Synopses & Reviews
If the word "hero" still belonged in the historian's lexicon, it would certainly be applied to John Wesley Powell. Intrepid explorer, careful scientist, talented writer, and dedicated conservationist, Powell led the expedition that put the Colorado River on American maps and revealed the Grand Canyon to the world. Now comes the first biography of this towering figure in almost fifty years--a book that captures his life in all its heroism, idealism, and ambivalent, ambiguous humanity.
In A River Running West, Donald Worster, one of our leading Western historians, tells the story of Powell's great adventures and describes his historical significance with compelling clarity and skill. Worster paints a vivid portrait of how this man emerged from the early nineteenth-century world of immigrants, fervent religion, and rough-and-tumble rural culture, and barely survived the Civil War battle at Shiloh. The heart of Worster's biography is Powell's epic journey down the Colorado in 1869, a tale of harrowing experiences, lethal accidents, and breathtaking discoveries. After years in the region collecting rocks and fossils and learning to speak the local Native American languages, Powell returned to Washington as an eloquent advocate for the West, one of America's first and most influential conservationists. But in the end, he fell victim to a clique of Western politicians who pushed for unfettered economic development, relegating the aging explorer to a quiet life of anthropological contemplation.
John Wesley Powell embodied the energy, optimism, and westward impulse of the young United States. A River Running West is a gorgeously written, magisterial account of this great American explorer and environmental pioneer, a true story of undaunted courage in the American West.
"Worster gathers together more material on Powell than that contained in both previous biographies combined, and the result is a more complex and richly detailed picture of a man he sees as an exemplary 19th-century American....This splendid, vivid and prodigiously researched biography brings Powell back to life." The New York Times Book Review
"Thought-provoking....Powell's public activities, in the American West and in the mires of Washington, supply readers with an unusually interesting and instructive tale....thorough and empathetic." Los Angeles Times Book Review
Includes bibliographical references (p. -644) and index.
John Wesley Powell, the great American explorer and environmental pioneer, embodied the energy, optimism, and westward impulse of the young United States. "A River Running West" is a gorgeously written, magisterial account of this towering figure, a true story of undaunted courage. 42 halftones. 7 maps.
About the Author
"A River Running West is a full-gauge biography, a rich broth of detail about Powell's life and times. Those who know his story will discover many fresh tidbits and informed insights. Those who don't will find no better introduction...[Worster] does what great historians do best: he gives context to contingency." -- Stephen J. Pyne, Science
"It's a case of man and mountain matching one another: Donald Worster is one of the finest American historians of his generation, and John Wesley Powell one of the most impressive Americans of his time. This book is very accessible, very thorough, and very welcome."--Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, Crazy Horse, and Roads
"Another sublime contribution to the historical literature of the American West from Worster.... A top-drawer biography, at once scholarly and popular, generous in its intelligence, rich in context and anecdote."--Kirkus reviews
"In this superb book, Worster backs up his claims about the depth and breadth of Powell's vision as 'one of the leading interpreters of the West, an influential voice on its land and water issues as well as its treatment of indigenous peoples.' Worster captures Powell's rich life and the life of a nation struggling to come to grips with its vast resources."--Audobon