In 2018 I challenged myself to read books for every state in the United States. I knew that the challenge would take me a couple of years so I didn’t give myself a strict deadline to finish it.
I ended up finishing the challenge in December of 2019. During the two years that it took me to do the challenge, I read many books that were not for the challenge. But since I almost always read several books at a time I tried to always have one going that fit the challenge.
I kept the rules fairly simple. Each book that I picked had to be about the state, a person from the state, an event that happened in the state, or share a story of the history of the state.
My goal for the challenge was to learn more about the people and places in the U.S.
Reading a book about every state forced me outside my normal reading comfort zone. I picked up books that I would never have read otherwise.
Not all the books that I read were favorites, but I am still glad that I read them. The books I read helped me learn about the people, cultures, and places that I knew nothing about.
I had planned to share my top ten books from my books from every state challenge, but I couldn’t narrow it down to just ten.
I kept going back to the same twelve books. These are the books that contained great writing. They are also the books that impacted me the most.
They are the books that I couldn’t stop thinking about. They are the books that were so good that my friends and family are probably tired of hearing me talk about them. They are books that share a world that is different from what most people know and understand.
Not everyone is going to challenge themselves to read a nonfiction book for every state in the U.S., but I hope my list of books inspires you to pick up a book or two that it is outside your normal reading comfort zone.
Favorite Books From Books For Every State Challenge
Madison Park a Place of Hope by Eric Motley
I read this for my Alabama book and really enjoyed it. One of the reasons I gave myself this challenge was to push me outside of my comfort zone and the normal type of books I would usually pick up. This book was an example of that. I am not sure I would have ever read this if I hadn’t challenged myself to read a book for every state and it ended up being one of my favorite books of the challenge.
It is the inspirational story of the author, Eric L. Motley. It is his story, but also the story of the small town he grew up in and the people who helped him become what he is today. It is a great example of how doing small and big things for others can change lives in both small and big ways.
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Bad Blood was one of my favorite books of 2018 and I have mentioned it numerous times since then. I picked it and started reading it and could not put it down. I read it in less than two days. This is one of those books that makes you realize that fact is often stranger than fiction.
The story is fascinating and the writing is very well done. It takes place in Silicon Valley so it was the perfect book for California. If you love nonfiction books that show that truth is stranger than this is a must read.
Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman and Julian Smith
Cowboys and rodeos are not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hawaii, but Hawaii has a history of cowboys and the America West that very people know about. I am not a huge western fan. My daughter loves Westerns, but they have never been my first choice for books or movies. This book might change that.
Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman and Julian Smith was a great read and perfect for the state of Hawaii. This is one of those book that I loved not just because it was well written, but because it shared a part of the history of Hawaii that no one really knows about. If you like unusual history this is a very interesting read.
The Stranger In the Woods by Michael Finkel
This books makes my favorite lists simply because the story is so fascinating. and yet so odd. It is about a modern day hermit, and how he went undiscovered for years. It is one of those stories that is kind of unbelievable, but true. It happened in Maine and the book describes how Maine and its culture, landscape, and people made this possible. This story probably couldn’t have happened anywhere else. It took the uniqueness of Maine for it to happen.
Educated by Tara Westover
This is another book that I have mentioned so many times since I read it. It is a book that you won’t forget. I always struggle to say that I enjoyed a nonfiction book like this that shares a tragic event or difficult life and childhood. Maybe saying I found the book very fascinating is a better way to describe it. Once I started this book, I had trouble putting it down.
In this book the author tells her story of a difficult childhood in rural Idaho, which is why I knew it was perfect for a book about Idaho. If you love nonfiction memoirs and haven’t read this one I highly encourage you to pick it up.
Devil In the White City by Erik Larson
The Devil In the White City is the first book by Erik Larson that I have read, and I loved it! This book has been on my TBR list for a long time. I finally picked it up for my Illinois book and I am so glad that I did.
Once I started this book, I could not put it down. The Devil In the White City is a fascinating true crime story that I knew nothing about. And now I want to read everything that Erik Larson has written.
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
This book is one of my daughter’s favorite books and after I read it I can see why. This is a great book about leadership, trials, life, and human nature.
The book is about whaling and the events of a tragedy at sea. But the book works well for a book about Massachusetts for my books for every state challenge because it also contains so much information about Nantucket, the history of Nantucket, and life on Nantucket in the 1800’s. This is a book I highly recommend.
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington
This book is a book that I feel like didn’t get the attention that it deserved. This is a story that more people need to read about. This books was so fascinating, yet so sad. It is a story that is so hard to believe happened and yet it happened. Not only did it happen, it happened in recent history. This is not a long ago type of story. This is a “it happened in my generation” story. It covers the important topic of crime and injustice in the south and how two men manipulated the system in order to make money and further their careers.
I will admit that this was not a fast read for me. It goes into quite a bit of detail about crime against women and kids. It is a rough read, and one that I did not read right before bed. It is graphic and sad, but such an important event that not very many people know about. I highly recommend it.
After I read this book my husband read it and loved it. He has now recommended it to so many people. The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist is a book and story that more people need to know about.
Once Upon A Town by Bob Greene
Once Upon a Town makes my list of favorites because it is such an inspirational story about the power that everyday people can have. Simple acts of kindness can change people in big and small ways.
I picked this book up at a used book store when I realized that it would work as a book about Nebraska for my books for every state challenge. I had no idea if it was going to be good or not. But as soon as I read it I texted a friend that grew up in Nebraska and told her that she had to read this book. It was that good. This is one of those books that makes a state and town proud.
If you are from Nebraska and haven’t heard the story of North Platte, you need to read this book. I loved Once Upon a Town because it shared a unique view of WWII. I have read quite a few WWII books, but I have never read one quite like this one.
This book shared how a small town in middle America made a huge difference in WWII. Simple acts of kindness made in a difference in thousands of young men’s lives. This town only had a few minutes with soldiers coming to and from war, but they made the most of those few minutes. If you love WWII history, this is a great read.
The Pact by Drs. Davis, Jenkins, and Hunt
The Pact is another one of my favorite books from this challenge because it is another one of the books that I would have never picked up if it hadn’t been for this challenge.
The Pact shares the inspirational story of three men who grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Their lives were surrounded by poverty, crime, and temptations, but these three men made a pact to become doctors, and they did just that. With hard work, determination, and encouragement, they became doctors. Not only did they all three become doctors, they returned to the area they grew up in and gave back to their communities. This is a powerful and inspirational story.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
My father-in-law and Grace both read Killers of the Flower Moon and loved it. My husband and I then both read it and loved it. If you know my family in real life I am sure that you have heard us talk about this book many times. We live in Oklahoma and knew nothing about this part of Oklahoma history.
This is a nonfiction book that reads like fiction. If you enjoy true crime or crime and murder type fiction, I highly recommend this book.
It would also be great for those that read a lot of fiction, but would like to read more nonfiction. Once I started this book, I could not put it down. This is a must read for anyone that lives in Oklahoma or that wants to know more about Native American history.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
I am an Oregon girl. I was born and raised there. Some people might think that this is an odd choice for an Oregon book, but it is actually a great book about Oregon. NIKE was founded in Oregon and the book shares so much about Oregon and life in Oregon during the years that Nike became the company it is today. This book includes not only the story of NIKE, but the culture and story of Portland, colleges in Oregon, and the outdoor life that the people of Oregon love.
I grew up about an hour from NIKE headquarters. The Costco that my mom shopped at for years is just down the road from it. I have friends and family that live in the area and that work for NIKE. So this book is perfect for Oregon.
But I didn’t pick this book simple because I grew up in Oregon. Shoe Dog is well written. The story draws you in. It makes the story of how shoes are made fascinating. It is also a great business story of how a company was built and the work it took for NIKE to become what it has become.