Yes, there have been several other comprehensive biographies of Powell, including Wallace Stegner’s ... Ross tells Powell’s story more powerfully, sprinkled with quotes from the explorer-geologist’s diary and a feeling of dramatic suspense—will he survive?—even though we know the outcome. The rip-roaring story of the one-armed veteran who risked life and (remaining) limbs to power through gorges and rapids, all while carefully recording evidence of the canyon’s ancient geology and gathering flora and fauna to take back East, never gets old. What makes the story more nuanced is that Powell didn’t seem to be especially likeable: didactic at times, refusing to dramatize his dramatic life, yet saddled with an almost reckless ambition. Disciplined. Bossy. Unbending
Biography helps pull together disparate elements of the past that created a whole person and her or his accomplishments. John F. Ross’ biography of Powell does this well ... The author’s own outdoor experience serves him well in describing Powell’s expeditions ... The advance copy I read was slim on references and bibliography; not that I question Ross’ knowledge, but I would have appreciated more information for my own future delving. I also missed hearing about wife ... In his biography of Powell, Ross reminds us of the potential nobility of public service and how government officials who stay true to science are, indeed, heroic.
Ross makes vivid Powell’s adventures, drawing on journals and contemporary accounts, even capturing the drama of vicious battles among scientists vying for federal funds, including Powell’s clashes with senators and bureaucrats, in this fascinating portrait.
Despite its more-limited-sounding title, John Ross’s The Promise of the Grand Canyon is essentially a biography. After giving due scope to Powell’s years before the expedition, it moves smartly through the journey itself, then focuses on the Major’s later life ... The impressive résumé aside, some readers may tire of Mr. Ross’s blow-by-blow accounts of Washington, D.C., infighting, and they may not be persuaded that [Powell's journeywas impossible without congressional funding] ... But Mr. Ross does make a convincing case for Powell’s legacy as a pioneering conservationist.
John Ross has done a spectacular job of research and reportage to bring this book to print. Although the title evokes the majesty and magnificence of the Grand Canyon, and rightly so, I found it to be, more accurately, an interesting and expressive biography of John Wesley Powell him- self ... The Promise Of The Grand Canyon is an excellent and enlightening historical narrative. It does not suffer in comparison to those narratives which I consider some of the modern greats ... If you enjoy outstanding historical writing, you will definitely enjoy this book.
The Promise of the Grand Canyon captures the various dramatic characters wonderfully, particularly Powell himself, a fierce, diminutive dynamo who, in his prime, commanded every room he entered. Ross has read Powell's writings about the Expedition carefully, and it's endlessly interesting to watch those close readings play out ... But The Promise of the Grand Canyon stands out from the other accounts on the Powell bookshelf by emphasizing the ecological ramifications of the Expedition's discoveries ... [Ross' book] reclaims Powell himself for a battle he would almost certainly be waging if he were alive today.
[An] enthralling tale ... Ross displays a flair for adventure writing... [and] renders Powell’s 1869 expedition of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon in breathtaking detail ... Ross demonstrates a facility for both human history and natural history, clearly showing why Powell’s ideas matter today.
Readers who know of Powell are likely to be sympathetic to Ross’ arguments, but much of the main thrust of his book can be found in Donald Worster’s A River Running West and Wallace Stegner’s somewhat dated but still iconic Beyond the Hundredth Meridia. Still, Ross’ view through the lens of the unfolding crisis lends Powell and his arguments new relevance ... A sturdy but not entirely fresh study for readers interested in the fate of Western water and in the settlement of the West and a good place to start learning about a key figure.