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Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon Paperback – August 1, 2007

4.9 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Butler and Myers do wonders with this book, taking what seems at first glance a prosaic subject, and fashioning it into a fascinating portrait of a man hopelessly addicted to a place." -- 2008 National Outdoor Book Awards, which named Grand Obsession a winner in the History/Biography category.

"Of all the Grand Canyon books out there, this one stands alone as a classic work showcasing man and nature at their best." -- Lynn Arave, The Deseret Morning News

"Through Butchart's experiences, readers get a feel for how impressive, humbling, unforgiving and fascinating this place is. Read it." -- Amy Maesta, Inside/Outside Southwest

"There's a special word for finding your own way around the Grand Canyon without following established trails: "butcharting," an homage to Harvey Butchart." -- Susan Spano, The Los Angeles Times

"Written by two other Canyon explorers, with personal accounts of their efforts to follow in Butchart's footsteps, this story of a remarkable life transcends biography and becomes gripping adventure." -- Pima County Library and Arizona Historical Society, which named "Grand Obsession" a 2007 Southwest Book of the Year.

"The book is well written and the story of Harvey's life is extremely interesting. I highly recommend this book!" -- Denise Traver, former NPS ranger and author of hitthetrail, a Grand Canyon website.

"Harvey Butchart, the man who has walked over more of the Grand Canyon than any other alive or dead..." --Edward Abbey, writing in his journal at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1969 --Ed Abbey

"Nobody knew the Grand Canyon better than Harvey Butchart did. Now comes our chance to better know Butchart, the enigmatic hiker-explorer who is regarded as the father of American desert canyoneering. "Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon," by Elias Butler and Tom Myers, tells the story of this mild-mannered math professor who turned tenacious below the canyon's rims - logging 12,000 miles on foot, blazing dozens of new routes from rim to river and notching 28 first recorded ascents of buttes and other formidable formations in the canyon's torrid interior. He wrote three famously cryptic backcountry guidebooks that helped cement his status among canyon aficionados as part Superman, part Yoda." --Joe Hudson, The Denver Post

"Harvey Butchart was the legendary hiker and canyoneer who explored more of the Grand Canyon than any other person. He was largely known through his sparse and somewhat cryptic hiking guidebooks. But even more cryptic was Butchart himself. Who was this man, and why did his interest in the canyon become an obsession that consumed his life? You'll find out in this uncommonly well researched, well-structured and well-written biography." --2008 2008 National Outdoor Book Awards web site

About the Author

Elias Butler is a writer and photographer living in Flagstaff, Arizona. Butler has written for Backpacker, National Geographic Adventure, The Fretboard Journal, the Las Vegas-Review Journal and the Arizona Daily Sun. Butler's photography has been published in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Arizona Highways, and Backpacker . This is his first book.

At age 19, Tom Myers began celebrating the dawning of each new year by hiking in the Grand Canyon. It is a tradition he and his wife continue to share with their three children. He has co-authored two previous Canyon books, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon (with Michael Ghiglieri) and Fateful Journey (with Larry Stevens and Chris Becker).


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 457 pages
  • Publisher: Puma Press; 1st edition (August 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970097344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970097347
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Grand Obsessions is page turner for anyone who's hiked the Grand Canyon or plans to hike it. Not only do the authors bring Butchart back to life, they do a great job of descibing the influnce of other Grand Canyon backcountry explorers on him, and in return, his influence on them, including other authors such as Colin Fletcher (The Man Who Walked Through Time). I highly recommend sharing this book with your hiking friends.
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Format: Hardcover
Harvey Butchart was a mathematics professor. His doctoral thesis was "Helices in Euclidean N-Space", and at one point he had to get twenty feet of wrapping paper to do his massive calculations for it. He looked the part, for he was scrawny at five foot seven inches and 135 pounds, and he had thick bifocals. He was socially awkward and shy. He was a good mathematician, with further papers and competence within the Northern Arizona University Mathematics Department. He had a perfectly respectable professional life. So far so dull. You would not have known it if you had seen him in his professor role, but he was a tenacious adventurer who made the Grand Canyon his realm of expertise. He logged 12,000 hiking miles in over forty years of canyoneering, he found new routes of access from the canyon rim to river, and he climbed 83 of the buttes in the canyon, often climbing by himself, and 28 of those climbs were the first recorded conquests. Everyone who knew him knew of his obsession with the canyon, and he is a hero to the many who have followed the trails he described. No one appreciates Butchart's life's work more than hikers Elias Butler and Tom Myers, who have written an admiring biography of the man who knew the Grand Canyon better than anyone, _Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon_ (Puma Press). Not only is this big, well-illustrated book an account of Butchart's life and work, it chronicles much of the history of the canyon, especially after the boom in camping and nature appreciation that has occurred in the past decades. It is also an account of an obsession that was dangerous at times, and even tragic. The obsession was also hazardous to Butchart's family life, but he did put it to practical use for the benefit of others.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Grand Obsession explores the full life of Harvey Butchart. Assessments on the whole seem prudent. A riveting, yet educational masterpiece presented well by Butler and Myers. Given a soul the reader will experience all emotions. I found myself laughing out loud, crying inside and obsessed to read the next chapter.

Lucky you, the authors are the exact opposite of the subject at hand. Virtually any question you may have about Harvey is answered. It's everything you need to know presenting intense facts along the way. Symbolic childhood moments decipher the psyche. Fun adventures to those that turned sour are interweaved with mini profiles of those that affected his life most. Personal and sometimes appalling tidbits make it real. Never before nor will I ever likely read another book this size, I just wish this one was bigger!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The authors have done a huge amount of research to bring us the story of the life of this legendary figure, starting with his boyhood in China, and ending with the years after he had to quit hiking until his death at age 95. They also bring us the story of their initially unsuccessful and traumatic attempt to reach the top of Wotan's Throne, one of the Canyon "peaks" that Harvey climbed. The authors used the 26 cubic feet of archival material at the University of Northern Arizona to write their story, including the over 1000 pages of Harvey's logbooks, and interviewed many of the folks who hiked with Harvey and some of his relatives. You won't find lots of details of his rim to river routes or his "peak" ascents, so this is not a detailed account of his route finding. You do learn a lot about the man's personality. You cannot fail to be impressed by his obsession with the Canyon; one of the fascinating stories is how he almost killed himself multiple times on a solo trip in late December. This book will especially appeal to someone who has hiked in or knows the Canyon. If you don't know the Canyon in detail, it would be helpful to have a good map handy while reading the book in order to understand some of Harvey's travels.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a tremendously interesting and enjoyable biography. The writing is superb, the photographs enriching, and the flow and structure of the book are excellent. Most importantly, the authors have beautifully and humanely illuminated the life of an extraordinary -- and until now for me and many others -- a somewhat mysterious man.

I met Dr. Butchart 35 years ago when I took his Algebra course at Northern Arizona University. He was a challenging professor (the best kind!), and as a young hiker and beginning Canyoneer, I was in awe of his Canyon reputation. I didn't get to know him beyond class. In subsequent years and after many off-trail and below-the-rim miles attempting to follow his terse guides, I was mystified as to who he really was. Thanks to Butler and Meyers, I have finally come to know him. And what a great arm-chair adventure getting to "know him" has been!

"Grand Obsession" is not only a fine addition to the ever enlarging literature of the Grand Canyon, it is a fittingly great biography of a little known but great western explorer.
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