Rising 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.