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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

on February 20, 2018
My college degree was in geology. I've been out West more times than I can remember. I've attached a photo of me out West the first time on a geology field trip. I was a little younger than the author was when he first crossed the Mississippi to see the towering front range of Colorado.

Keith captured the essence of the rugged topography and what courage, endurance, and determination the emigrants possessed to overcome the 1,800+ mile journey to get to California, the promised land. You'll be fascinated by the easy-to-understand geologic concepts in this delightful book.

I guarantee you'll write in your review it would have been a bargain at twice the price.
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on November 19, 2017
I cannot speak highly enough of this book. I live in the Basin and Range region (Las Vegas), and reading "Hard Road West" has immeasurably enhanced my understanding and appreciation of this area. After retiring, I moved to the American West from St. Louis, MO., specifically because I had fallen in love with it during my first visit at age 16.

I never realized how the ancient Farallon tectonic plate had played such a role in the landscape of the West, and reading of how gold found its way to the Sierra Nevada's 49ers was thrilling as well. But then there's the uplift of the Sierra Nevada itself that's told so splendidly. And how about today's Pacific Plate slowly stretching the Basin and Range along with it, as the Plate treads toward Alaska, causing (in a few million years) the West to tear apart from the rest of the North American Continent? Beachfront property in Nevada!

If you read this book, you will be hungry for more of Keith Meldahl's geology and storytelling, so undoubtedly you will purchase another excellent book of his -- "Rough-Hewn Land." In both books, the geology is wonderfully presented, and both books also include significant historical events associated with the geology. It seems that, if he so desired, Mr. Meldahl could be a best-selling novelist as well. Of course, the "stories" he tells in these two books are not fiction -- they are actual history. But in both works, he weaves the storytelling seamlessly into the geology, and his phrasing, syntax, and artistry in conveying both the geology and the story are superb. The magic, the splendor of the West thrives on each page.

I am resisting the temptation to comment on specific passages in his book -- they're so good, I'll let you discover them for yourselves. If you'd like a taste, just use Amazon's "Look Inside" feature.

Thanks, Keith Heyer Meldahl.

I must go now. The gold and silver await ...
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on May 26, 2014
As a history enthusiast and author, I found Keith Meldahl's book fascinating and deeply engaging. His unique combination of historical journals written by our pioneer forefathers interwoven with the explanations of the ancient geology that created the very overland obstacles that challenged them - proved an enlightening perspective.

Step by step and page by page, Meldahl reveals - through their own words - the genuine hardship the wagon train journeymen endured and (mostly) overcame on their challenging journey west. Most importantly he clearly explains WHY they encountered the specific geological barriers that they did and the ingenuity it took to overcome them. His maps and explanations of the individual trails are particularly helpful.

I found the book absorbing to read while providing fascinating new insights on the intimidating westward venture our forefathers faced. If this subject interests you – buy this book. It will transport you into the time and the journey while revealing the unrelenting will of the pioneers who lived it and made it happen. It’s a great read.

Ron Horne – author of ‘Forgotten Faces – A Window into Our Immigrant Past”
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on December 16, 2015
Also a great lay book on geology and it's effects on human settlement. His book Rough Hewn Land an equally engaging book. I gotta remember to take a) this book and b) more time when traveling the western Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, mostly along I-80. Much easier to comprehend than those "Geology of_____" books for roadside interpretation. Has great insight into how geology shaped the settling of the West, and how it may shape it's future. Though one must think in geological timeframes.
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on April 10, 2012
A most interesting history lesson and well written. The technical portion is sometimes a little difficult to get through but that is not where the emphasis is placed. I have been watching reruns of the Wagon Train series and during many scenes observed the pioneers walking. I thought how unbelievable it was to show people walking to California. But this book confirms it and explains why. You get a much better understanding of the hardships endured. Many people died on the trip. Again, contrary to TV and the movies, a small minority of the deaths were from Indian attacks. Included along with a history of the trip West in the gold rush era is a history of the Earth for that region. A real twofer!!
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on April 25, 2011
I enjoyed this book more than any that I've read for some time. As other reviewers have noted, it tells the story of North American geology in the context of the trails to California during the mid-19th-century Gold Rush. While there are many excellent books on the Gold Rush and the wagon trails west (The Age of Gold by H.W. Brands and Wagons West by Frank McLynn are a couple of fine examples), what sets this book apart is the emphasis on the geology. The travels of the wagon trains across the continent mainly just provide the framework, just as John McPhee's journey along Interstate 80 provided the framework for his wonderful book, Annals of the Former World.

As a long-time amateur geologist, I've read a number of geology textbooks as well as popular books on geology such as McPhee's, and I think that Hard Road West is probably the most clear overview and the best introduction to North American geology that I've read. In fact, probably most people would even get more out of Annals of the Former World if they were to start with Hard Road West first. Keith Meldahl is very good at coming up with simple, concrete examples to illustrate complex concepts. Reading this book connected a lot of dots for me, and I now have a much better sense, for example, of how the subduction of the Farallon Plate under the North American Plate could have created such diverse phenomena as the San Andreas Fault, the Rocky Mountains, and the Basin and Range province. In addition, the personal accounts by the pioneers of all these geologic features as they encountered them brings the story to life and keeps it from turning into a dry geology textbook. The book is very well paced, as it alternates between the ancient story of the land and the 19th-century accounts of the pioneers as they encountered the diverse landscapes firsthand. I'd strongly recommend Hard Road West to anyone interested in the old trails west and the Gold Rush, and especially to anyone interested in the geology of North America. If you're interested in both, as I am, this book will be a great find.
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on April 25, 2016
Anything written by Keith Meldahl is a good read. In this case, he blends history and geology in an informative, easy to understand style. These two subjects are my favorites so the combination led to a situation where I found it hard to put down the book once I got started. And don't forget the fun, Keith sprinkles funny comments and analogies throughout. If you find plate tectonics and history of the west fascinating, then you need to read this book.
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on November 29, 2013
Hard Road West is an excellent melding of geology and how geology impacts people.The author, a geologist, tells a story of how the geology of the American West impacted the Gold Rush immigrants to California. The immigrants were all nearly clueless about the wilderness they were about to cross. This ignorance lead to many deaths and tragic suffering as the travelers encountered a landscape, blistering deserts to towering mountains, unlike anything they had ever encountered. The book weaves the first hand accounts of the men and women who traveled through this nearly impenetrable landscape with a geologist's expert analysis of that same land.
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on September 6, 2013
I should have written this review a long time ago when I read the book. Now I have forgotten the details of my thoughts at the time, but can't help but say that this book along with "Rough-Hewn Land" by the same author are stars. Interesting, informative and while there are quality books around on the geologic structure of the continent "Rough-Hewn Land" is the equal of any. A little bias creeps in here I am sure, since I am a native Californian and like that the book begins in CA and heads east. Back to "Hard Road West", it delivers a view of peoples, events, locales, and perceptions that is enlightening on a historic chapter that you can view as either an invasion or the march of progress but when you're done reading your opinion will at least be informed.
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on October 24, 2011
John McPhee's Assembling California piqued my interest in the geology of the West--but this book fulfilled it. The writing is crystal-clear and easy to understand; the charts and graphics convey the details that McPhee's majestic and poetic prose just couldn't do. The only quibble I might have, and it's a tiny one, is that the geology tends to overwhelm the history. I can't praise this wonderful book enough.
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