A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

Overview


"I am hopelessly and forever a mountaineer," John Muir wrote. "Civilization and fever and all the morbidness that has been hooted at me has not dimmed my glacial eye, and I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature's loveliness. My own special self is nothing."

In Donald Worster's magisterial biography, John Muir's "special self" is fully explored as is his extraordinary ability, then and now, to get others to see the sacred beauty of the natural world. A Passion for Nature is the most complete ...

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A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

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Overview


"I am hopelessly and forever a mountaineer," John Muir wrote. "Civilization and fever and all the morbidness that has been hooted at me has not dimmed my glacial eye, and I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature's loveliness. My own special self is nothing."

In Donald Worster's magisterial biography, John Muir's "special self" is fully explored as is his extraordinary ability, then and now, to get others to see the sacred beauty of the natural world. A Passion for Nature is the most complete account of the great conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club ever written. It is the first to be based on Muir's full private correspondence and to meet modern scholarly standards. Yet it is also full of rich detail and personal anecdote, uncovering the complex inner life behind the legend of the solitary mountain man. It traces Muir from his boyhood in Scotland and frontier Wisconsin to his adult life in California right after the Civil War up to his death on the eve of World War I. It explores his marriage and family life, his relationship with his abusive father, his many friendships with the humble and famous (including Theodore Roosevelt and Ralph Waldo Emerson), and his role in founding the modern American conservation movement. Inspired by Muir's passion for the wilderness, Americans created a long and stunning list of national parks and wilderness areas, Yosemite most prominent among them. Yet the book also describes a Muir who was a successful fruit-grower, a talented scientist and world-traveler, a doting father and husband, a self-made man of wealth and political influence. A man for whom mountaineering was "a pathway to revelation and worship."

For anyone wishing to more fully understand America's first great environmentalist, and the enormous influence he still exerts today, Donald Worster's biography offers a wealth of insight into the passionate nature of a man whose passion for nature remains unsurpassed.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The record of Muir's life that Worster has scrupulously assembled, fascinating in its own right, takes on added significance as Worster sets it in context."--New York Times Book Review

"A wonderful book that celebrates Muir's life and legacy."--San Francisco Chronicle

"An excellent new biography of John Muir..."--New York Review of Books

"To write this excellent biography of John Muir, Donald Worster zealously ransacked the letters and journals of the great, self-taught naturalist.... This well-written biography reveals a man whose mission in life was simply to entice people to see Nature's loveliness."--True West

"With this splendid biography, Donald Worster...reminds us of the debt we owe John Muir... Mr. Worster's meticulous research and fluid writing style make A Passion for Nature a model of biography."--Dallas Morning News

"John Muir's battles to preserve the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Park, his founding of the Sierra Club, his final, bitter, unsuccessful effort to save Hetch Hetchy Valley, his pioneering insights into the geology of the glacial age, and his late Victorian combination of religion and pantheism have been extensively chronicled. What is unique about A Passion for Nature is the skill with which Worster places Muir in a political context. Worster helps us understand how the love of nature is related to other social movements for equality, that human indifference to the natural world is morally an example of the oppressive hierarchies that mar our history." --Carl Pope, Executive Director, Sierra Club

"Donald Worster's A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir is an engagingly written, adroitly balanced appraisal that places its subject within the emerging environmental consciousness of the late 19th century. Drawing on a host of letters and journals, Worster, a highly regarded historian of environmental movements, composes a complete and completely appealing picture of a more complicated man than we thought we knew."--Boston Globe

"A towering biography of a towering figure! John Muir is one of those very few Americans who reshaped the way we saw the world. This volume, from one of our most eminent historians, makes clear both the sources and the meaning of Muir's great and wild epiphany." --Bill McKibben, author of The Bill McKibben Reader

"...this marvelously fluent portrait of the man who sought to establish 'an ethic of environmental restraint' a century ago and whose powerful arguments still hold."--Booklist

"Competently documented, this all-inclusive biography explains the life and times of a figure known to all who love nature and will appeal to general readers and anyone interested in the early roots of today's green movement and its founding fathers."--Library Journal

"Reading Donald Worster's superb new biography...is as close as history will ever get to understanding what made the multidimensional Sierra Club founder tick. Yosemite's great bard bursts through Worster's fine prose in all his cosmic grace and preservationist pluck."--Douglas Brinkley, Los Angeles Times

"Comprehensive, measured, deeply sympathetic and well balanced, it is nevertheless provocative, and a great read to boot."--San Francisco Chronicle Review

"A magnificent account of one of the principal leaders of the environmental movement in America. This is an engaging and eautifully written story that illumines the broader sources and challenges of Muir's passion for nature." --Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University

"As far as the American environment is concerned, few figures have wielded more influence than John Muir. How appropriate, then, that one of Americas most noted environmental historians, Donald Worster, should now present John Muir in all his complexity and achievement in this authoritative and lively biography." --Kevin Starr, University of Southern California

"A Passion for Nature is an excellent, readable, engaging piece of scholarship that should now be considered the definitive biography of one of America's most influential advocates for nature."--American Scientist

"America has had no more passionate defender of wild nature than John Muir, and there is no more passionate chronicler of the nations environmental past than Donald Worster. We are lucky that so insightful and eloquent a scholar has now produced a biography of Muir that will surely be regarded as a benchmark for many years to come." --William Cronon, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Worster's comprehensive biography of our state's first naturalist spends as much energy on reconstructing Muir's emotional life as in recording dates and details. Given the importance of Muir both to California and to conservation, its a worthy topic."--Sacramento News & Review

"In A Passion for Nature, Donald Worster provides a beautifully crafted, richly detailed, and sophisticated biography of Muir."--Reviews in American History

"Donald Worster is a widely acclaimed environmental historian. In A Passion for Nature, he tells a deeply human story, delving into Muir's private, sometimes barely legible writings, while bringing the complex scientific and political debates of the period to life."--Times Literary Supplement

"Worster is the leading environmental historian of the American West and his biography, A Passion for Nature, is definitive.... Highly recommended."--CHOICE

"...Worster provides fresh insights into this seminal figure in American environmental history... A Passion For Nature is a rich treatment of Muir's life and thought... Worster is masterful at placing Muir in content... Worster's biography is a compelling and essential work."--Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Worster provides fresh insights into this seminal figure in American environmental history.... A compelling and essential work."--Mark Harvery, Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Worster has given us a provocative, complicated, and sympathetic portrait of Muir.... Supporters and critics of Muir will find much to reckon with here."--Robert M. Wilson, H-Net Reviews

"Few scholars could be better qualified than Worster to assess John Muir's place in American environmental tradition...Worster brilliantly recreates Muir and his world in all their complexity." -- Jackson Lears, The New Republic

"Sierra Club founder John Muir has inspired many books over the years, but this biography stands out as a scholarly yet readable, approach..." -- The Green Life (Sierra Club blog)

"Readers of Worster's subtle, layered biography of Muir would do well to turn its pages slowly and perhaps perambulate for a few minutes at the end of each chapter...As I savored this book over several days...I became convinced of Worster's wisdom, embodied by his decision to let the story of Muir's tangled life - especially his personal life - suggest the complexity of both the author's and his subject's 'passion for nature.' " -- Aaron Sachs, American Historical Review

"A Passion for Nature supplants all earlier Muir biographies and will undoubtedly stand the test of time for its sophisticated interpretations and impressive narrative power. Worster manages to breathe life into the well-worn Muir story, a tribute to his considerable skill as a writer and historian. This book is a pleasure to read."--Journal of American History

Dennis Drabelle
[Worster] captures Muir the man with economy and grace, and gives the reader a clear sense of his public stature: We are reaching a point where Nature is no longer considered just a storehouse of economic resources, Worster argues, but "a value in itself. No one in nineteenth-century America was more important than Muir in persuading people to move toward such a vision."
—The Washington Post
John Wilson
Worster brings superb scholarly credentials to the task…Readers with a merely casual interest in Muir aren't likely to persist. But the doughty ones who stay the course will be rewarded. The record of Muir's life that Worster has scrupulously assembled, fascinating in its own right, takes on added significance as Worster sets it in context.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Environmental writer and professor Worster (Dust Bowl, Nature's Economy) presents the inspiring story of John Muir, who rebelled against orthodoxy and became one of the founders of modern environmentalism. Born in 1838 in Scotland, Muir's family emigrated to Wisconsin when he was ten. For the next 12 years, he labored on his family's farm, then left home to become a machinist and enroll in a University of Wisconsin botany course. His main interest, however, was exploring the remaining wilderness of the U.S. Finally settling in California, Muir mastered botany on his own, and by 1871 was providing the Smithsonian with regular reports of his findings. While continuing his travels, including several trips to Alaska, Muir wrote articles for local and national journals urging conservation, and was elected the first president of the Sierra Club in 1892, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. Worster's thorough, involving biography sets Muir's adventurous story against the technical and scientific culture of the day, featuring some of the period's leading thinkers and doers-including Ralph Waldo Emerson and President Theodore Roosevelt-taking on environmental issues that resonate now more than ever.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Worster (history, Univ. of Kansas) draws on John Muir's (1838-1914) correspondence and writings to offer an enlightening biography of the influential naturalist. Born in Scotland, Muir grew up in Wisconsin, attended the university in Madison, worked in factories and sawmills, and lived in Canada during the last years of the Civil War. Later he settled in California, worked in the Yosemite region, and traveled throughout the Sierra Nevadas. Worster adroitly places Muir within the chronicles of American history and thoroughly depicts his subject's intellect and understanding of nature as well as Muir's life as a husband, father, successful farmer, writer, and world traveler. Up until his death in 1914, Muir strove diligently for the preservation of nature. Competently documented, this all-inclusive biography explains the life and times of a figure known to all who love nature and will appeal to general readers and anyone interested in the early roots of today's green movement and its founding fathers.
—Patricia Ann Owens

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195166828
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/21/2008
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 781,327
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History, University of Kansas and the author of many books, including A River Running West (OUP 2000); The Wealth of Nature: Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination (OUP 1993); and Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West (OUP 1993),

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Table of Contents

Prologue Muir's Trail 3

Ch. 1 The Scottish Lowlands 13

Ch. 2 "That Glorious Wisconsin Wilderness" 42

Ch. 3 Climbing the Ice Mountain 67

Ch. 4 Border Crossings 92

Ch. 5 The Long Walk 118

Ch. 6 Paradise Found 149

Ch. 7 The Higher Peaks 181

Ch. 8 Coming in from the Cold 216

Ch. 9 The Shores of Alaska 246

Ch. 10 Husbandry 276

Ch. 11 A Call to Lead 305

Ch. 12 The Company of Green Men 332

Ch. 13 Earthquakes 366

Ch. 14 The Troubled Nature of Wealth 401

Epilogue "Slight Progress Heavenward" 454

Bibliography 494

Index 511

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Most Excellent Biography

    By Dag Stomberg, St. Andrews, Scotland

    This biography of John Muir begins in Scotland, carries us through his
    early years in Wisconsin, to his pilgrimage to California and beyond.

    An explanation of his Philosophy is well done.

    Fundamental reading for all of us who have a passion for nature.

    The Bibliography to this book is superb.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 16, 2011

    If you have a Passion for Nature- a must read

    If you are a nature enthusiast, and are aware of all the good that John Muir did for our natural parks and forests, you will love this book. I became interested in Muir after a summer trip to Yosemite National Park. Makes you realize even more how vulnerable our natural resources are to big industry and those who are just interested in making money at all costs. We came close to losing our gentle giants, the Sequoias, to the lumber companies. But through government intervention and protection they are still there for all to see. It is written nicely and reads well even though it is non-fiction.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    Wonderfully thought-provoking narrative of an extraordinary life.

    Those readers who are interested in a biography of John Muir will probably already have an appreciation for the beauty and majesty of Nature and perhaps support conservation and environmentalism. This book provides the background story of who John Muir was and what he believed about God and nature, man's role in the natural world, and why we should value all life on earth, not just human life. To Muir, the might and majesty of God were most easily perceived in the roar of wind and waves, the impenetrable silence of a mountain forest, the crystalline brilliance of a glacial stream, and the kaleidoscopic colors of a prairie full of wildflowers. This book covers not just the facts of his life but incorporates his philosophy at different stages of his life and as America developed the West during the Gilded Age. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, savoring every chapter. If you are a nature lover at heart, you will love this book and find yourself comparing your own feelings about Nature and God with those of Muir. It will be worth your time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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