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Doig was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana to a family of homesteaders and ranch hands. After the death of his mother, Berneta, on his sixth birthday, he was raised by his father Charles "Charlie" Doig and his grandmother Elizabeth "Bessie" Ringer. After several stints on ranches, they moved to Dupuyer, Montana in the north to herd sheep close to the Rocky Mountain Front.
After his graduation from Valier High School, Doig attended Northwestern University, where he received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in journalism. He later earned a Ph.D. in American history at the University of Washington, writing his dissertation on John J. McGilvra (1827-1903).
Before Doig became a novelist, he wrote for newspapers and magazines as a free-lancer and worked for the United States Forest Service.
The western landscape and people play an important role in Doig's fiction, with much of it set in the Montana country of his youth. His major theme is family life in the past, mixing personal memory and regional history. The first three Montana novels—English Creek, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, form the "McCaskill trilogy", covering the first century of Montana's statehood from 1889 to 1989.
- The Sea Runners (1982)
- English Creek (1984)
- Dancing at the Rascal Fair (1987)
- Ride with Me, Mariah Montana (1990)
- Bucking the Sun (1996)
- Mountain Time (1999)
- Prairie Nocturne (2003)
- The Whistling Season (2006)
- The Eleventh Man (2008)
- Work Song (2010)
- The Bartender's Tale (2012)
- Sweet Thunder (2013)
- Last Bus to Wisdom (2015)
- News: A Consumer's Guide (1972) - a media textbook coauthored by Carol Doig
- This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind (1979) - memoirs based on the author's life with his father and grandmother (nominated for National Book Award)
- Heart Earth (1993) - memoirs based on his mother's letters to her brother Wally
- Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America (1980) - an essayistic dialog with James G. Swan
- Streets We Have Come Down: Literature of the City (1975)
- Utopian America: Dreams and Realities (1976)
- "Acclaimed Montana author Ivan Doig dies at 75," The Billings Gazette, April 9, 2015.
- Sam Roberts. Ivan Doig, Author Who Lived the Western Life, Dies at 75", The New York Times, April 10, 2015. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
- Official website
- 1977 Early Forest Research Part 1
- 1977 Early Forest Research Part 2
- Long Interview with Ivan Doig on "The Whistling Season"
- Short Interview with Ivan Doig on "The Whistling Season"