The Measure of a Mountain

I recently finished reading Bruce Barcott’s, The Measure of a Mountain. I found it while browsing the travel section of my local library. Our family plans to travel to the Pacific Northwest this summer, so the subtitle is what really caught my eye: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier. We’re planning to spend a week in the (figurative) shadow of this behemoth, so I was curious to learn more about it.

The early parts of the book felt like standard “book about a mountain” stuff. What the mountain meant to the indigenous peoples of that region… What the first white settlers thought when they first saw the mountain… The geological history of the mountain… Written in a way that was more interesting and more compelling than a Wikipedia article. But that’s not saying much. Overall, I’d say that the first half of the book read like an extra-long feature story in the Akron Beacon-Journal (which is, honestly, pretty good for a newspaper, but not so great for a full book).

Somewhere around the middle of the book, however, Barcott started writing himself into the story more meaningfully. He shared stories of his own experiences with beauty and terror on Mount Rainier. He used the mountain as a tool for examining his own life, his relationship with his father, and the great ontological questions of human existence. By the end of the book, I actually felt invested in the book. And ultimately, I’m glad I read it.

I’m not sure if it would hold nearly as much appeal for those not traveling to the region in the immediate future. But if you’re planning a visit to the central Cascades, I think it’s worth checking this book out.

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