Unique and revealing...offers great grist for discussion, perhaps as deep as the Grand Canyon itself.
Pyne makes a strong case that the Grand Canyon is as much an American invention as baseball. His essay is a bit wordy in places, perhaps reflecting the fact that it was started by a less confident writer toiling in graduate school long ago. He overlooks -- significantly -- how the Canyon was viewed in many American Indian and Anasazi creation myths. But overall, he leaves the impression that much of the rubbernecking people experience while floating the Canyon could be done, with equal excitement, in a gallery or library devoted to this singular piece of scenery. --
The New York Times
Don't expect a mere geology lesson from Pyne. Here, the acclaimed environmental writer (
Fire on the Rim; The Ice) and MacArthur Foundation Fellow places America's most notable natural wonder in cultural context. While today we may take the Grand Canyon's splendor for granted, as far back as the 1500s, when the canyon was "discovered" by European explorers, it earned little more than a brief mention in journals. The explanation for this, Pyne reasons, is that there was then no cultural, artistic or monetary tradition or value attached to natural monuments: "Probably no European country was prepared to appreciate a phenomenon like the Canyon." It wasn't until the mid-19th century that the canyon began to become fully appreciated, both for its natural beauty and as a geological phenomenon. The canyon increasingly became the subject of paintings, photographs, travelogues and intense scientific study. A professor of history at Arizona State University, Pyne writes eloquently as he sketches early explorers, scientists, artists and engineers who applied themselves to the study of the Canyon and who, in so doing, nurtured our love for it. Anyone interested in the Grand Canyon and the Southwest, or in the evolution of cultural evaluation of the natural world, should cotton to Pyne's first-rate history.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The leading expert on the history of fire, Pyne first developed an appreciation for the Grand Canyon during his 15 seasons as a forest firefighter on the canyon's north rim (
Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter's Season at the Grand Canyon). To understand the Canyon as a place and as a perspective, Pyne traces its history from the time of the Spanish conquistadors and later explorers like John Wesley Powell and Clarence Dutton to its status today as a natural wonder attracting more than five million visitors annually. He also explains how our attitude toward the canyon has changed. Once feared and avoided, it became a vital part of America's cultural landscape when Americans matured economically, politically, and socially with a focus and awareness on environmental issues that allowed them to appreciate "the genius of the place." Pyne's extended interpretive essay places the Canyon and its history within a larger social and cultural context. -- Patricia Ann Owens, Wabash Valley College, Mt. Carmel, Illinois
Pyne (history, Arizona State U.) both chronicles the discoveries of explorers, geologists, artists and writers and explains how they turned the big ditch along the Colorado River into a symbol of American grandeur and later of wilderness. He points out that the original Spanish discoverers dismissed it as of no use or consequence, and that its current status was not inevitable but the result of systematic and sustained effort. Black-and-white drawings, maps, and photographs support the text. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
...[A] slender, lapidary account [that] considers how observers of different eras have perceived the Grand Canyon...."The Canyon has something yet to say," Pyne concludes, "even if each visitor hears only the echo of his or her own voice." --
WQ: The Wilson Quarterly
Intellectual and environmental history merge in a useful study of one of the world's great natural wonders. Pyne (
Vestal Fire), the MacArthur Award-winning author of several books on the Grand Canyon, returns to the same setting here with this history of how the American view of nature changed as a result of explorers' encounters with the mile-deep terrestrial fissure. In the mid-19th century, Pyne writes, Americans were inclined to view such features of the landscape as challenges to be overcome, not as scenic splendors: "popular instincts argued that river-dashed gorges were hazards, not adventures." It was thanks to a generation of intellectuals, and especially geologists, Clarence Dutton foremost among them, that the weird, imposing land forms visible in and around the Grand Canyon would come to be seen as "the coliseums, temples, and statuary of an inspired nature." Until that time, Pyne notes, the Canyon was known but not publicized; the project of intellectuals to claim it as a national treasure without peer in the world was a step in creating a general consciousness of public lands that would in some instances become the first national parks. Dutton wrote celebratory studies and gave exalted place names (Point Sublime, Point Imperial) to spits of land overlooking the chasm. Meanwhile, his contemporary Thomas Moran painted masterful panoramas that were widely published in journals and helped to lure tourists to the region. Later, canyon aficionados like Joseph Wood Krutch continued the call. "The Canyon claims standing," Pyne concludes, "not because of its size or antiquity but, as Dutton had insisted, by virtue of its ever-evolving ensemble and the ideas continuallymade available by which to interpret it." The many ideas contained in Pyne's book alone will help that interpretation along nicely.