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The Explorer King: Adventure, Science, and the Great Diamond Hoax--Clarence King in the Old West Hardcover – February 7, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clarence King (1842–1901) was the Indiana Jones of the 19th century. His dangerous 1864 passage across the Sierra Nevadas in California was hailed as ushering in "a new era in American mountaineering," during which his discovery of metamorphosed fossils helped determine the age of the Sierra Nevada gold belt—time-saving information for prospectors. In 1872, his debunking of fantastic claims of a "diamond field" in northwestern Colorado made him a national hero. King also wrote several landmark studies of mining, geology and mountaineering. American Scholar editor Wilson has produced an affectionate account of King's life that emphasizes the inevitable hardship of exploration as much as King's scientific achievements. King represented "a new paradigm of the western adventurer... the scientist-explorer, who seeks knowledge rather than territory or riches." Wilson judiciously sifts through the record of King's exploits. Almost as if he cannot bear to document his subject's long, slow decline, when he himself became obsessed with extracting riches from the earth, Wilson stops the story at King's uncovering of the Great Diamond Hoax. Wilson adds to our picture of the Wild West: one populated less by bloodthirsty bandits and ruthless ranchers than by earnest, upstanding men defined by their curiosity and courage. (Feb.)
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Review

"An engrossing portrait of a man who embodied both brawn and brains." -- Entertainment Weekly

"Robert Wilson...shows what all the fuss was about...[and] narrates these events in a fluid, engaging style." -- New York Times

"[A] colorful biography of a geologist who surveyed much of the American West...Lively and well told." -- Kirkus Reviews

"[Wilson] tells King's story with grace, and admiration, and gives us a real sense of the man's achievements." -- Washington Times
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743260252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743260251
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #584,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By C. Ryan on September 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book seemed to end at least 50 pages too soon in the sense that there are only tantalizing glimpses of the last 25 years of geologist, author, would-be mining baron Clarence King's life (1842-1901). "Where's the rest?", I thought. Then I looked again at the front of the book and parsed the full title, "The Explorer King: Adventure, Science, and the Great Diamond Hoax--Clarence King in the Old West". Oh, it wasn't supposed to be a full biography of the pioneering geologist who became nationally known through his colorful writing about travels, adventures and mountaineering exploits that mostly occurred before he tuned thirty. Rather it focuses just on King's adventures (exploring previously undocumented mountain ranges, making first ascents of high peaks, violent encounters with Indians and outlaws), science (education with leading geologists at Yale, field work with the California Geologic Survey, leading, at age 25, his own multi-year pioneering exploration/survey of the Great Basin and publishing several books that were scientific standards of the era) and the Great Diamond Hoax (exposing a huge financial fraud that made worldwide news in the early 1870s).

But if it's not supposed to be a biography why did the author devote almost a third of the book to King's childhood and college years as well as sketches of King's upper strata social life that had little or nothing to do with the themes promised in the subtitle? It's especially perplexing because some of the "exploration" begs for more detail since large swaths of the country that King explored are barely mentioned.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jon on March 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book caught my attention from the very beginning, first linking King with the 19th century Washington DC social and political establishment and then telling how he made his way out West in a time when that journey was an adventure in itself. It was fascinating to learn how King, whom I'd never heard of, was the first to scale and then name many of California's highest peaks. Having grown up in California, hiking, camping and skiing in the Sierras, I loved reading about the familiar towns and geography and learning how Clarence King was such a factor in that area's history. Some great accounts. A shame that King had so much going for him and then gave in to temptation in the end.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By krsoplnd on April 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a geographer with an interest in the opening of the west I looked forward the this book. Unfortunately it is poorly written and repetitious, and half-way through King's life the author appears to lose interest in the subject. There is nothing about the rivalry between King's Survey and the other great surveys led by Powell, Hayden and Wheeler that lead to the establishment of the U. S. Geological Survey. Nor is there any mention of the political fighting between King and Ferdinand Hayden that led to King's selection as the first director of that agency. A major disappointment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brad Tatham on June 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book does not discuss in much detail the USGS and the second half of Clarence's life but it places you in the times of King and during some of the most interesting parts of his adventures in the West. I really enjoyed the book and found that the author created an interesting angle by carefully reviewing King's upbringing, religious beliefs and how he squared his religious convictions with an education and career in science during the mid 1800s.
This is not a historical tome but a fairly light read where the author keeps the material interesting. It is like a rock skipping over the surface of his life. A good read that leaves me hoping others will write additional books to tell other parts of his story.
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