Day 417: Annals of the Former World: Rising from the Plains

Cover for Annals of the Former WorldRising from the Plains was my favorite book of Annals of the Former World. In this third book of the series (or third section of the complete book), John McPhee examines the geology of Wyoming along I-80 and makes a side trip to Jackson Hole.

McPhee travels with geologist David Love, and he enlivens the geological discussion with a discursion on the settling of Wyoming, particularly with the history of Love’s own family. He begins with Love’s mother, Ethel Waxham, a Wellesley graduate who arrived in the wintery landscape by stage to take up work as a schoolteacher. Waxham kept absorbing journals that describe the harsh conditions as well as the striking characters she encountered. Waxham was courted and won by a rancher, John Love, a nephew of John Muir, the great writer and naturalist. McPhee has tales to tell of Love’s adventures, including his acquaintance with Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Longabaugh (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).

This book continues to explore questions raised by too comprehensive an application of the theory of plate tectonics. It introduces the concepts of hot spots and plumes and their involvement in the formation of structures.

The book delves deeper into the story of the discovery of oil shales and uranium in the area. It touches on issues of ecology and preservation of natural areas.

Of all the parts of Annals, Rising from the Plains is the widest in scope. McPhee has a talent for making his subjects understandable and readable–and very interesting.

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3 thoughts on “Day 417: Annals of the Former World: Rising from the Plains

  1. Cecilia October 29, 2013 / 11:49 am

    I’m compiling a list of books by state (my next reading challenge), and I was stuck with Wyoming! Thanks for the recommendation. Geology is not necessarily something I would volunteer to read about but it sounds like this is interesting enough for a literary fiction reader to cross over to? 😉 (To be honest I have developed some interest thanks to my 9 y/o’s interests in geology.)

    • whatmeread October 29, 2013 / 11:54 am

      I think it could be. Keep in mind that there is the big book, Annals of the Former World, but that Rising from the Plains is also available by itself. I think that would be the way to go, as even I, whom am interested in geology, thought that the big tome was a lot to read, whereas each book that made up a section was interesting on its own. The individual sections are actually not that long, but together, they make up a very long book! The only caveat is that each section explains a different aspect of plate tectonics and related theories, so if you don’t understand anything about plate tectonics, you might have a little difficulty. But he writes very clearly. He DOES use a lot of geology terms that I had to look up in a dictionary, but they were usually terms for different types of rocks. If it’s something you have to understand, he explains it to you. The settling of Wyoming stuff would be interesting to any reader, I think.

      • Cecilia October 29, 2013 / 12:16 pm

        Thank you, this is very helpful!

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