By Sidney Williams
I’ve already written very highly about Moscow, both living in it and the beautiful nature surrounding it, but I’d like to expand on that more by recommending some wonderful books about my hometown. I remember during the first year or so working at BookPeople that the parents of a friend asked me to curate some books on the area for them. They had just moved up from Lewiston, and in each place they lived they always liked to learn more. At the time I didn’t know what was out there that well, so I could only give them a few options, but after all these years I’m still thinking about how I could have done better. In this article I intend to finally provide the reading material that’ll help anyone interested learn more about the area BookPeople calls home.
The best books to learn about Moscow Idaho and the Palouse are Moscow: Living and Learning on the Palouse, Indian Creek Chronicles, The People, In the Wilderness, Psychiana Man: A Mail-Order Prophet, and The Palouse Prairie Field Guide. Each explore either the history or the surrounding nature of Moscow, providing an excellent base to build an understanding of the area off of.
I have mentioned a few of these books in my previous article on how amazing a place to live Moscow is (you can read it here). But here, I want to highlight how these books can be used to learn about the history of the area and the different aspects each explore.
Moscow: Living and Learning on the Palouse
This book is especially cool because Julie R. Monroe is both a friend of the bookstore, and a local, so everything is written close to home. Moscow: Living and Learning on the Palouse follows Moscow from its inception in the lands of the Nez Perce to the small-town defying arts and education culture that it has developed today. The book really emphasizes how Moscow is unique in its culture and it gives a very good history lesson on how it as a town came to be. Moscow is, and always has been, a small intimate community, and Monroe’s writing reflects that.
Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter in the Bitterroot Wilderness
A little more far afield as the rangers that Fromm works with are out of Orofino. Indian Creek Chronicles is the author telling of his winter months spent alone in a tent. Autobiographical, and nature focused, Fromm grapples with the difficulties of being self-sufficient in a remote mountain setting. Although, the reason I’m recommending this book is mostly due to Bre’s glowing recommendation. She has been with us for years, and still this is one of her favorite nonfiction books of all time, she says that it’s well researched and the writing is accessible. Pick it up if you’re interested in learning more about this area’s natural ecosystem and just how brutal Idaho winters can actually be.
Encounters with the People: Written and Oral Accounts of Nez Perce Life to 1858
One of the books I’ve picked up in my ongoing journey of trying to learn more about the people Indigenous to the Palouse. As mentioned above, Moscow sprung up in Nez Perce country, and so (in my opinion) the best way to learn about the soul of the area is to learn about its original people. A very large book, Encounters with the People is a historical account of interactions with the Nez Perce over the years from first encounters to 1858. The authors make no claim that this book is a comprehensive history of the Nez Perce, merely a series of snapshots of what life was like. I really feel like literature like this is extremely important in the mosaic of available information on an area. Reading as much about the indigenous people of Idaho as I have has made me feel more aware of the land and the importance of it. I wholeheartedly recommend going on a similar journey.
In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country
Poet Laureate Kim Barnes (born in Lewiston!) is an autobiographical account of growing up in a family of loggers during a time of poor economy and the onset of automation. The writing is (of course) excellent with vivid descriptions of the environment that Barnes grew up in. This book is also an entry in BookPeople’s “Badass Women” section of the store which feature strong women in a central role.
Psychiana Man: A Mail-Order Prophet, His Followers, and the Power of Belief in Hard Times
To me, this is the wildest historical event that happened in Moscow. During the start of the Great Depression, Frank Bruce Robinson started his own religion that promised “health, wealth, and happiness to those that that believed in ‘God Power.’” Eventually, Robinson goes on trial for passport fraud and has a sensationalized trial in Moscow Idaho which is followed all over the country. Not only is this book an interesting look at the Great Depression and cults, but it happened in my hometown! Pick this one up if you like reading about the cults of history.
Palouse Prairie Field Guide
Another recommendation from our very own Bre. This book is aimed directly at people who love plants. It is very descriptive and uses accessible language so that anyone picking it up can use it to start identifying the local flora. Of all the books I’m recommending, this is the only one that actively encourages you to go outside and explore the nature surrounding us. It’s a simple concept that is very well executed.
There are so many ways to learn about the area you live in. Personally, I think that going out into the community and providing patronage to local shops, or going on trails, or to parks is the best way to get a sense of the modern state of a place, but to really understand it you need to sit down and read. All of the books I’ve recommended here will give you an excellent baseline understanding of the people and places of the Palouse through time. It’ll show you that we are a tight knit community that tries our best to be in tune with each other and the nature that surrounds us. If you want to learn more about Moscow and what it’s like living here, check out my article on exactly that here. As well, if you want more recommendations from Bre, here are her Staff Picks. I’ll link all of my recommendations below for your ease of browsing, have fun learning!
Centered in the glorious Palouse, a richly fertile area, the small Idaho town of Moscow was once home to the Nez Perce, who introduced the famous spotted Appaloosa horses. The intimate Moscow feel inspired by current residents has persisted since the original homesteaders settled here, a place they called Paradise Valley.
Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award
Organized both chronologically and thematically, Encounters with the People is an edited, annotated compilation of unique primary sources related to Nez Perce history--Native American oral histories, diary excerpts, military reports, maps, and more. Generous elders shared their collective memory of carefully guarded stories passed down through multiple generations.
Poet Kim Barnes grew up in northern Idaho, in the isolated camps where her father worked as a logger and her mother made a modest but comfortable home for her husband and two children. Their lives were short on material wealth, but long on the riches of family and friendship, and the great sheltering power of the wilderness.
Six weeks after the 1929 stock market crash, Frank Bruce Robinson created a self-help religion he called Psychiana.
Designed to assist landowners and plant enthusiasts identify native plants found in the Inland Northwest prairie regions of Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana. The guide also includes agricultural crops and invasive weeds to increase an awareness and appreciation for the land among readers.