets.
Hipbillies: Deep Revolution in the Arkansas Ozarks (Ozarks Studies) by Jared M. Phillips and Crescent Dragonwagon
While many know about the counterculture movement in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s, Hipbillies covers this period in the Ozarks. Oral histories and archival information round out this book about the country beatniks starting a revolution of their own.
Arkansas: A Concise History by Jeannie M. Whayne, Thomas A. DeBlack, Sabo III, George, and Morris S. Arnold
Arkansas: A Concise History covers the extensive history of the state, including historian-written sections on the Native American tribes, colonialism, the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement.
Hot Springs: From Capone to Costello (Images of America) by Robert K. Raines
Hot Springs: From Capone to Costello covers the town’s wild history from the 1800s to the present. It includes sections on gangsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, the casinos that they operated, and the thermal waters that gave the area its name.
A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School by Carlotta Walls Lanier and Lisa Frazier Pag
Written by one of the members of the Little Rock Nine, A Mighty Long Way is a memoir that centers around the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. It tells of the importance of standing up for yourself and the role it can play in history.
Guidebooks on Arkansas
Explorers Guide: Arkansas by Jana Wood
The comprehensive guidebook Explorers Guide: Arkansas covers the Natural State extensively, from the public diamond mine to the first national park and everything in between. There’s information on local history as well as the large network of state parks and plentiful color photos.
Arkansas Curiosities by Janie and Wyatt Jones
Arkansas Curiosities covers the lesser-known landmarks within the state including quirky characters, roadside oddities, and other offbeat stories. The book is broken up into regions and includes photos and history from each.
101 Things to Eat in Arkansas Before You Die by Kat Robinson
Come hungry after reading 101 Things to Eat in Arkansas Before You Die. Written by an Arkansas native and Emmy-nominated documentary guide, the book is broken up into six distinct regions and includes both mom and pop restaurants and white tablecloth eateries.
Arkansas Backstories, Volume 1: Quirks, Characters, and Curiosities of the Natural State by Joe David Rice
Written by a tourism expert, Arkansas Backstories highlights lesser-known histories and locations within the state. Tales include the CIA operations, spring training in Hot Springs, and the goldfish capital. There’s also a second volume with even more to learn.
Off the Beaten Path Arkansas by Patti DeLano
Whether you’re a local or visitor, Off the Beaten Path Arkansas has something for everyone. The book includes lesser-known museums, natural landmarks, and more.
We can’t leave out our own book, This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States, which includes Arkansas. Purchase your copy today!