Hard Road West (Nonfiction) Keith Heyer Meldahl (University of Chicago Press, $25), HARDCOVER.

By Keith Heyer Meldahl
By Keith Heyer Meldahl

Meldahl, a geologist, has personally inspected the entire 2,000-mile Overland Trail to Gold Rush California while, at the same time, collecting insightful passages from 49ers’ journals.

His theme is that North America’s millions of years of geological history have guided the course of the continent’s human history, including the rush for riches in 1849. Readers interested in science will appreciate the author’s interjection of geology into the Gold Rush story. He also explains the origins of obstacles to travel: uplifted mountains, rain-shadowed deserts and cruel parodies of rivers, such as Nevada’s Humboldt. Those of us who are history buffs will find a few sections of pure geology slow going, however, the author deserves an “A” for effort; except for these few technical digressions, the book reads well.

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