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


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

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!

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.


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.


Enjoyed it and learned. Wish I had take earth science all the way back in High School

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.

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.

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!!


Fascinating geology and human history. A classic story of the American West.


The geology of Wyoming is presented through a road trip with a distinguished geologist, David Love. The best parts of the book are the history of the area told through the journals of Love's mother, a Wellesley graduate who made the adventurous trip west in 1905 to teach and ended up living her life on a remote Wyoming ranch.

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.


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.


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.


This was an excellent example of nature writing, combining geology with history and biography, painting a portrait of a Wyoming geologist every bit as thoroughly as it explored the Wyoming geology. Knowing something about geology would help you understand this book, but it's not mandatory. Although this is labeled as book about Geology, the sediments and limestones and granites of Wypming are really only a background for the story of David Love and his family and the effects a changing and exploited landscape had on them.


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.

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