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on July 27, 2003
I'm not a slow reader, but I rarely read a book in the same 24 hours. This one was an exception. I was immediately drawn in (and by a subject that is not of more than general interest to me), and I more or less did not put the book down until I'd read to the last page.
As a teacher, I'm first of all impressed by how McPhee makes an academic and scientific subject (geology) not just interesting but gripping. For the most part, he personalizes it, introducing an eminent field geologist, David Love, who takes him and us on a tour around Love's home-state, Wyoming, describing over 2 billion years of the geological past as revealed in the cuts along Interstate 80 and in a side trip to Jackson Hole, outside Yellowstone Park. Love is very much a product of his upbringing on an isolated ranch in central Wyoming, his mother educated at Wellesley, his father an immigrant from Scotland who quotes William Cowper and Sir Walter Scott.
Love is independent, old school, hands-on, tireless, scrupulous, an innovative thinker who has made a significant impact over a lifetime in his field, choosing to work for the US Geological Survey after a short period of unhappy employment for an oil company. McPhee captures his very individual point of view, his dedication to science, and his Western perspective in character sketches and fragments of conversation between them. He has a dry sense of humor, colorful turns of phrase, and a toughness that goes along with long periods of field work and sleeping rough under the stars. He's also a grand-nephew of John Muir.
The book actually begins with his mother's wintery journey by horse-drawn coach from Rawlins to central Wyoming, where she has accepted a teaching job at a one-room school. It segues between the story of his parents' courtship in the first decade of the 20th century and his travels with McPhee over 70 years later, finally devoting a long section to Love's own boyhood, growing up on his parents' ranch, with an older brother, among cowboys raising both sheep and cattle. The accounts of surviving blizzards and floods that nearly wipe them out, the visitors passing through who may or may not be hunted killers, even an appearance (possibly two) by Butch Cassidy make this compelling reading for anyone with an interest in the early days of ranching in the West.
There's a brilliant section late in the book as McPhee describes Love's fascination with Jackson Hole while he's still a graduate student at Yale, and after many years of walking the ridges and summits around it, developing a scenario of how it was formed over the eons. McPhee's rendering of this scenario in words is vivid, and in the mind's eye, you can see mountain ranges and seas rise and fall in all manner of climates from tropical to ice age, until the topography assumes its present configuration, which is still changing.
I highly recommend this book. As companion volumes, I also recommend Loren Eiseley's memoir "All the Strange Hours," Geoffrey O'Gara's book about water rights in the Wind River basin, "What You See in Clear Water," and James Galvin's novel, "Fencing the Sky," in which a modern-day cowboy fugitive travels much of this same terrain on horseback.
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on November 16, 1999
John McPhee is my favorite writer, and this is his greatest work. It is really helpful to have read the first two books in the series, but not absolutely essential. We all have met interesting people, but it's extremely unlikely you've met anybody as interesting as David Love, the geologist at the center of this work, or his parents, John Love and Ethel Waxham. His parents mastered the literal frontier, and David went on to master the scientific puzzle known as Jackson Hole, in Grand Teton National Park. This is the most geologically complex spot in North America, and over a period of 50 years, Love put it all together. You will not find a more fascinating, humane and stirring account of the sciences than this book.
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on November 9, 2003
John McPhee joins geologist David Love for a tour of the Wyoming countryside. Well at least, McPhee uses their drive along Interstate 80 as a jumping off point to spin a tale or two. Painting on a broad canvas, he pieces together a detailed picture of Wyoming from its rich geological history, to the hearty characters that settled there. And the focal point for all this is David Love. And why not? Love's history with the area is indeed the stuff that can fill a book.
The descriptions of Love's parents (especially his dad) and how they cut their teeth in the ranching business on the unforgiving landscape proved the most entertaining for me. The time spent looking for lost sheep, and moving herds put David Love on a path to his ultimate passion.... The geology of Wyoming. For Love, the Wyoming landscape appeared more interesting and mysterious than anything else. To his credit, Love is the only person to build a complete geological survey of an entire state. Not to mention probably one of the most complex.
McPhee wraps up the book by looking at the challenges that face a place rich in resources such as coal, shale, and uranium. As a geologist, Love reflects on the interesting role his life work plays in this regard. For me, the story reveals two competing forces. One being how a land like Wyoming can influence and shape a man's entire life, and conversely how that same man's life work can change our view and understanding of a complex landscape such as Wyoming.
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on July 27, 2000
In stirring prose McPhee turns the imperceptible pace of geological change exposed in High Plains road cuts into sublime and awesome cataclysms. He incorporates the struggle to survive and prosper of a pioneering ranch family, from whom came an outstanding geologist, John Love. He deciphers the complex story lying behind modern Wyoming, including the soaring Teton Range, evocative Wind River, and Yellowstone. Far more than a guide (with it's helpful time charts and map), McPhee's sensitive writing makes you feel the prodigious forces of the landscape lurking underfoot--almost as unsettling as experiencing an earthquake yourself.
A fun complement to this book is the Wyoming oil geologist mystery Tensleep by Sarah Andrews, or Margaret Coel's Arapaho mystery series.
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on January 4, 2001
Well this is another of McPhee's books on geology and as usual it is very well done. But don't let that fool you, even though this book is written about high-country geology it is not too heavily laden with technical jargon nor is it a tedious read. With sly humor and and a witty style the author brings a down to earth (forgive the pun) approach and brings to life the richness of human history and geology in the old west till the present day.
If you are a student of geology then this is a must read along with McPhee's other books on geology...Basin and Range and In Suspect Terrain...but even if you are not interested in the geological processes of the west the book still brings to life the people and country of Wyoming and the old west. Overall this is a great book and while some people may find it tedious if you have a love for the outdoors and the frontiers then this book will definately impart some knowledge unto you and is worth reading.
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on July 9, 2000
In preparation for a motorcycle trip to the Black Hills and Yellowstone, I read this wonderful book by John McPhee. It's largely a story about the geologist John Love and the Love Ranch in Wyoming. Mixes in the story of his mother and father's trials and tribulations in building the family ranch in the early 1900's with the story of his life and the unique geography of Wyoming. This is a book I would recommend to anyone, even if they were not on their way to Wyoming. Love's mother was a graduate of Wellesley College with a Phi Beta Kappa key who came to Wyoming in 1905 as a school teacher. The frontier was still everywhere and she's one of the real hero's of the book. The story of her life is woven in with the geology and history of the region. John Love grew up on the family ranch, went to Yale for a Ph. D. in geology and became famous for his geological work in the West, and in particular the Grand Teton and Jackson Hole area. The descriptions of family life on the ranch are wonderful. You may want to skim some of the heavier geological descriptions of the state, but even they are full of interesting information. You can't read the book without a renewed appreciation of the geological wonders of our country and the resilience and tenacity of our western pioneers.
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on December 22, 1997
The on-line review by 'mapower' is excellent and accurate. This is great stuff and a compelling read. But my reason for writing is to note that I heard the author himself, in the introduction to a recorded-book version of "Rising from the Plains", mention that of all the people he has written about, David Love's late mother (whose name escapes me--apologies), who he knows only through her journals and her children's reminiscences, is the one he most admires.
She is a formidable and fascinating woman: classically educated and arriving in central Wyoming just a few years after the opening of the frontier, she represents the only formal schooling available for children inhabiting some ten thousand square miles of some of the most desolate, wind swept terrain in the lower 48. The story of her life is woven in with the geology and history of the region with great skill and obvious affection.
I cannot recommend this book too highly.
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on June 26, 2003
Rising from the Plains in another of John McPhee's remarkable books on North American geology and quite possibly his best. McPhee has taken the geology of Wyoming, the history of the state and that of a local frontier family, and entwined them to make this lesson in earth science addictively readable.
McPhee travels the state with a host geologist from the USGS whose life's work is the study of Wyoming topography. What results is an extremely comprehensive (yet entirely pleasurable) explanation of the forces in play which created the Wyoming wonderland. Spanning from Yellowstone to the Tetons, from Medicine Bow to Flaming River Gorge, McPhee has authored a true gem and one that I enjoyed immensely. Rising from the Plains easily merits five big, bright, bountiful stars. Well done, Mr. McPhee.
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on February 3, 1997
John McPhee tells two stories in one: the geology of Wyoming, and the family and personal history of David Love. Love is a native of Wyoming who left for a Ph.D. in geology at Yale, and later returned as the supervisor of the Laramie branch of the U.S. Geological Survey. Love drives, talks, and points; McPhee records.

We learn that Wyoming has a freeway outcrop showing rock formed over a spread of over two billion years, from Precambrian granite to recent sedimentary rock - the largest time span of any freeway outcrop on Interstate 80. Love's mini-lectures on Wyoming geology are interwoven with the story of his ranch, settled by his family near the turn of the century.

This is classic McPhee - clear, understandable non-fiction animated by narrative. Recommended.
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on March 23, 2000
John McPhee illustrates the incredible Wyoming Landscape through his descriptive narrative of David Love's heritage, life and work. As a layperson of geology, I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates the unscathed, raw and pristine beauty of Wyoming. The historical narratives throughout explore the cultural geology of Wyoming, moving beyond the description of rocks to the influence of geology on the culture of the inhabitants. In one or two instance, McPhee becomes a bit technical losing the reader in technical jargon. However, a must read!
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