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The Explorer King

The Explorer King

Adventure, Science, and the Great Diamond Hoax--Clarence King in the Old West

In this, one of the year's most compelling biographies, Robert Wilson paints a brilliant portrait of Clarence King -- a scientist-explorer whose mountain-scaling, desert-crossing, river-fording, blizzard-surviving adventures helped create the new West of the nineteenth century.

A sort of Howard Hughes of the 1800s, Clarence King in his youth was an icon of the new America: a man of both action and intellect, who combined science and adventure with romanticism and charm. The Explorer King vividly depicts King's amazing feats and also uncovers the reasons for the shocking decline he suffered after his days on the American frontier.

The Yale-educated King went west in 1863 at age twenty-one as a geologist-explorer. During the next decade he scaled the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada, published a popular book now considered a classic of adventure literature, initiated a groundbreaking land survey of the American West, and ultimately uncovered one of the greatest frauds of the century -- the Great Diamond Hoax, a discovery that made him an international celebrity at a time when they were few and far between.

Through King's own rollicking tales, some true, some embroidered, of scaling previously unclimbed mountain peaks, of surviving a monster blizzard near Yosemite, of escaping ambush and capture by Indians, of being chased on horseback for two days by angry bandits, Robert Wilson offers a powerful combination of adventure, history, and nature writing. He also provides the bigger picture of the West at this time, showing the ways in which the terrain of the western United States was measured and charted and mastered, and how science, politics, and business began to intersect and influence one another during this era. Ultimately, King himself would come to symbolize the collision of science and business, possibly the source of his downfall.

Fascinating and extensive, The Explorer King movingly portrays the America of the nineteenth century and the man who -- for better or worse -- typified the soul of the era.
Choose a format:
  • Scribner | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743289009 | 
  • February 2006
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About the Author

Robert Wilson
Photo Credit:

Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson, who has been an award-winning editor at Preservation and Civilization, now edits The American Scholar. He writes often for magazines and newspapers, and was on staff at USA Today and The Washington Post. He lives in Manassas, Virginia.

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