"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 after the Civil War and 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 the most prominent. Yet the audiobook 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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A good biography for historical perspective
The narration of this book somewhat matches the kind of book this is - - it is not literature, nor a paean to greatness, nor an adventure story, as previous Muir biographies have been. Rather, this book goes into depth about Muir's life and puts it into historical perspective, in a fairly academic way. Unfortunately, the performance of this narrator was not nearly as good as most of the audiobook I have come to expect on audible.com.
Muir's entire life was memorable, from his adventures in the mountains and on glaciers, and in his conservation battles.
This is one of the worst - read narrations I have heard in an audio book. The performer spoke in a fairly academic monotone which I suppose in some ways matches the kind of book this is, but several times he mis-pronounced some fairly common scientific terms, like the word "lichen." Jim Franigione may be a professional narrator, but seems to be the kind that reads labels rather than literature.
Although Muir himself clearly had a "passion for nature" which is gloriously expressed in Muir's writings, and included in many of the quotes used here, you would never know it from this narration. For one thing, the narrator read the quotes in the same tone of voice he read the main text. It was thus often very hard to tell what was a quotation and what was Donald Worster's main text. The narrator didn't even seem to try to make the quotes stand out from the rest of the text. I have come to expect far better in most audiobooks.
The publisher should have selected a narrator who is used to reading fiction - many audible audio books have performers that have different "voices" for every different character, and many have a talent for different accents as well. This book cried out for someone who could read Muir with a Scottish accent, and put a little "passion" into Muir's passionate writing, while then returning to a normal narrative for the rest of the text. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. I can't say it ruined the book, because the book itself was good writing - for a historical biography, but it did diminish it.
The important thing to remember is that this is a historical perspective of John Muir's life, written by a noted academic. As such, it is not quite as "readable" as some of the earlier biographies of Muir's life, which read much more like an adventure story, as in the case of the Pulitzer prize winning biography by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, which extols Muir's greatness. But if you want to understand better how Muir's life fit in with other things that were happening during his life, in a highly objective manner, this is the best biography for that. The author is a historian, not a novelist or an environmentalist or a story-teller. So his objectivity seems to make this biography a bit more dry than other Muir biographies where the authors quickly get caught up in the excitement of Muir's life. But earlier biographies have their own problems, such as inaccuracies and failing to contain more recent information. This biography is in many ways more thorough and more accurate than prior Muir biographies.
In addition, as well as putting the life of John Muir in context, the author puts quite a bit of his own interpretations into the narrative. This is of interest to those who know something about Muir, whether you agree with him or not, because it can at least provoke discussion. If you don't know much about Muir, then perhaps a more straightforward biography is better for you.
As a history book, it is a good book, for audiences with a more scholarly bent. If you are looking for something more exciting to read about Muir's life, there are several earlier biographies that do that, but may not cover Muir's life as thoroughly.
- Harold W. Wood Jr.
A great insight into the life of John Muir.
- Jonathon Myers