Book Review: A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell |

Book Review: A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

by Donald Worster

This is a thoroughly documented biography of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who led the first boat expedition down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon.

Author Donald Worster states that a previously published biography of Powell that was both popular and influential, “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner, was “based on limited research into its subject or the nation’s development.” Wow, and Stegner’s book is one of my favorites.

This book is wonderfully illustrated with period sketches from popular magazines, paintings by Thomas Moran, and photographs by J.K. Hillers, who developed a method of transferring his negatives to glass so Powell could project them on a screen for his lectures. Hillers’ photos, along with boxes and boxes of artifacts, preserve a history of American Indians found nowhere else. Powell’s detailed descriptions of ceremonies and lifestyles and catalog of languages remains the most authentic, and sometimes the only, record of many Colorado Plateau American Indians.

For Western history buffs, Worster’s book is pure gold, not as exciting as Stegner’s earlier work but full of rich detail, wonderful illustrations, and a thorough bibliography that should keep you supplied with further reading for a long time.

– Curt Sutliff,

Nevada City

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