By Paul Katz
Updated February 24, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

Considering we’ll bestow celebrity status on someone simply for starring in a reality series, this true story of Clarence King — a late-19th-century scientist/adventurer who gained international renown for being a really, really good geologist — is remarkably refreshing. Robert Wilson, editor of The American Scholar, follows King’s exploits, from mountain climbing in the Sierra Nevada to mapping much of the western U.S. to his big triumph, the exposure of a massive diamond-mining hoax in 1872. He devotes little space to King’s later life, when he was focused on adding to his fortune. Still, The Explorer King is an engrossing portrait of a man who embodied both brawn and brains in an era when public admiration had to be well earned.