Grand Canyon: Solving Earth's Grandest Puzzle

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9780131479890: Grand Canyon: Solving Earth's Grandest Puzzle
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Combines historical text with geomorphological and scientific evidence to chronicle the search by explorers, scientists, and academics to understand the cause and evolution of the Grand Canyon.

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Review:

"The Grand Canyon’s beauty, grandeur, and striking form have made it one of the greatest tourist attractions in the U.S., and also one of the greatest intellectual challenges to geologists. James Powell’s exciting account of the Canyon’s development is worthy of the excitement that the Canyon itself inspires."-Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and of Collapse

  An engaging and lucid account of one of geology’s greatest monuments. The story of how the Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River turns out to be a remarkable detective story, complete with red herrings and innocent suspects. Scientific understanding progresses in curious ways, and the tale of the Grand Canyon encapsulates many features of growth in our knowledge over the whole of the earth sciences. A useful antidote to the so-called creationist accounts of the formation of one of the wonders of the world."

--Richard Fortey, Senior Paleontologist, Natural History Museum, London, FRS, author of Trilobite! and Earth

"Grand Canyon reads like a detective novel as Powell traces the work of the generations of geologists trying to understand our most majestic landscape. In the process, his fascinating book reveals not just how the Grand Canyon has taken shape, but our planet as a whole."

-Carl Zimmer, author of Soul Made Flesh and Evolution: the Triumph of An Idea

"John Wesley Powell, the pioneer explorer of the Grand Canyon, believed that science could reveal a deeper history of America, one that we should know for our own survival. As this excellent book shows, that prophecy has come true: modern science indeed has revealed just how fragile our civilization is-as vulnerable as the rocks that water has relentlessly washed away in the Canyon. A clear, dramatic, and humbling story of continental discovery."

-Donald Worster, Hall Distinguished Professor of American History, Department of History, University of Kansas

"As important to the professional scientist as it is to those who simply are bewitched by this part of North America. Powell provides not only a very detailed interpretation of virtually every scientific expedition and significant research paper, but he has also consulted directly with key contributors to recent and ongoing Plateau studies. An expertly woven tale of scientific intrigue."

-Richard A. Young, Dept. of Geological Sciences, SUNY College

"Grand Canyon weaves together the observations, themes, and men that shaped our understanding of this spectacular natural wonder. The book puts John Wesley Powell’s feats of exploration into the context of how we have gained an overall understanding of the origin of not just the Grand Canyon, but of river valleys in general. It does all of this with a flare that will inform and entertain anyone curious about how the Earth’s surface has been shaped."

-- Charles G. Groat, Director, U.S. Geological Survey 

 

Library Journal Review, May 1st

In this illustrated work, Powell (Night Comes to the Cretaceous) chronicles the search by explorers, scientists, and academics to understand what caused the Grand Canyon. Combining historical text with geomorphological and scientific evidence about the evolving nature and grandeur of the Green/Colorado Rivers, the text reads like a detective story, with

pieced-together clues identified by 19th-century exploration giants of the American West. Powell writes in an easy-to-read style, successfully integrating historical vignettes, statistics, descriptive narration, scientific theory, and personal observation. He provides excellent insight into the development of geological theory culminating in a new model of

canyon building and the development of a great river system and the surrounding landscape. Professional or amateur geologists and anyone else who has an interest in great rivers or has viewed the Grand Canyon will find this book captivating. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.

-Ian D. Gordon, Brock Univ. Lib., St. Catharines, Ont.

From the Back Cover:

The centerpiece of scenic grandeur in the American West is the Grand Canyon, one of the great natural wonders of the world. How it came to be has captured the imagination not only of millions of visitors to the canyon, but for over 135 years, the best American geologists as well. They recognized that the Colorado River carved this scenic masterpiece, but exactly when and how it did so eluded them. Only in the last few years has a consensus begun to emerge and now, for the first time, author James Lawrence Powell tells the fascinating story of how the mystery came to be solved.

Not only have geologists discovered the reasons for the majestic width and depth of the Canyon, they have found that at one time the Colorado River ran through it in the opposite direction. At another time, hundreds of feet of gravel buried an ancestor of today's Colorado River. Then erosion removed the gravel and resurrected the river, in what James Lawrence Powell has dubbed the Lazarus Theory.

Readers of this book will discover and rediscover a great American river―one of astonishing energy and power, a majestic rival to the celebrated Mississippi. Beginning in the Colorado Rockies, the river cuts its way first across the Colorado Plateau and then the Basin and Range Province, finally to reach the sea in the Gulf of California. This river of "liquid sandpaper" today sometimes drops 15 feet per mile; by contrast, the gentle Mississippi rolls across the plains to the Gulf of Mexico at a gradient of a few inches per mile. Ultimately, the waters of the Colorado are not only key to understanding the geology of the West, but also to the management of our most precious western resource.

What makes James Lawrence Powell's narrative so compelling, apart from the grandeur of its subject, is the richness of the characters who participated in this detective story. John Wesley Powell, the most famous of the nineteenth-century Canyon expedition leaders, the man for whom Lake Powell is named, discovered key geologic principles that helped to crack the puzzle. His two brilliant assistants, Grove Karl Gilbert and Clarence Dutton, built on Major Powell's findings to make historic scientific advances. Indeed, James Lawrence Powell shows how Dutton's work in the Grand Canyon led directly to our modern understanding of Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics. Twentieth-century geology of the Canyon culminated at a meeting in 2000 on the Canyon rim at which geologists debated the Lazarus Theory and other ideas far into the night. The solution on which they converged resonated around the world.

The 16 pages of photographs Powell collected for this sweeping tale bring to life the people and places of the story. The maps and geological time charts are useful references as to when and where the action took place. James Lawrence Powell has created a work of nonfiction that is an eloquent, educating, and exciting ride down to the bedrock of the American West and its most spectacular sight.

Praise for Grand Canyon

"The Grand Canyon's beauty, grandeur, and striking form have made it one of the greatest tourist attractions in the U.S., and also one of the greatest intellectual challenges to geologists. James Powell's exciting account of the Canyon's development is worthy of the excitement that the canyon itself inspires."

―Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

An engaging and lucid account of one of geology's greatest monuments. The story of how the Colorado River cut the Grand Canyon turns out to be a remarkable detective story, complete with red herrings and innocent suspects. The tale of the Grand Canyon encapsulates features of the growth in our knowledge over the whole of the earth sciences."

―Richard Fortey, FRS, Natural History Museum, London, author of Trilobite! and Earth

"Grand Canyon reads like a detective novel as Powell traces the work of the generations of geologists trying to understand our most majestic landscape. In the process, his fascinating book reveals not just how the Grand Canyonhas taken shape, but our planet as a whole."

―Carl Zimmer, author of Soul Made Flesh and Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea

"John Wesley Powell, the pioneer explorer of the Grand Canyon, believed that science could reveal a deeper history of America, one that we should know for our own survival. As this excellent book shows, that prophecy has come true: modern science indeed has revealed just how fragile our civilization is―as vulnerable as the rocks that water has relentlessly washed away in the Canyon. A clear, dramatic, and humbling story of continental discovery."

―Donald Worster, Hall Distinguished Professor of American History, University of Kansas

"As important to the professional scientist as it is to those who simply are bewitched by the Grand Canyon. An expertly woven tale of scientific intrigue."

―Richard A. Young, Dept. of Geological Sciences, SUNY College


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