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The Last Canyon: A Novel Paperback – September 26, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (September 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618257748
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618257744
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,225,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Late in the spring of 1869, a 35-year-old Civil War veteran and nine companions set forth on a voyage that would take them along much of the length of the Colorado River, beginning in Wyoming and ending below the Grand Canyon. In this novel, John Vernon capably reconstructs their journey, adding dramatic nuance to an expedition that has long engaged historians and biographers.

The bare historical facts are these: John Wesley Powell and his party made their way downriver, bouncing over churning rapids, climbing steep canyon walls, scaling seemingly impassable mountains--hard work, and made more difficult by the fact that Powell had lost his right arm seven years earlier at the Battle of Shiloh. Along the way they gathered information and provisions from local Indians, argued among themselves over how best to proceed, and suffered calamities great and small. The journey ended prematurely four months after it began when three disgruntled members of the party left, only to be murdered in a canyon in southwestern Utah. Vernon elaborates on these data while remaining for the most part true to them. He imagines, for instance, what those over-the-campfire arguments that so divided the party must have been about, giving fire and grit to Major Powell's matter-of-fact journal entries, and he considers the voyage from the point of view of the Ute and Navajo peoples whom Powell and company encountered along the way.

Vernon's dialogues are sometimes a little too neat, their anachronistic language sometimes distracting. But he captures something of Powell's brooding personality as well as the perilous nature of his trailblazing journey "through deep gorges, rushing waters, bottomless silences, tall and craggy cliffs built by artists celestial." --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

When historical novels are produced by writers whoseexpertise in the field is matched by vivid storytelling skills, theresults as in this novel are generally outstanding. With this 10thbook (after A Book of Reasons), veteran novelist Vernon reimagines thefirst full-length exploration of the Grand Canyon and the ColoradoRiver by white Americans in 1869. Maj. John Wesley Powell former UnionArmy officer, one-armed engineer and scientist led the harrowingexpedition to map the territory. With nine men in four boats, Powellbegan a saga of discovery that took 100 days, covered 1,000 miles andcost the lives of a third of his men. Two converging plot linesprovide dramatic tension. One focuses on Powell and his men as theybattle deadly rapids, heat, near-starvation, isolation, despair andeach other. The other tells of a destitute party of Paiute Indiansdesperately struggling to survive in the hostile environment of thedeserts on the canyon rim. Powell's party is in trouble from thestart, with a wrecked boat, lost food and equipment, and therealization that not all the men are competent or emotionally suitedfor such a rigorous and hazardous journey. Powell's leadership istested time and again, until mutiny and desertion leave him with justtwo boats, six men and no food. The Paiutes, too, are in grave troubleand a chance meeting with white men only aggravates their nearlyhopeless situation. The story of Powell's remarkable journey evokes arugged time in our nation's history when men in search of knowledge orglory would willingly subject themselves to grueling hardship andprivation. The publisher has a chance here to seize on readers'appetites for outdoors adventure, though some may think the Paiutesubplot is a distraction from the central tale.

Copyright 2001Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As John Wesley Powell and his crew of nine follow the Green and Colorado Rivers through uncharted territory into the Grand Canyon in 1869, Vernon imbues them with so much energy and strength that this fictional account of their journey feels like the real thing--more like a well-written memoir than a flight of imagination. His depictions of the canyons, mesas, geological strata, and the always changing river are so precise and vivid that they feel more like great photographs than prose. His descriptions of the heat and privation have the intensity of old sermons of hellfire and damnation.

With a lyricism as masculine and vigorous as the characters of his story, Vernon tells of two parallel, and eventually intersecting, journeys--the famous journey of John Wesley Powell and his crew on the river, and the fictional journey of a family of Paiute (Shivwits) Indians across the high mesas, as they try to reclaim a daughter which the father sold to Mormons in exchange for two guns. Vernon alternates these narratives in successive sections, bringing the ironies of the two journeys into sharp focus. The Powell expedition fights the forces of nature and is often at the mercy of the elements, struggling with equipment and scientific instruments, and in danger of running out of food. The Shivwits, on the other hand, are in communion with nature, comfortable in their belief that nature will provide, as it always has--their struggle, of course, being to preserve their lands and culture.

Vernon is a remarkable writer, equally adept at all aspects of writing--action sequences on the river, dialogues ranging from humorous to rancorous, insights into the characters' thinking, and a faithful adherence to the writing style of the period.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Jensen on June 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
This could have been a great book. John Vernon obviously expended a lot of effort to weave the known facts into his novel and to create memorable impressions of each character from the small body of available historical knowledge. But John Vernon's easy slide into vulgarity as he creates the personalities and interactions of the characters was a big disappointment to me. I compelled myself to finish the book, mostly driven by my fascination for the Colorado River basin and its exploration. But being unwilling to contemplate that anyone else might wallow through the salacious bogs offensively dumped into this story, I threw the book in the recycling bin as soon as I was done.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It was one of the most exciting demonstrations of persistence I've ever read. The challenges overcome with courage and thoughtful consideration were amazing. Each section of the Colorado threatened death as they dove into the unknown. It's one book I may re-read.
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By Virginia on January 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
As an armchair adventurer I find this to be a good read. It feels authentic,I feel transported back to that time.I have also read 'down the colorado'by eliot porter.
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