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on March 11, 2006
The question is not whether Muir is a terrific writer-but how he got that way, and secondarily, why it is important. The Mountains of California was his first book, published in 1894, and was an instant success. This book contains not just some of the best nature writing, but for its vividness, immediacy and vision some of the best writing in English in any genre. Modern Library's edition is quite special with its introduction to Muir by Bill McKibbon and about 50 illustrations, though I wished there were better maps for following the footsteps of Muir's many great narratives among the fabulous natural wonders of the Sierra.

Muir succeeds in his writing in ways that Emerson and Thoreau fall short. Emerson's nature is an internal construct, almost a habit of mind. Thoreau conveys something of the immediacy of Muir in selected writing (and he, like Muir, actually immerses himself in nature itself), but his writings and especially his journals seem chaotic at times and lack a unifying vision.

Muir, on the other hand, always draws the reader forward from one vision to another, each one more fantastic than the previous.

My favorite passages are his descent into the Merced Glacier (in "the Glaciers"), and his description of being on the high slopes during a major windstorm when he climbs a swaying pine to get an even better look. His description of the Giant Sequoia is a work of great subtlety and richness--I seriously doubt you will find a more enchanting description of the two California Species of Sequoia anywhere.

This work abounds with rich and sensuous passages that are descriptions of actual experiences in over a decade of exploring, mostly alone, in the high Sierras. The strength of Muir's writing is based on the depth of his emotional experience of nature-his very personal relationship to the whole and many specific animals, trees and features of the landscape. You would say that it's mystical except for the fact that it's very sensual and very concrete. Muir employs religious language though he never becomes ethereal or abstract as Emerson sometimes does. The reader is always right in the immediate moment of the present listening to Muir's voice. And that suggests another reason why this writing is great. Muir's Scottish heritage (he was born in Dunbar Scotland in 1838) has provided him with a rich, luxurious and slightly exotic vocabulary for describing all the natural wonders that he sees, feels, and hears. It's a voice like no other in American writing.

Of course, the reason it is important is because of what Muir spawned through his vision and experience-he was the true creator of the conservation movement leading to modern environmentalism. I should say that this work is all luxurious description and scientific discussion and rarely becomes didactic or preachy-as modern environmental writers sometimes do. It is not fashionable to think that one person of vision can create so much;but it's hard to conclude otherwise about Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, after reading this work.
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VINE VOICEon March 21, 2002
Some say this is Muir's finest work. As the only other Muir book I've read (at this writing) is Travels in Alaska, I cannot comment on this, other than to say that I enjoyed this book a great deal.
From almost any vantage point in California, whether near or on a distant horizon, there are mountains. A fact not lost on Muir, whose sense of wonder and love of life endear him to his readers.
"God's glacial-mills grind slowly, but they have been kept in motion long enough in California to grind sufficient soil for a glorious abundance of life ... In so wild and so beautiful a region [was spent my day], every sight and sound inspiring, leading one far out of himself, yet feeding and building up his individuality."
Muir was the consummate man in nature. Anyone who is indifferent to Muir's writing may simply be indifferent to wonderment itself. I have no doubt that if Muir were placed in a room with the great kings and generals and tycoons and empire builders of history, he would appear singularly as a man among men. Unimpressed with their pomp and bluster over rotting empire, he might soon command more attention than they, and many would be happily listening to Muir in spite of their self importance. Why? He would have the most interesting insights, offered poetically and in a most humble and charming way. ... (in fact Muir was sought out by the great politicians and philosophers of his day).
If you like mountains, if you like California, if you like trees and glacier-fed streams, you will like this book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon November 10, 2003
As a Birder, I spend a lot of time travelling outdoors.I also have a large collection of Bird and Nature books and spend a great amount of time in them.For pure enjoyment;I found this one of the finest.Muir was as one of America,s greatest partakers in and writers of Nature and Enviroment and was in every way as much a giant as the Sequois and Mountains he wrore about.I read this Classic a short time before I visited Yosemite National Park and having done so,encreased my enjoyment and appreciation immeasurably.
After many years of reading,I have come to the conclusion ,that I tend to like books about people I would liked to have known,or to spend some time with.What an experience it would have been to have known and travelled with Muir. While that is impossible;at least we have his writings and can dream.
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on March 25, 2011
John Muir is a superlative writer and this book is about a place (the California Sierra Nevada) near and dear to my heart, so I enjoyed this book. However, I would have really liked to have had a forward or preface that gave more context to the writings, e.g. some short biographical data or background about John Muir's life and the relative time frame during which he wrote these essays. There is nothing of this nature; page 1 starts with Muir's words. In addition, he goes into sometimes excruciating detail about his experiences in the sierras, down to minutia about rock formations and such. If this isn't of particular interest to certain readers, I imagine some sections could drag for them.
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on September 27, 2001
muir describes the sierras with detail and love. he is one of the few authors who is content just to be in and describe a landscape. and what a description!. he describes the evolution of glaciaral lakes to the hights of mount ritter and the migrations of deer and native peoples. a great book i recoment it to anyone who loves the outdoors.
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on January 6, 2012
An obvious lover of all nature, a keen observer and a dynamic writer, descriptive, detailed and as near to nature as you can get without being there in person.

WOW! Muir blew me away! As a nature watcher and hiker, hiking for the love of seeing and being in nature, loving the details of nature,this author finally fulfilled my idea of description and detail and love of all the beauty,in a written form. I felt transported to this time and place, he painted pictures with his wonderful descriptions that brought me to hear the wind in the pines, feel the rain dripping off me in the wild rainstorms. Feel the exhiliration rounding a canon corner or popping over a peak and there beholding a view before me that takes away the breath and floods you with such an overwhelming amount of beauty that you scarce can take it in.
When he describes the sequioa I felt compelled to sit down right there and observe the giants,drink that forest in, contemplate, go over the bark, the heigth, the forest floor, the moss, the ferns, the sky, the sounds, and smells, until you feel full and have taken it fully in.
Which is exactly what I have done when I was among them myself. But Muir's writing took me right to that feeling with his beautiful writing alone.

His description and obvious love of the water-ouzel (birds) felt like my own experience that I have never had in near the depth that he experienced it.
This writing is a treasure and should be preserved for all times for all to read, all who cannot go to nature can almost literally bring nature to themselves;the writing and detail is that supurb.
Granted he does talk at length about some things in nature that are not of a great as interest to me , for me it was the mountain sheep, I hold very little interest in these fellows of the mountains, Muir's writing is so concise and organized, all I had to do was skip over this part to the next part that was of interst to me.
If you adore nature and being in it, or if you adore nature and cannot be in it for some reason, this book is for you! If you are encouraging an interest in nature in your children or studying how the glaciers went through an area and carved out the land, then what happens over time because of the changes the glaciers started, this book is an excellent source of how and what. Amazing, an Icon of Nature Writing for all Times.
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on April 29, 2014
I NEVER get tired of reading this book. You can open it just about anywhere and be transported away to the mountains. I always marvel at the fact he seems to take so little with him and manages to fully immerse himself in that world.
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on December 31, 2009
After years of seeing wonderful quotes from books by John Muir, I finally bought The Mountains of California, and it simply bowled me over. Here is a man whose writing is informed and beautifully poetic. He wrote with a broad knowledge of geology, botany, meteorology, and a giant love of the natural world around him. If you are AT ALL interested in nature, and would like to read someone who is not dry or boring, his writing will sweep you up.
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on June 16, 2015
A worthy follow-up to "My First Summer In The Sierras". No one has ever written with the passionate
enthusiasm of John Muir in describing the grandeur of California's iconic mountain range.
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on May 5, 2016
Muir's writing is delicious. A step back in time on many levels, as deep as the birthing of the mountains themselves. However the illustrations in this edition are of very poor quality, really a shame. I am sure the original drawings and photos were beautiful.
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