October 17, 2016

A definite disappointment from Terry Tempest Williams

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National ParksThe Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've read some of Williams' shorter writings before, and while not actually a fan, didn't really dislike her.

But, this book somewhat predisposed me against Williams from the first page of the "Note to the Reader."

While some cairns in the desert are necessary guides, like when a trail crosses hundreds of yards of slickrock, or takes a turn out of or into an arroyo, most — especially in national parks — are not. I got the feeling that Williams probably likes cairns in general, including all the unnecessary ones. Some of those were stacked for "I was here" reasons; others, even worse, especially if not right along the trail, are New Agey ones. I suspect Williams likes all three types, and very much the third type.

Per a recent piece in "High Country News," I'm a cairn-kicker when I see unnecessary cairns.

On to the meat of the book.

First, if I'm wanting to seriously read "sweeping" nonfiction about the modern West, I want something like Reisner's "Cadillac Desert," Worster's "Rivers of Empire" or Powell's "Dead Pool." This book is not it.

Second, I wasn't really looking to read a book of family mini-memoirs as part of reflections on NPS units.

Third, I REALLY wasn't looking to read a book with name-dropping of Mormon relatives.

Fourth, the piece allegedly about Canyonlands barely touches the park.

Fifth, there are factual errors.
1. We are NOT "evolving faster than Darwin could have imagined." This nonsense's major error confuses biological and cultural evolution. As far as biological evolution, Darwin, having seen his famous finches, knew how fast biological evolution could work. (282)
2. John Wesley Powell didn't resign from USGS, he was pushed out. (286)
3. John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s younger life was NOT an age of "civility" versus "garish" modernity just because it was still primarily a horse-driving world. (89, 92)

Sixth, this book is otherwise puffery. There's no critical take on the NPS' poor record in recruiting minorities, for example. JDR, per the above, is extensively puffed. Even vis-a-vis topography, there's no critical analysis of the NPS taking over the desert National Recreation Areas caused by BuRec's dammed dams. There's no mention of NPS's commercialization of its centennial, even though the Canyonlands piece includes a copy of a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

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