Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: The Emerald Mile

When I first visited the Grand Canyon, I was a bit embarrassed. I had visited Arizona countless times before to visit family in Phoenix, but had never stepped foot north of Flagstaff to the state's top tourist stop. When I was there, snow was everywhere and the color saturation in the rocks was drained out because of the murky wintry weather, but the canyon still had a sense of majesty and awe.

Fast forward years later to 2013 when Kevin Fedarko's The Emerald Mile (Scribner) was published and earning raves from readers and critics. The book was the recipient of the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award. Naturally, I flagged it for my TBR list and the book's paperback edition came out in July.

The book weaves in the history of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, hydroelectric power and daring river guides who in 1983 attempted to shatter speed records after a torrential flood came rushing through the canyon. Managers of the Glen Canyon Dam at the top of the canyon were frantically trying to stave off a breach by releasing water into the canyon, the result of an El Nino-fueled rain season.

I readily admit, I probably should have tried to reset my expectations for this book after they were getting crazy high. The book had a super-high rating on Goodreads and dealt with a place I find very interesting and close to home. That being said, I thought the book was good, but not quite up to the lofty expectations I had. There were moments of super-flowery exposition that got increasingly annoying and the book has a sluggish first half. But like entering whitewater rapids, the book's slow pace does give way in the last third or so to a thrilling page-turner of an ending. The "Ghost Boat" chapter reads like a scene from "The Perfect Storm."

Overall, I'd give The Emerald Mile a 3/5 star rating. The book's first half was a bit of a slog at times, but the second half made up for it. I feel like I understand the canyon better as a result of reading the book.

For more info on the book, check out the book's trailer below:

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