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Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  2,510 Ratings  ·  195 Reviews
John Wesley Powell and the second opening of the West
John Wesley Powell fought in the Civil War and it cost him an arm. But it didn't stop him from exploring the American West.

Here Wallace Stegner, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, gives us a thrilling account of Powell's struggle against western geography and Washington politics. We witness the successes and frustrations of Powell

Paperback, 438 pages
Published March 1st 1992 by Penguin (first published 1954)
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On my top 10 of 10,000. No one can claim sufficient understanding of the expansion of the West in the late 19th & early 20th centuries without having read this. Stegner is a beautiful writer and you'll love this book. John Wesley Powell not only led the historic Explorations of the Grand, Green and Colorado Rivers and their Canyons, explored the blank areas of the western US, but founded the US Geological Survey & Bureau of Ethnicity. He also was a cofounder and inaugural attendee of ver ...more
Karen GoatKeeper
Feb 01, 2014 Karen GoatKeeper rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read2014
This book is not an easy read. It was written in the 1950s and is a scholarly work. That said it is not difficult to read, just slow if you want to think about what is packed into this book.
John Wesley Powell gained fame as the first man to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He was so much more than that. His career spanned the late 1860s when he mapped the Colorado region to 1894 when some Senators finally pushed him out of his work with the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Irri
Apr 26, 2013 Chris rated it it was ok
At times as dry as the land it discusses this book is more a biography of John Wesley Powell, or perhaps hagiography. Powell was the one armed amateur scientist who quickly morphed into a selfless, skilled bureaucrat whose vision for the American West was denied by Congress and the settlers of the West. The first part of the book concentrates on Powell's expeditions and the latter part on his work in DC managing numerous surveys and agencies. Surprisingly the second part is very instructive and ...more
Oct 07, 2009 Mike rated it liked it
If I didn't appreciate Wallace Stegner so much I wouldn't have bought the book, and I probably wouldn't have finished it either. Stengner is an awesome writer. When describing Powell's intellect, Stegner writes, "He learned from every book, acquanintance, experience; facts stuck in his mind , and not like stray flies on fly-paper but like orderly iron filings around magnetic poles." That kind of writing made the description of Powell's expedition down the Colorado River a quick read. That kind o ...more
Mar 05, 2015 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Essential reading for people who, like me, who feel at home in the American West. Masterfully written--it's Stegner, after all--it includes important reminders about water in the West, especially as it becomes more scarce. It also argues convincingly that this "second opening" of the West required collective action--I could say "socialism" if I wanted to be provocative--on a scale that had never been seen before in the U.S. Those are the big federal water projects, without which we could not hav ...more
Patrick Dean
May 12, 2013 Patrick Dean rated it really liked it
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian deserves its iconic status; it is a work of both scholarship and poetry. It relates the life of a unique, talented, and farsighted man; it also portrays that man's attempt to save the Western United States from its worst myths and preconceptions about itself. One can come away saddened that then, as now, facts and science can be ignored by selfish, greedy, narrow interests. However, one can also be heartened by the way in which finally, reality tends to vindicate th ...more
Feisty Harriet
Jun 20, 2016 Feisty Harriet rated it really liked it
The high desert, red rock canyon country of south-east Utah was the last part of the contiguous United States to be mapped, and with good reason. That country is harsh, blistering, and difficult to navigate by foot, horse, boat, or, frankly, jeep. Powell is the first (white) explorer to attempt this country and try to map the rivers and mountains and plateaus. This book is that history and follows Powell's political career for several decades as he tries to convince Congress and the public so ho ...more
Jun 29, 2016 Kristen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, west
I listened to this on audiobook (Blackstone audio), which I highly recommend. Since I grew up on a street named for Powell, I can hardly afford NOT to read this book.

The narrative of the trip down the Colorado was dramatic, especially compared to the descriptions of failed attempts by contemporaries. I was amazed that they traveled all the way down the river with only flour, dried apples, bacon and a few other supplies for food. They were obviously better foragers than people are today. Well an
Sep 14, 2015 Alyson rated it liked it
Recommended to Alyson by: Brad Farmer
Shelves: non-fiction, bookclub
I didn't end up listening to the entire book. It is actually super long. For book club we were asked to read up through Powell's first expedition down the Green River into what is now The Grand Canyon. I actually went a little bit further but with the exception of the first expedition, the book was a bit too dry for me. The book certainly was exciting as the expedition was on the river. The group had so many different types of experiences on the trip, some seemed unbelievable. It was really inte ...more
Oct 22, 2008 Patrick rated it it was amazing
An awesome book! This book in nominally a biography of Major John Wesley Powell, one of the more influential men in the exploring and settling of the western US in the mid-1800's. However, it doesn't focus too much on dates or other trivial material, but rather gives a broad picture of the western and national issues of the day. Powell gains notoriety by being the first man to explore many of the canyons of Utah and Arizona, including the Grand Canyon. He then works his way up through the federa ...more
Aug 30, 2011 Tinytextiles rated it liked it
The story line is excellent as far as the part of the beginning trip on the Colorado River and beyond. An adventure for all time---to be the first to be challenged by this part of the west. However--it gets bogged down in the politics of the time and I skipped a lot of that part of the book. But loved the adventure of these 9 men on a river for 2 months in the late 1800's, with challenging rapids, and their unwieldy boats and equipment!! If you read this book you might also get a copy of "It Mus ...more
Nov 07, 2011 Wendy rated it really liked it
Very interesting account of John Wesley Powell's discoveries through the great Mountain West. Justin and I became interested in learning more about him when we visited the Grand Canyon last month, and this book is quenching my thirst. The day to day account of Powell and his team rafting through the Grand Canyon is amazing. Cool to hear mention of Powell interacting with Brigham Young and Jacob Hamblin (as in THEE Jacob Lake). It's a bit factual in the beginning, but starts flowing better.
Janis Taylor
May 17, 2013 Janis Taylor rated it really liked it
RICH book and a slow read for me. (Perhaps that had something to do with reading it in the summertime with rivers and mountains and kids in swimming suites constantly beckoning to me.) I found this tricky to rate because if it wasn't so slow, maybe exposing a little more of the personal character--the more controversial sides of Powell instead of giving him the pedestal and hero worship that Stegner does, then I would have rated it higher (and I could've used just a tiny bit of romance somewhere ...more
Bruce Snyder
Feb 21, 2017 Bruce Snyder rated it did not like it
A Colossal Waste of Time: "Boring" Would Be A Compliment

Mr. Stegnor should have stuck to his wonderful fiction. Despite all the desperate situations the Colorado River crew lead by Powell faced, Stegnor's prose is flat and has a "ho hum, ODTAA (one darn thing after another), here-we-go-again-our-lives-are threatened" quality about it. As terrifying as drowning, or falling from a cliff to one's death is, the reader is barely moved the first time it happens. The simple fact of its repetition oddly
Nov 22, 2016 William rated it it was amazing
I read the book while listening to an audio edition.

I was born and raised in the SF Bay area, (San Mateo,Ca. 1947). On my mother's father's side, my ancestors came to SF in 1846, from England, to sell arms to Mexico. My dad migrated from Arkansas in the late 30's from a very rural area. So I am vested in the West.
This book has so much history and educational information that it could be used as an expanded text for an undergrad degree about the West hundreds if not thousands of years ago to und
Casey Schreiner
Mar 21, 2017 Casey Schreiner rated it it was amazing
A fascinating and colorful profile of an infinitely fascinating and colorful figure for the American West, one who was often well ahead of his time.

Powell's story in and of itself seems like the stuff of legend -- a one-armed Civil War veteran takes a ragtag group of amateur scientists down the Colorado River to map the Grand Canyon for the first time, then founds the USGS, lays the groundwork for the American system of public lands, and proposes an ingenious and responsible land management syst
The Hancock
Mar 17, 2017 The Hancock rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book but to paraphrase another GoodReads reviewer, it is sometimes as dry as "The Plateau Province." I expected more "out in the field" reading but I got a lot of "in the Washington, D.C. office manipulating the U.S Congress and working his network" reading. I think more of the latter than the former.

Stegner is occasionally chuckle-aloud funny, but not enough to break the aridity of the Washington, D.C chapters. Here are two favorite passages. From page 152, describing Po
Mar 23, 2017 Carol rated it liked it
I love Wallace Stegner, and this book added to my information on the opening of the West. The description of the trips through the Grand Canyon were well written and exciting. However, did not finish as the latter part re politics did not hold my interest (non-fiction)
Mar 21, 2017 Sherri marked it as to-read
Shelves: did-not-finish
I want to pick this up again. I was not in the mood to read right now.
Jan 12, 2015 Greg rated it really liked it
Wallace Stegner’s book about John Wesley Powell is part bioagraphy of an underappreciated American pioneer and his exploits, and part biography of the self-educated naturalist and author of a classic American thought, Powell’s Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaires.

John Wesley Powell is responsible for much of the development of the American west. He led the first geographical survey of a huge area, stretching from Utah down the Colorado River into Arizona. His reports
David Jacobson
Mar 26, 2016 David Jacobson rated it liked it
Such a cult of personality surrounds the likes of John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and Stephen Mather that it is refreshing to hear the story of another man, John Wesley Powell, who contributed just as much as anyone to the opening and management of the American West. At least, that is the thesis that Wallace Stegner nurtures and expounds upon like a tablet on the mountaintop. One might argue, and one can see obliquely through this biography, that Powell didn't necessarily do that muc ...more
May 01, 2014 Louis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Wallace Stegner’s Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West chronicles John Wesley Powell’s expedition shortly after the end of the Civil War. Powell had the intellectual curiosity to learn everything he could about the land and people he was mapping; this intellectually curiosity, combined with luck may have saved him on numerous occasions. Stegner details more than the just the initial expedition but also the importance of painters and artists to play ...more
Steve Smits
May 17, 2013 Steve Smits rated it really liked it
I bought this book during our first trip to the Southwest. Before this trip I had not thought too much about the West; it's there and it's big, that's about the extent of my perception.

Stegner's book, now over 60 years since publication, is a worthy read on several counts. First, the writing is terrific. I had not read any works by Stegner, known for mainly his western fiction, but this writer is one of the most skilled in literature; I will read more of his works. Second, the book uses John Wes
Jan 04, 2017 Patrick rated it it was ok
Not one of Stegner's most impressive books. But worth reading if you have or are planning a trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.
Mar 01, 2009 Gina rated it really liked it
This is a remarkable book in several ways. It is the story both of John Wesley Powell's explorations of the west, and also a history of land use in the west and the ways Powell tried, and failed, to influence the government policies that would shape it. Being written by Stegner, the landscapes and adventures are beautifully recounted. It is amazing to imagine the thrill and adrenaline of pushing off down a river with literally no knowledge of what lies ahead. And then finding the Grand Canyon!

Jun 30, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in the early years of conservation in America, and of government-sponsored science
Shelves: essential
This is a masterful work of biography, "the history not of a personality but of a career," as Stegner writes in his introductory note. As such, not only does Stegner follow John Wesley Powell down the frightful canyons of the Colorado River and into the even more fearsome halls of the national capital, but the author dwells on Powell's companions and antagonists, his allies and his would-be emulators. He devotes long admiring passages to Powell's associates Capt. Clarence Dutton and Grove Karl G ...more
Jun 13, 2010 Bob rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Jeff Wieland
Recommended to Bob by: David Abelson
As I am a Stegner devotee, this biography of John Wesley Powell - and indeed, of the exploration and evolution of the American West and its waters - has been on my to-read list a very long time. My interest was piqued when David Abelson called me recently to urge me to pick it up, and so I did - and what an amazing book it is.

The first third is a riveting account of Powell's exploration of the Colorado River and as the first non-native American down the Grand Canyon; not just a great outdoor tal
Feb 16, 2017 Morgan rated it really liked it
Beyond the 100th Meridian by Wallace Stegner was a very solid book. Stegner is an excellent writer of both fiction and nonfiction. I loved the stories of John Wesley Powell. Powell was amazing. A scientist, ethnologist, geologist, explorer, administrator, and leader. He had one arm because he lost the other in the civil war. His group was the first down the Grand Canyon. He treated the natives humanely and learned from them, he encouraged the protection of public lands in the public domain. He d ...more
Tom Baker
Feb 19, 2017 Tom Baker rated it liked it
I must say that the second half of this book dragged on and on. Washington politics and legislation are interesting to a point, but, 250 pages of yada yada yada? I finished it but it was a slog. Stegner is a wonderful writer but this book should be read by the very serious student of John Wesley Powell mainly. The first two river trips were immensely interesting. I did gain the knowledge that Powell was a man among his contemporary boys.
Dec 08, 2013 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
BEYOND THE HUNDRETH MERIDIAN: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. (1954). Wallace Stegner. ****.
This has been on my must read list for a long time, and I’ve finally gotten around to it. Stegner was one of our best writers, in general, and especially so when he was writing about the West. In addition to his great reserves of knowledge, he also was a rabid preservationist – a fact which is obvious in this work. John Wesley Powell was an ethnologist and geologist who explored the
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Wallace Earle Stegner was an American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist. Some call him "The Dean of Western Writers." He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the U.S. National Book Award in 1977.
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