A River Running West

A River Running West : The Life of John Wesley Powell

4.03 (219 ratings by Goodreads)
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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 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.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 688 pages
  • 152.4 x 233.68 x 53.34mm | 1,065.94g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 55 halftones, & maps
  • 0195156358
  • 9780195156355

Review quote

"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.... The surrender of self-righteousness would be an enormous boon to the environmental cause. Acknowledging the unedited, complicated, utilitarian John Wesley Powell as an ideological parent would be a big step in that laudable direction, and it is this step that Worster's thorough and empathetic
biography makes possible."-Patricia Limerick, Los Angeles Times Book Review "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."-Audubon "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."-John Vernon, The New York Times Book Review "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 "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 "This thorough and engaging biography is suitable for all levels."-Choice REVIEWS: A Library Journal Best Book of 2001 Winner of the 2002 Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association Regional Book Award for Nonfiction The Henry Adams Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government A Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001 The 2001 Spur Award for Best Biography given by the Western Writers of America The 2000 David W. and Beatrice C. Evans Biography Award The 2001 William P. Clements Prize for the Best non-Fiction book on Southwestern America, given by the Clements Center for Southwestern Studies at Southern Methodist University. Winner of the Western Historical Association Caughey Award for the Best Book of the Year in Western History PRIZES WON:
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About Donald Worster

Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas. His books include The Wealth of Nature, Under Western Skies, and the Bancroft Prize-winning Dust Bowl. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
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Rating details

219 ratings
4.03 out of 5 stars
5 32% (71)
4 44% (96)
3 19% (41)
2 5% (10)
1 0% (1)
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