Rising from the Plains

ISBN: 0374520658
ISBN 13: 9780374520656
By: John McPhee

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About this book

"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 John McPhee's "Rising from the Plains." If you like to read about geology, you will find good reading here. If, on the other hand, you are not much engaged by the spatial complexities of the science, you could miss a richness of human history that has its place among the strata described. Sometimes it is said of geologists that they reflect in their professional styles the sort of country in which they grew up. Nowhere could that be more true than in the life of a geologist born in the center of Wyoming and raised on an isolated ranch. This is the story of that ranch, soon after the turn of the century, and of the geologist who grew up there, at home with the composition of the high country in the way that someone growing up in a coastal harbor would be at home with the vagaries of the sea.

Reader's Thoughts


The first sixty pages were difficult to read because I wasn’t grasping the structure of the book. The chapters alternate between McPhee and David Love talking geology on Route 80, the rise and fall of Love Ranch. Once the book gets going, it’s extremely interesting. Many passages are difficult to access, having no knowledge of geology apart from what I learned in grade school. The chapters about John Love, ranch life, and David Love’s growth as a geologist add a human element that refreshes one’s concentration for the more geologically intense passages. I’ll keep my eye out for the other books in the series: Basin and Range; and In Suspect Terrain.


I read this for a book group and found it boring. There was so much information about the geology of Wyoming and very little in the way of plot. Having read a non-fiction book told in a narrative form recently that was excellent this book seemed really lacking. I didn't feel the message of the book was clear either. I've read another book by McPhee and seem to remember it being more compelling than this.


Elegant, engaging and a so unlike your intro to geography course. McPhee excellently weaves geography and sociology into a top-shelf example of this genre.

Louise Dunlap

This book was my first introduction to John McPhee's work, which covers a fascinating and broad range of topics. In this book, he incorporates geology with history.

Summer Ross

There is one word I would most aptly use to describe McPhee's book as and that is "Journey." There is a journey, or sense of forward motion through Wyoming, in and out of the past, and characters.While I am not a fan of geology books, McPhee makes the different rocks and mountains seem like flowers with soft petals sprouting all over pages brought on by time and a striving against weather to exist. He almost makes it as if the rock formations are more than objects, like they themselves are characters in the book.

Tom Baker

As always, McPhee writes with clarity and professionalism. I believe I have read everything that he has written that I could lay my hands on. Rising From The Plains is amazing!


I am a huge fan of John McPhee! He is such an amazing scientific writer. He is my next favorite to John Janovy. Any book by either author I'm crazy about. You'll like this one if you love history and science and the Great Plains.

Susan Herceg-russo

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.


A must for anyone living in Jackson regardless of whether they consider themselves a local or care about geology. I couldn't put it down.


This book held my interest for a few pages and then I'd lose interest. It was back and forth. What I loved about this book is reading about my home state, Wyoming, and hearing about the places I know and love and how they were formed, like the Tetons. Where I lost interest is when passages would get technical about the geology of the area, and go on for long stretches.McPhee, as always, does, a great job of weaving in human back stories, which I liked reading, too. It was interesting to hear the stories of people first arriving in Wyoming for the uranium boom and what towns were like during those times.

Jim Griggs

What an excellent book, one a read several times. I love geology and history and this is a great combination of both! Loved it!!


Biographical; somewhat reminds me of "In Patagonia".

Ross Hollander

An extraordinary book. McPhee writes about the geological formation of Wyoming and about the Love family, who settled there. The weaving together of these two stories is charming, informative, and fascinating. McPhee is a Pulitzer Prize winning author whose style is eminently readable.

Kay Robart

See my review here:http://whatmeread.wordpress.com/tag/r...


As a geologist I REALLY liked this book. Now I need to plan a trip to Wyoming...

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