Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West By Wallace Stegner (1954)

No. 1

    Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Classics

Rarely have subject and biographer so fortuitously met: The great and awful story of John Wesley Powell, the man who mapped the American West, is amplified by the literary dexterity of Stegner, arguably the West's greatest novelist and environmental advocate. Powell was a one-armed Civil War vet and self-taught naturalist, and his 1869 trip down the Colorado River wasn't just one of the most storied American journeys of exploration; it turned Powell into the West's most tragic advocate. He saw the land as an arid desert that needed careful stewardship, but in D.C.'s halls of power his voice was drowned out by profiteers hell-bent on exploitation. Stegner's book gets this, and so it isn't merely a biography of the man who mapped the American West. It is the story of the American West, in all its glory, exploitation, and ruination.

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