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A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell (2001)

de Donald Worster

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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 g… (mais)
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In A River Running West, Donald Worster, one of America's foremost historians of the environment and the west, authored a biography of one of the most important men of the late nineteenth century, John Wesley Powell. Powell was a noticeable figure. He had a long beard that resembled the Old Testament prophet and had lost an arm at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. This limitation did not slow him down at all. He famously explored the Colorado River, a dangerous feat that Worster thinks ranks Powell's expedition second only to the that of Lewis and Clark in the importance of the American west. Although he had almost no formal education, Powell was scientist, who always considered scientific fact as the most important consideration. He relied on climatology, geography, and hydrography, among other scientific fields, over ideology, wishful thinking, and religion, when making policy recommendations. This is a long book, but very much worth the read. ( ( )
  gregdehler | Dec 20, 2018 |
I really wanted to like this book. I knew about Powell’s trip down the Grand Canyon and thought that his life could be very interesting. I was about a third right. The middle third (actually less than a third) about his two Colorado trips and his work among the Indians is well told and fascinating. The first part of the book details Powell’s parents and upbringing and the author seems obsessed with their religion. His father was a sometime Methodist preacher and from the actual descriptions did not seem too wild eyed but the author’s attitude makes the parents seem to be part of some bizarre cult. It was quite strange and annoying. The latter (very long) part dealing with his leadership of the United States Geological Survey could have been more enjoyable if I had more tolerance for all the bureaucratic and political maneuvering and infighting. It was not poorly written but seemed unnecessarily dry and detailed with little personal feel for the subject. I think you will know exactly what his department’s appropriations were for every year of his tenure. Some parts of this section (such as the discussion of western irrigation and the Cope-Marsh feud) were interesting but by and large it was all weighted down by all the other detail. I was rather relieved to finish it. ( )
  wmorton38 | Aug 3, 2013 |
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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 g

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