Butler Center Books Make Great Gifts for History Lovers

Father’s Day is approaching, and it is never the wrong time to think about birthday and other holiday gifts for parents, grandparents, friends, and other loved ones. Books about Arkansas’s fascinating history and culture just might fit the bill, and Butler Center Books has published many popular titles for those Arkansas history lovers in your life. Below are some favorites, and you can view the entire catalog here.

Car and motel on "Escape Velocity" book cover

Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany (Revised Edition)

edited by Jay Jennings/Afterword by Donna Tartt

For those who care about literature or simply love a good laugh (or both), Charles Portis has long been one of America’s most admired novelists. His 1968 novel True Grit is fixed in the contemporary canon, and four more have been hailed as comic masterpieces. For the first time, his other writings—journalism, travel stories, short fiction, memoir, and even a play—were brought together in Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, published in 2012 as his first new book in more than twenty years. This revised edition includes a new afterword by best-selling author Donna Tartt, who first published her remembrance in the New York Times following Portis’s death in 2020. Buy here from UA Press.

African-American man in robes with open book on "Outspoken" book cover

OUTSPOKEN: The Olly Neal Story

by Olly Neal Jr. as told to Jan Wrede

Born in 1941 on a farm near Marianna in rural eastern Arkansas, Olly Neal Jr. grew up in a large family with parents who insisted on their children getting a good education. Neal had the intellect but not the temperament to be a good student in high school, but a teacher took an interest in him when she saw him steal a book rather than risk his tough-guy reputation if someone saw him checking it out. Neal went on to start and lead the Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna during the 1970s, a turbulent time fraught with conflicts between the white power structure and Black citizens seeking their civil rights and increased economic opportunities. (The clinic remains a prominent community health center.) He became the first Black district prosecuting attorney in Arkansas, and then served as a circuit court judge and on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Historian Grif Stockley has characterized Neal as a civil rights activist, political agitator, Arkansas Delta advocate, and “black devil incarnate” to many of Marianna’s whites. Buy here from UA Press.

Six caricatures on blue background with yellow and white text

The Education of Ernie Dumas: Chronicles of the Arkansas Political Mind

by Ernest Dumas

Ernest Dumas traces the development of a modern political cast that eventually produced Arkansas’s first president of the United States—also exploring what brought about the second-ever impeachment of an American president. The book is also a political memoir that describes not only Dumas’s education in the ways of politicians but also the politicians’ own education and miseducation in how to win voters and then how to get things done. Through the eyes of a journalist, this book collects the mostly untold stories, often deeply personal, that reveal the inner struggles and sometimes the tribulations of the state’s leaders—Francis Cherry, Orval Faubus, Winthrop Rockefeller, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, John McClellan, J. William Fulbright, Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker, Hillary Clinton, and others. Buy here from UA Press.

Young white woman and town on "Remembering Ella" book coverRemembering Ella: A 1912 Murder and Mystery in the Arkansas Ozarks

by Nita Gould

This book offers an account of the brutal murder of a young woman in rural Boone County, Arkansas, and the aftermath. In November 1912, popular and pretty eighteen-year-old Ella Barham was raped, murdered, and dismembered in broad daylight near her home. The brutal crime sent shockwaves through the Ozarks and made national news. Authorities swiftly charged a neighbor, Odus Davidson, with the crime. Locals were determined that he be convicted, and threats of mob violence ran so high that he had to be jailed in another county to ensure his safety. But was there enough evidence to prove his guilt? If so, had he acted alone? What was his motive? Author Nita Gould explores all these questions to reveal the truth behind an event that has been a staple of local folklore for more than a century and still intrigues people around the country. Buy here from UA Press.

Tree covered valley on "Arkansas Backstories" book cover

Arkansas Backstories: Quirks, Characters, and Curiosities of the Natural State, Volume One

by Joe David Rice

Highlighting numerous intriguing but lesser-known aspects of America’s twenty-fifth state, the short essays in this handsomely illustrated book (covering topics starting with letters A–L) will offer surprises for even the most dedicated and devoted students of the state. Few readers may be aware of the connections between Arkansas and the Texas fight for independence. Or know that baseball’s spring training routine originally began in Hot Springs. Or that Arkansas is the country’s leading producer of goldfish. These and other captivating topics are what make this an essential addition to every coffee table in the state. The companion to this volume – Arkansas Backstories, Volume Two – covering topics starting with letters M–Z was published by Butler Center Books in the spring of 2019. Buy here from UA Press.

Chair on observation platform with text on book cover

Arkansas Backstories: Quirks, Characters, and Curiosities of the Natural State, Volume Two

by Joe David Rice

Like its companion book, this second volume of Arkansas Backstories will amaze even the most serious students of the state with more surprising insights. How many people are aware that a world-class yodeler from Zinc ran against John F. Kennedy in 1960 for the top spot on the national Democratic ticket, or that an African American born in Little Rock campaigned for the presidency of the United States nearly 70 years before Shirley Chisholm became, in 1968, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress? Or how many know that bands of blood-thirsty pirates once lurked in the bayous and backwaters of eastern Arkansas, preying on unsuspecting Mississippi River travelers?

Written in an informal, conversational style and nicely illustrated, Arkansas Backstories, Volume Two, covering topics starting with the letters M–Z, will be a wonderful addition to the libraries of Arkansans, expats, and anyone else interested in one of America’s most fascinating states. Buy here from UA Press.

Southern Fried: Going Whole Hog in a State of Wonder

by Rex Nelson

For decades, Rex Nelson has been traveling Arkansas. He learned to love the back roads, small towns, and people of the state while going on trips with his father, who sold athletic supplies to high schools. They sat in old Depression-era gyms built by the Works Progress Administration, ate in small-town cafes, and waded in streams on warm spring days.

In this collection of columns from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Nelson brings to life the personalities, communities, festivals, and tourist attractions that make Arkansas unique. As he says, “Arkansas is a hard place to explain to outsiders. We’re mostly Southern but also a bit Midwestern and a tad Southwestern. The Ozarks are different from the pine woods of the Gulf Coastal Plain, and the Delta is different from the Ouachitas. Invariably, though, those who take the time to get off the main roads and get to know the real Arkansas are entranced by the place.” Buy here from UA Press.

Spiderwalk: The High Life and Daring Stunts of a Small-town Girl from Arkansas

by Ann “Annie” Miles

Ann Miles left her home in Malvern, Arkansas, as a teenager and began a series of daring and dangerous stunt jobs. Her book celebrates the pioneering spirit of a woman in 1950s America and tells what it took for Miles to survive on her own in the entertainment business, working as a stunt woman, model, makeup artist, and wig stylist in movies (including filming a terrifying stunt for The Exorcist), in television, and on Broadway. Buy here from UA Press.



Voices of the Razorbacks: A History of Arkansas’s Iconic Sports Broadcasters

by Hoyt Purvis and Stanley Sharp

The creation and development of the Razorback Sports Network not only helped to build a loyal following for the Razorbacks, but also forged a close identification among Razorback fans with broadcasters such as Paul Eels and Bud Campbell, who became “voices of the Razorbacks.” A sense of kinship developed within the audience, and the broadcasts of Razorback sports have become an integral part of the state’s culture. Buy here from UA Press.


About Butler Center Books

Butler Center Books is a project of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System. This nonprofit publishing program was made possible by a gift from John G. Ragsdale Jr. and Dora “DeDe” Ragsdale. Books are available at the Galleries & Bookstore at Library Square in downtown Little Rock at the CALS Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art and other local bookstores, from online retailers, and from Butler Center Books’ distributer, the University of Arkansas Press (via University of Chicago Press).




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