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A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195166828
ISBN-10: 0195166825
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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* It’s not enough to say that John Muir was the world’s leading advocate for wilderness or that he was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Club. Worster, who has also written a biography of John Wesley Powell, knows that to fully appreciate Muir as an inspired and influential naturalist and pacifist who wrote indelible essays articulating a pragmatic approach to conservation, one has to understand his struggle to push beyond his father’s harsh evangelical Christian orthodoxy and open himself to the beauty of nature. Born in Scotland, raised in Wisconsin, Muir possessed a remarkable mechanical aptitude but was happiest wandering in the wild. Worster avidly chronicles Muir’s inaugural walk from Indianapolis to Florida and his subsequent journeys around the world, but it was his ecstatic, often reckless, yet profoundly illuminating explorations of the Sierras and Alaska’s glaciers that gave weight to his call to value and preserve natural resources. Worster gives equal weight to Muir’s inner and outer journeys in 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. --Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195166825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195166828
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.9 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on December 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Here, Donald Worster has delivered the most extensive and well-researched biography to date on the great conservationist John Muir. There are already several biographies on Muir available, not to mention his own partial autobiography. But here Worster digs deeply into Muir's personal correspondence, published and unpublished journals, and other period sources to place Muir in the social and political context of his times. Worster intertwines his biographical research with an engaging history of the conservation movement, Muir's complex relationship with it, and his enduring influence on it. And more than any previous biographer, Worster has conducted research into one crucial aspect of Muir's life - the evolution of Muir's religious beliefs and the integration of his complex belief system into the type of conservationist philosophy that he invented almost singlehandedly. Worster also delivers robust information on Muir's progress as a journalist and author later in life and how he pretty much invented grassroots environmentalism in his last battle - the unsuccessful fight against the Hetch Hetchy dam.

John Muir is deservedly revered for introducing his fellow Americans to the spiritual fulfillment to be found in natural beauty, as well as founding conservation as we know it today. But as expertly illustrated by Wortser herein, Muir was also a very deep thinker and spiritualist with a complex belief system built during a lifetime of outdoor sojourns and philosophical inspection. This more intricate side of his personality shines through in this biography, and Worster's book will soon be acknowledged as the definitive work on John Muir, his outdoor achievements, and his enduring philosophy of natural appreciation. [~doomsdayer520~]
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Format: Hardcover
This biography by the eminent historian Donald Worster is nothing less than magnificent. Clearly the most authoritative account of America's founding conservationist, it is painstakingly researched, thoroughly pondered, brilliantly imagined, and luminously crafted.
From the backdrop of nineteenth century Scotland where John Muir was born to a world torn by the Great War and an unstoppable avalanche of social and economic upheaval, this story reveals the life of a renowned American in the context of his time, his place, and his own personal triumphs and failures. With a brilliant talent for storytelling evident on almost every page, Worster takes us on the journey of Muir's life with a special focus on why--and how--he became the man he was. The people, ideas, events, and powerful geographies that influenced him are explained, the incongruities faced, the ironies, humor, and personal limitations recognized.
I found Worster's story gaining momentum toward an ending that gathered many elements of today's environmental movement and set the stage for my own reflections on where we have been, where we are headed, and what we ought to be doing. As this great biographer concluded, "Muir was a man who tried to find the essential goodness of the world, an optimist about people and nature, an eloquent prophet of a new world that looked to nature for its standard and inspiration. Looking back at the trail he blazed, we must wonder how far we have yet to go."
Donald Worster has given us a gift that will inform, inspire, and perhaps rekindle in others a new passion for nature.

Reviewed by Tim Palmer, author of Rivers of America and other books
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Format: Kindle Edition
Not the sort of biography I was hoping to read. This is an extremely dry recitation of facts and philosophies. How could you possibly make a ride on the cow catcher of a train seem boring? By simply stating that this is what Muir did. I am a nature lover and was so excited by the newspaper review of this book - but I absolutely, positively, could not wade through it, even though I tried skipping ahead to what I thought might be more interesting parts. Nothing of Muir's true wildness and love of nature come through - just a dry recitation of facts that left me struggling along, bored to tears.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have read a number of books by Donald Worster, and much admired them. This is not his best. "Natures Economy" is the standout. Not sure what it is but this one is at times tedious though the subject John Muir is not. Of course a great hero of the environment movement the tale is somehow sluggish and not up to Worster's best.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A wonderful biography of a fascinating man, John Muir. The book is rather long (466 pages) but I personally appreciated all the details of Muir's life. Muir was born in Scotland, off to America (Wisconsin) at 11, flight to Canada as a young man (draft dodger during Civil War) and to the Yosemite Valley in the 1870s. Everyone knows he loved the outdoors. He was primarily interested in botany and geology. However, he had great aptitude as a mechanical engineer (inventor). After marriage (he was 41-42) he settled down on a ranch in Martinez, CA and he became an accomplished manager as a grower (citrus, grapes etc). It is interesting to read about some of his influences: The Bible (he had a strict and devout father), Robt Burns, Milton, Wordsworth, Emerson. Emerson referred to Muir as "one of his men" but I do not know if Muir was ever a true transcendentalist. Muir never lost his Christian faith, however he did adapt it. He met Emerson and showed him around the Yosemite Valley. In his later years he was friends with powerful and influential people (T. Roosevelt, Taft, and captains of industry). I enjoyed reading about his talks with the railroader, Harriman. Muir was not a quiet and reserved man. He loved people and he was a great conversationalist. He'd talk to anyone (quite the egalitarian). The book explores the happenings of the late 19th century in America: Philosophies, religion, politics, expansion, business etc are tied in with Muir and the environmental movement. I guess America was the first country to ever set aside lands as national parks. (One of America's best ideas, however, I would place the U.S. Constitution as #1.) As an economics major in college this book led me to compare the interests of conservation vs. business.Read more ›
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