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


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 But it also gives a beautiful overview of the geology of Wyoming through Love's eyes.Some of the geology is a bit outdated, but it does not distract from the greater good.


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.


Biographical; somewhat reminds me of "In Patagonia".


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.


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 since been published, and parts were used for Ken Burns' PBS documentary "The West". For the most part the geology (helps to know your periods, but a graph of them is included in the book) easily holds your interest, but about 2/3rd's of the way through there is a pretty dry patch of about 30 pages that is rough going. Part of the problem is that it is less about WY and more about the over-all geology of the world. Published in 1986, the changing ecology brought about by the removal of coal, shale, oil, and uranium is already an issue. Even more so today as WY and western ND are booming energy economies (including wind now).The nice mix of the Love family's story and the geology of 100's of billions of years of the area grabbed me from the get go. Also, it has made the 4 hour drive via I-25 from Denver to Casper, WY and back to see the lady friend more interesting. I now know what it is I am looking at, and notice the different layers in the road cuts.Highly recommended. His "Basin and Range" is up next for me.


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.

Chris Rock

This was my first book my John McPhee. It's also the first book that I've listened to that was specifically about geology. It helped me to rediscover my love for this particular branch of science. Now I look a little more closely that the rocks and mountains around me, trying to deduce their history.The book isn't purely about geology though as there is a fair bit of history of the area, Wyoming mostly in this case. Although the history parts were interesting, I found myself wishing he'd get back to the geology. Oh well.

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.


My absolute favorite in this fascinating series on geology. Who knew that Wyoming had such dramatic wind storms?


Interesting mix of Wyoming history and geology through the eyes of David Love, who spent decades studying and living in Western Wyoming. The history major in me loved the excerpts from his mother's diary on coming to the state to be a school teacher and her life as a ranchers wife on the years that followed.


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.

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!


McPhee makes you get excited about Geology. a great story about Wyoming.

Michael Leff

I don't usually read much non-fiction, but after reading an essay on writing by John McPhee in the New Yorker, I wanted more. This book is about the geology and history of the part of Wyoming where I grew up. He takes a fairly dry and scientific topic and made it engaging and even compelling. Recommended.

Gary Brecht

Human history, rather than the history of the Earth’s geology, has always been more important to me. However, in this one instance we get both. McPhee tells us the story of the early white settlers in Wyoming. One of the descendants of these pioneers becomes a famous Geologist, and it is his reading of the history of this geographically rich region of our planet that holds the reader’s attention throughout.

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