9780062585165 / 0062585169

River of the West: Stories from the Columbia





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About the book:

"On a day not so very different from any other, the wind began to blow...." So begins Robert Clark's epic history of the Columbia River; twelve thousand years, however, separate that day from present time. All those years ago, a glacial dam in the Bitterroot Mountains of modern-day Montana burst, sending 500 feet of water, rock, and ice with cataclysmic force into the Columbia River; the surge scoured and carved to "depths of one thousand feet and a speed of fifty miles per hour." In a blip of geologic time, creatures, plant life, soil, and hills were wiped out.

From its description of the Earth's violent reconstruction--mirrored by the river's own evolution--River of the West proceeds to paint portraits of those who lived and died on the Columbia's banks: conquered Indians, European explorers, missionaries and settlers, and the New Deal dreamers who would tame the river with their dams.The rich intersection of 16th-century explorers, scientists, and cartographers sealed the river's fate. With both a historian's detailed breadth of knowledge and a storyteller's gift,Clark traces the prevalent myths about America, including the belief that it was an island remnant of Atlantis with passage. Mapmakers, even those who had never sailed beyond the English Channel, built myth upon myth and charted imaginary routes. However, one belief held firm--the existence of a perfectly horizontal way through North America: the Northwest Passage. Centuries later, this would turn out to be the great Columbia.

A highly enjoyable read, River of the West describes the hijinks of the many colorful explorers and travel "consultants" of the age (many of whom never ventured outside of their own countries), as well as the Old World mentality that valued the exotica and wealth of the New. Grand and grandiose, epic and historically exact, River of the West recreates--through journals and accounts--the awesome power of the Columbia River before the dams; it translates more than 500 years of history into stories of vivid characters, grueling adventures, and shattered dreams.

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