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The Promise of the Grand Canyon

John Wesley Powell's Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West
Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
Length: 13 hrs and 4 mins
Categories: History, American
4.5 out of 5 stars (68 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A timely new account of the first complete exploration of the Grand Canyon and Powell's subsequent career as a pioneer of sustainable development in the West - a classic of American historical adventure that also lays the path for the environmental issues still with us today. 

When John Wesley Powell became the first person to navigate the entire Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon, he completed what Lewis and Clark had begun nearly 70 years earlier - the final exploration of continental America. The son of an Ohio abolitionist preacher, a Civil War hero (who lost an arm at Shiloh), and a passionate naturalist and geologist, in 1869 Powell tackled its last uncharted feature - the vast and dangerous gorge carved by the Colorado River and known today (thanks to Powell) as the Grand Canyon.  

John Ross recreates Powell's expedition in all its glory and terror, but it was his second career as a scientist, bureaucrat, and land-management pioneer that concerns us today, advocating vociferously (and unsuccessfully) for sustainable development of the West. Powell was the first to ask: how should the development of the West be shaped? How much could the land support? What was the role of the government and private industry in all of this? He began a national conversation about stewardship of the new land when most everyone else still looked upon it as simply an inexhaustibly exploitable resource. Though he supported irrigation and dams, his prescient warnings forecast the 1930s dustbowl and the growing water scarcities of today. Practical, yet visionary, his path reflects this nation's hard journey toward embracing a balance of growth with sustainability. Powell didn't have all the answers, but was first to ask the right questions.

©2018 John F. Ross (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Ross tells Powell’s story powerfully, sprinkled with quotes from the explorer-geologist’s diary and a feeling of dramatic suspense - will he survive? - even though we know the outcome." (The Washington Post)

"A convincing case for Powell’s legacy as a pioneering conservationist who maintained, ahead of his time and to no avail, that future settlement of the West must take into account the region’s essential aridity." (The Wall Street Journal

"A bold study of an eco-visionary at a watershed moment in US history." (Nature

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Joseph
  • Somerset, Kentucky, United States
  • 07-23-18

Superb History, but a bit too detailed.

A superb telling of the first trip down the canyon, but the remainder of Powell's life was a bit too detailed for my liking. I did like discovering his Civil War history. Overall worth a credit for any fan of American History.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Parallels

A daunting adventure, but more interesting was Powell as the head of the USGS. The attacks on science and the roll of government in the 1890's is not unlike today. Powell the scientist was on the right side of history.

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About John Wesley Powell not so much the G.C.

Fun to learn about the US land policy from the roots. Good read for anyone that uses public lands and how we got the ideas that now form water and use management in the West.

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Mislead title

I choose this book wanting to learn more about Grand Canyon , but there were only few chapters about it. Rest should have been named great American surveyors. Still yet interesting and well read.

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Fine addition to the Powell story

A worthy addition to the literature on John Wesley Powell's impact on the settlement of the American West. New material on Powell's early years, and in-depth assesment of his contributions as a Federal bureaucrat and visionary nicely suppliment the older works by Stegner and others. Powell's exploration of the Grand Canyon is covered but the book, fortunately, emphasizes his contributions after 1872.