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Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West Paperback – March 1, 1992

4.4 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

No library of western/southwestern materials can be without this book. . . . --Books of the Southwest

This book goes far beyond biography, into the nature and soul of the American West. It is Stegner at his best, assaying an entire era of our history, packing his pages with insights as shrewd as his prose. --Ivan Doig --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

About the Author

DeVoto winner of the Pultizer Prize and the National Book Award, was a renowned scholar-historian.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140159940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140159943
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
This classic work is a penetrating and insightful study of the public career of Maj. John Wesley Powell, from the beginning of the Powell Survey, which most famously had Powell and his men descend for the first time by anyone the Colorado River, to his eventual ouster from the Geological Survey. Stegner does a magnificent job of detailing both the myriad accomplishments by Powell in his remarkable career as public servant, but the philosophy and ideas that undergirded his work. Most readers at the end will conclude that the history of the United States might have proceeded differently had his profound insights into the nature of the American West been heeded.
Stegner writes in a lucid, clear, frequently exciting prose style. Although his history is solid, his writing is somewhat more. For example, at one point Stegner writes of one person who was more than a little deluded about the nature of the West: "The yeasty schemes stirring in Adams' head must have generated gases to cloud his eyesight." Especially in context a brilliant sentence, and not of the quality one anticipates in a historical work, especially one that deals at length with questions of public policy. The volume also contains an Introduction by Stegner's mentor and teacher Bernard DeVoto, an essay that contains in a few pages the heart of DeVoto's own understanding of the West, and which alone would be worth the cost of the volume.
Stegner does an excellent job of relating Powell's own insights and visions to those of others of the day. He contrasts Powell's philosophy with the desires and urges of the people who were rushing to obtain land in the West, and the politicians who were trying to lure them there.
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By A Customer on September 16, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wallace Stegner combines the adventure of John Wesley Powell's historic running of the Colorado River and the story of government science. Powell's river running is a dramatic yarn, and Stegner draws on his strengths as a historian to debunk some of the exaggerations of Powell's own writings. Stegner has quite a way with words and brings Powell's story to life. The second half of the book is somewhat dry, but it is an important document of the history of government-funded science in this country. (Powell played an important role in government science.) He does an excellent job of enlivening the characters, and the history has important implications today. While this is not Stegner's best book, it is a good read, especially for fans of the American West.
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Format: Paperback
Stegner is a prolific historian of the American West, as well as a prolific author of fiction. To my mind, his nonfiction is always a notch better than even the best of his fiction; to my mind, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian is the best of the lot.
To be sure, my view that this one is his best is likely colored by my impression that it treats the most important issues dealt with within Stegner's œuvre, namely, the question of water use in the American West. However, independent of the book's importance in understanding the history of water use, it is also a rollicking adventure tale of a one-armed madman shooting hellacious rapids the likes of which our continent no longer knows, while strapped to a wooden boat.
Powell was a brilliant, eccentric man, and the United States would be a better place if the policies he suggested had been intelligently implemented (rather than first ignored and subsequently mis-applied). His life is well worth learning about.
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Format: Paperback
This book written in 1954 not only captures the story of this remarkable man, Major John W. Powell, but also discusses and reflects on the challenges of too many people living in the Western desert. As a resident of a now "drought impacted state" the wisdom of Powell's ideas and the lack of implementation of those ideas are represented in the chaos local and state governments are facing as they attempt to keep lawns green, golf courses open, and drinking water available for all of the "new" residences of the state. I only hope that some of this generations politicians pay attention to Powell's "topographical" analysis and begin shaping more effective land and water policy for the West. A terrific read with many classic Stegner quotes.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent biography of John Wesley Powell--exlorer, geologist, scientist, writer, and politician.

Anyone who reads this is sure to increase the amount they know about this historic figure, and about the West in general as the stories of each are inextricably tangled. The book excels at its account of John Wesley Powell's life AFTER his famous trips down the Colorado River, and does a great job of describing Powell's role in the battle against over-populating the West.

If the book has faults though, they lie in that many of Stegner's sources have since been expounded upon or dismissed entirely, and so the facts in this book aren't entirely current. Also, Stegner dismisses too quickly the merits of the story of James White, a man who very possibly went down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon two years before Powell did.

And, it's kind of ridiculous how Stegner criticizes Powell's second expedition's photos as if they were famous works and art: This photo "is marred by too much nondescipt low-water beach in the foreground," and that sort of thing.

This is a great book for anyone interested in John Wesley Powell or the Colorado River. It's possibly Stegner's best nonfiction work, though "Mormon Country" is good as well.

For another great account of John Wesley Powell, read "Down the Great Unknown" by Edward Dolnick.

Or, for a half-decent book about Wallace Stegner's peculiarly white view of the American West, read, "'Why I Can't Read Wallace Stegner' and Other Essays" by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. That one's kind of interesting.
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