Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Danger Is Our Life": The Tale of a Heroic Nerd

Our friends at the Guys Read blog turned me on to a site called Guys Lit Wire (another really good blog about boys' reading--although it's mostly for middle-school guys) which coined the phrase "heroic nerd". They define heroic nerds as "men so driven by the urge to know, to see and understand, they make bold, mad leaps into uncharted territory." They were talking about Thor Heyerdahl and his crew, scientists who, never having sailed before, built rafts made of reeds and went 4300 miles across the Pacific to prove a theory. Well, I just read a short but good book called The Last River: John Wesley Powell and the Colorado River Exploring Expedition by Stuart Waldman about such a man. John Wesley Powell was the first person to canoe the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Was he a Heroic Nerd? You bet!! He was a college geology professor who was determined to explore the Green River and Colorado River just because no one had done it before. Why not? Because they were so full of rocks, rapids, and dangerous waters that no one, not even the Native Americans who lived there, dared to try. And the most incredible part? John Wesley Powell had only one arm!!
Yes, he lost his right arm in the Civil War but didn't let it stop him. On May 24, 1869 he and his crew set out on wooden canoes to travel a completely unexplored area of the West, through unknown canyons and down unknown rivers, where they had no idea what rapids might be ahead. If anyone got hurt, ran out of food or supplies, well, they were in the middle of the American desert and many, many miles from anyone. AND they made this trip in the middle of summer when the temperature could reach 115 degrees!! How anyone could make that expedition AND survive in nothing short of UNBELIEVABLE!! Stuart Waldman has written a short but realy good book and Gregory Manchess has created illustrations that will make your jaw drop--especially that picture in the middle of the book of the Grand Canyon. PLUS--This book has a very cool feature; the title page folds out and displays a map that stays out while you read the book. That way you can follow the map as you read the story!Plus there are excerpts from the crew's journals and photos taken when JWP went back and explored that area again. PLUS there's a link to a website that shows 400 photos taken on those trips. Can't wait to see them!
This is a good one, guys! Don't miss it!!!

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