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Rising from the Plains

(Annals of the Former World #3)

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,617 ratings  ·  137 reviews
This is about high-country geology and a Rocky Mountain regional geologist. I raise that semaphore here at the start so no one will feel misled by an opening passage in which a slim young woman who is not in any sense a geologist steps down from a train in Rawlins, Wyoming, in order to go north by stagecoach into country that was still very much the Old West.

So begins Joh
Paperback, 208 pages
Published November 1st 1987 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published November 17th 1986)
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Average rating 4.24  · 
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Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
In Rising from the Plains, John McPhee takes us on an exciting and fascinating road trip throughout Wyoming with geologist David Love. The first half of the book is a beautiful blend of Wyoming geology, and the history of Love’s family as they move into the Wind River Basin region in the early twentieth century. The second half of the book continues with geology of the Rocky Mountain region, but also includes a high-level look at the United States and how it affected western geology.

I enjoyed Mc
Left Coast Justin
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you’re lucky, you’ve had the chance to get to know somebody truly inspirational, someone who just seems to belong to a different category of humanity than us normal folk. This book has three such people: A geologist named David Love; a frontier wife named Ethel Waxman; and of course the author himself, John McPhee. Arguably, the book is primarily about geology, but that’s a very limited interpretation. For many years, this was my favorite book, and re-reading it twenty years later, I realize ...more
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
''Most maps are patched together from various papers and reports. Dave has looked at all the rock. It's all in one mind. Most geologic maps are maps of time, not rocks."
-- Malcolm McKenna, quoted in John McPhee's Rising from the Plains


I am nearly finished with the individual portions of Annals of the Former World (Basin and Range ☑, In Suspect Terrain ☑, Assembling California ☑). All I have left is to read the section 'Crossing the Craton' (a forty-page addition to his 40th parallel/I-80 projec
Jan 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was phenomenal.
It is a must read for anyone interested in Rocky Mountain geology, or in getting a glimpse into the American west.

This book has been republished in McPhee's larger Annals of a Former World. It is a biography of the famous Wyoming geologist, J. David Love. But it also gives a beautiful overview of the geology of Wyoming through Love's eyes.

Some of the geology is a bit outdated, but it does not distract from the greater good.
Oct 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, geology
This is the third time I've read Rising from the Plains and it seems as fresh today as when I first read it for a geology class back in the mid-90's. John McPhee, who wrote for the The New York Times for many years, is an engaging writer and in this book weaves the geology of the high plains with the story of famed Rocky Mountain geologist David Love and his family, who settled in central Wyoming in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Having lived in Wyoming myself, I am familiar with the
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Western history, memoir, geography, and of course, geology. All mixed into one relatively slim volume. People who have vivid mental maps of Wyoming, and have driven I-80 (preferably many times) will be the most avid readers. As I read, I kept wondering why the author/publisher didn't use illustrations. Verbal descriptions of geologic features aren't nearly as instructive as one good drawing. There is a map, but it's pretty general.

Another criticism -- there isn't an Index, which is an omission I
David Kessler
Jun 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
McPhee at his best. The author mixes geology, history and humans into a tightly woven story.
Wyoming could not be more alive than in this story about the early 20th century settlers.
John Love settled at the epicenter of Wyoming and has two sons and a daughter. His son, David Love, took up geology of Wyoming in a large way and his observations and tact are the center of McPhee's writing. A well-spun yarn.
Bob R Bogle
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While studying general Wyoming history I learned by happy happenstance of John McPhee's 1986 book Rising From the Plains, which unfolds the geological story of the state from the perspective of those American Western pioneers and their descendants who have inhabited the land for the last century. Wyoming geologist David Love is McPhee's focal point. It's challenging to pin down this book. It's a portrait of Wyoming's geology, but also of David Love and his family, and occasionally it's more free ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it did not like it
Mind-numbingly abstruse. I don't see how anyone who is not in the geology field could find this book remotely accessible. Maybe I just lack the intellectual curiosity or capacity for this book. Or maybe it's just a slog of a book that few regular folks would find appealing. ...more
Oct 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Had this been a May morning a hundred million years ago, in Cretaceous time, we would have been many fathoms underwater, in a broad arm of the sea, which covered the continental platform—reached across the North American craton, the Stable Interior Craton—from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean where vegetation flourished in coastal swamps. They would have been like the Florida Everglades, the peat fens of East Anglia, or borders of the Java Sea, which stand just as temporarily, reported to ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it
With the last two Annals of the Former World books, it's become somewhat more obvious that these books are as much the story of of specific geologists as they are of the geology itself. This book spends a lot more time on the life of David Love and his parents than it does on the actual geology itself.

I suppose I should be disappointed by the bait-and-switch as I was with Our Senses , but I think the difference is that I wasn't reading this book because I was super interested in plains geolog
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa-nonfiction
Another excellent book by John McPhee. This is about geology, specifically Wyoming geology, but it's also about David Love, an apparently legendary geologist. I say apparently because I don't know anything about geology. Much of the book went over my head. But within the story of Wyoming's geology is the story of David Love and his family - his parents' courtship and marriage, his childhood and college years, his love for his home state, the tension he felt between his environmentalism and his d ...more
Nora Rawn
Feb 09, 2022 rated it liked it
I went back and forth on this. It's quite quite hard to comprehend the motions over time just by their nature and the extremity of the changes; but I was gripped by the story of the Wyoming-bound schoolteacher from her journals. What really sticks out, of course, is the geologist-explorer at the center, who thinks exploiting resources is his purpose but starts to have some hesitations that of course now we can see are glimmers of the unsustainable truth. ...more
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020reads
This one is about Wyoming. The Love family geologists, Scottish stubborn survivalists, living rough and ranching. Jackson Hole and how it formed, how the Rockies got exhumed, how oil and uranium were unexpectedly found in Wyoming’s basins. Also the theory of hot spots, how plates move over them to form island chains, and how the deep theory works until it is / isn’t proven. Also some reflections on office vs field geology, and how one might regret a uranium gold rush in your childhood backyard & ...more
Books I'm Not Reading
Oh, this book was very close to being a 5-star read, but McPhee just got too technical for a novice like me toward the end. Still, I feel blessed to have read this book and the McPhee cared enough about the state I live in to spend the time to write it. For anyone who loves Wyoming or loves geology or both!
Nov 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: z202122-ca
“In short, he had put the petals back on the flower. And it was some flower. The Teton landscape contained not only the most complete geologic history in North America but also the most complex. (“One reason I’ve put in a part of my life here is that we have so much coming together. I don’t want to waste my time. I can make more of a contribution by concentrating here than on any other place.”) After more than half a century with the story assembling in his mind, he can roll it like a Roman scro ...more
Jun 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Very interesting account of the geology of Wyoming! I really enjoyed all the facts, like why the Wyoming rivers have strange paths, and how Union Pacific got a leg up due to a route in Wyoming, and why people in Pinedale have accelerated tooth decay. I love geology because it literally underlies everything, and this book highlighted that.
Jun 07, 2020 added it
Shelves: abandoned
I'm just never going to be able to get through the geology series. ...more
Trish Remley
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Book read for a Place Based Literature Action Book Club. A good combo of geology and learning about someone's upbringing and subsequent life's work in this geology. Could not be more Placed Based. Author drives around Wyoming with Geologist David Love (1913-2002) - one of the last great field geologists. David was born near Riverton Wyoming. His parents, John & Miss Waxman built up and lost everything several times due to blizzard, flood, drought.Lived very rural. David mentions his childhood ne ...more
I finished this entire book about the origin of the Rocky Mountains before realizing that I still don't have much idea how they were made! Partly that is because McPhee's geological exegesis is interspersed with the details of geologist David Love's family history -- which turns out to be a combination of _The Virginian_ and _Little House on the Prairie_. Let me put it this way: in a work about the geology of the western United States, the fact that John Muir was Love's great-uncle barely has ro ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
One of 5 volumes of geology with a personal twist that McPhee has written. I have not read McPhee in so long - glad to get back to him.
This is the story of the geology of Wyoming - and a fascinating story it is! McPhee gives it that personal note by telling us the story of the Love family and traveling w/ geologist David Love. His mother was a Wellesley grad who came to WY to teach in a one room schoolhouse, and was wooed by cowboy John Love. The journals of his mother, Ethel Waxman Love, have
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, best-of-2012
I read this as we travelled up from Scottsdale through Flagstaff, by the Grand Canyon (we did stop to gawk), through Monument Valley and the Valley of the Gods, over the pass at Butte as it snowed (roads to Yellowstone were closed because of snow), and I finished it today as we drove around the edges of the Black Hills (Theodore Roosevelt National Park). A perfect read for a rather glorious car trip.
Feb 14, 2013 rated it liked it
I love John McPhee's writing, especially when he is describing people and places. Toward the end of this book, the in-depth description of the chaotic geologic layers of Wyoming basins and ranges left me leafing through pages rather than reading them. So truth is I am not a geologist but love to scuttle around the edges of geologic formations. I did recommend that my Wyoming son read this book. ...more
Susan Herceg-russo
Oct 12, 2010 rated it did not like it
I am having the most difficult time reading this book. I'm not an unintelligent person, but the subject matter is not grabbing me.

What attitude is one supposed to take to connect with these men? I'm not finding it. Someone please help.
Oct 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Given that my love for geology started in Wyoming, this book is one I will lug around with me for life. Wonderful history of David Love and his family, his geological career working in various industries, and his conflicting feelings on some of the work he is asked to do.
Isaac Jensen
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
It’s hard to pick a favorite from Annals of the Former World, but I think that this book may take the cake.
Dave Mills
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wyoming's full of ignorant people. We've thousands of cowboys who wear their Stetsons and brag of their toughness but who could never make it on the range and who probably don't even know how to saddle a horse. We've ranchers who hate the government but bellyache when their (over)grazing allotment checks arrive late. We've old, white, male politicians who scam the system for their own greed but who have little sympathy for the downtrodden, those without health insurance, for example. These same ...more
Jun 20, 2021 rated it liked it
When I read John McPhee’s writing, I am drawn in by his curiosity and his love for his subjects. Reading this book I fell in love with Wyoming, again; for geology, my major in college; and with Ethel Waxham, a highly educated young woman at the beginning of the 20th century, and her son the geologist. And then I found myself learning about hotspots, the Canadian Shield and seamounts off the eastern seaboard.
This book was first published in 1987 and is one of the books in the collection Annals of
Francis Kilkenny
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
John McPhee is truly a unique and special author. The nonfiction books that were eventually bound into the tome “Annals of a Former World” comprise his magnum opus. “Rising From the Plains” is one of those books. It follows the geologist David Love across Wyoming, and describes history both geologic and human. Love is fascinating and conflicted, with a character and background that could be written into a novel. Love’s mother and father are also described in this book, which helps to root the qu ...more
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
You have to be really passionate about the geography of Wyoming, and also love anecdotes about 19th century frontier life in Wyoming to truly enjoy this. You also need to have at least a basic understanding of geological fundamentals or be prepared to look up a lot of terminology along the way.

The book is basically a "travels with Charlie" travelogue where "Charlie" is not a canine companion, but David Love, an old school salt of the earth cowboy geologist who leads our narrator around to miscel
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John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The P ...more

Other books in the series

Annals of the Former World (5 books)
  • Basin and Range
  • In Suspect Terrain
  • Assembling California
  • Annals of the Former World

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“This is the only place in the whole Rocky Mountain front where you can go from the Great Plains to the summit of the mountains without snaking your way up a mountain face or going through a tunnel. This one feature had more to do with the building of the West than any other factor. I don’t diminish the importance of the Oregon Trail, but here you had everything going for you. This point hasn’t been made before.” 0 likes
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