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A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir
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A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  520 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
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 corr ...more
Hardcover, 535 pages
Published 2008 by Oxford University Press, USA
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Jul 14, 2012 Erika rated it really liked it
Appreciated better understanding how Muir's beliefs evolved over time and how they were shaped by the politics and social movements of his time... he struggled to find a "purpose" in life- wanderings and different jobs throughout his 20s and 30s. He could work hard and was gifted as an inventor and owner of a fruit growing operation- lots of contradictions! How hard he fought to get away from his psycho evangelical punitive father, but then in some ways turned out to be just as evangelical-- abo ...more
Apr 01, 2009 Andy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the popular imagination, John Muir spent his life as an unfettered rambler, tramping through the Sierra Nevadas and writing about nature. It’s a great image, but in truth Muir didn’t arrive in California until he was nearly thirty years old, and then he spent only six years freely exploring the Sierras before settling near San Francisco, marrying, and eventually becoming a prosperous ranch manager. Later in life he did continue to travel and explore, but increasingly Alaska and its glacial to ...more
Feb 17, 2009 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be extremely engrossing. I didn't know that John Muir was considered one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's men. The author, Donald Worster, has a good grasp on the delicate balance between appealing to the people to break out of the rat race to appreciate natural wonders and appealing to the powerful such as Theodore Roosevelt and the railroad magnate, Harriman. John Muir's life was an amazing force that helped establish national parks and monuments all over the western US. He was un ...more
Catherine Richmond
When I was in high school, I met John Muir on the Appalachian Trail. Well, yes, the naturalist had died many years earlier, but the bearded through-hiker had come from Muir's mold. This lawyer had taken to the trail to explore all the deep questions of life, justice, and the American way. John Muir spent much of his life wandering and contemplating, too. His life is a consolation to any high schooler who doesn't know what he wants and hasn't defined his goals. Muir took in a lot of life and natu ...more
Thorough biography. Not one of those biographies that reads as smoothly and quickly as a novel, but a good, solid exploration of Muir's life. The author seemed rather anti-religion. Muir's exploration of religion seemed to play a significant role in his life; at times I wondered how much the author's interpretation was accurate and how much was his own projection onto Muir.
Jan 19, 2016 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"A Washington Post best book of the year" signals the cover of this wonderful book that I saw in my local public library, St Leonards (South Lanarkshire Leisure & Culture).

Fresh from reading John Muir's own accounts on my Kindle, I saw this book while browsing. I wanted to get a context for what I had read.

I wasn't disappointed. The struggles Muir had to protect areas of outstanding natural beauty in the United States and why he wanted to do that make absorbing reading. His was a global repu
Oct 18, 2015 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
Well researched and thoroughly written. A bit too thoroughly for my tastes, actually. The authors commentary and occasional tone of disapproval (over what HE thought Muir ought to have done?!) got in the way of the subject many times.

A fascinating man with divergent appetites.
Bob Wallner
Biographies are one of my favorite classes of books. Learning what make people tick.

Being a lover of hiking and natural beauty, I originally listened to this book as I needed a break from the traditional "leadership" biographies (Jobs, Robert E. Lee, Rockefeller & Ford) but Muir definitely was a Leader of similar caliber.

Born a "middle class" Scotsman - Muir had to break a tyrannical father and find his own passion in the world. Mainly by the power of his pen, Muir gained a following that in
This was an interesting book. John Muir was born in Scotland and moved to the U.S. with his family in 1849. They settled in Wisconsin. His family was religious. He was eager to see the world and excelled at inventing things. He went to college, found mentors there that encouraged him in his passion for he outdoors. He walked and explored much of the country and the world - through the southeastern U.S., South America, Utah, the West, California, Alaska...and beyond. He is most well-known for his ...more
Rodrigo Acuna
Apr 30, 2016 Rodrigo Acuna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"When one tugs at a single thing in nature,"
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
― John Muir

I was introduced to John Muir through the serendipity of reading and was immediately fascinated by this complex man, he is an important part of the last chapter of a book I just finished The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science Written by Andrea Wulf, where he is inspired by this other great man to discover nature with a reverence that changed
Aug 25, 2009 Ann-maree rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Absolutely agree with Tim Palmer and I quote....

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 reveal
Jul 03, 2011 Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating to finally read a full account of John Muir's incredible life. Although I've read most everything he published, it was impossible to get a nonpartisan view of Muir and an all-encompassing portrait of the man and his life. The author was able to craft a very compelling and revealing narrative of the great, charming man without turning a blind eye to Muir's faults or the fact that later in life Muir became much more of a well-to-do businessman (as a grower/farmer) more comfortable with ...more
Dec 07, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierras in a class, I had always been curious to learn more about this largely self-taught naturalist. Muir is also an important figure in 19th Century American History.

He was one of the founding members of the Sierra Club and used his stature as a beloved nature writer to impress upon Americans and their political leaders the importance of preserving large tracks of wilderness for recreational and spiritual refreshment.

He loved to hike and sleep
Jan 24, 2013 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mine
Worster has written a comprehensive account of a fascinating life that really inspires me. Although I had known that John Muir had founded the Sierra club in Victorian times, I had not known:
- how appreciation of nature had freed him from the oppressive Calvinism of his early life, and what a struggle he had with religious belief through the first half of his life
- his talent and dedication to invention and millwork - making systems work better
- his inner struggle between dedication to family an
Dec 02, 2012 Stuart rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Three stars. I picked this up because I had heard so much about John Muir during the Ken Burns PBS series on the National Parks. His influence on the creation of the National Parks was inspirational and I wanted to know more about him. But the book was only OK at doing that. I was somewhat disappointed in it. I felt it started badly, describing Muir’s early life in Dunbar, Scotland. There were small inaccuracies in this section (“British Railway Company” should be “North British” for example), b ...more
Ben Siems
Jul 21, 2012 Ben Siems rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[Note: the following does reveal some specific issues and events portrayed in this book. I would not characterize any of these revelations as "spoilers," since people rarely read biographies seeking suspense.:) ]

Biography has never been my favorite literary genre, largely because of the primary dilemma faced by the biographer: to what extent will he or she attempt to divine the hidden motives, discover the untold thoughts, and even probe the unconscious mind of the book's subject? Treat such mat
Laurence Brauer
Apr 14, 2012 Laurence Brauer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A definitive biography of Muir was long overdue. Linnie Marsh Wolfe's Son of Wilderness: The Life of John Muir was published in 1945 and has been considered the definitive biography. Worster tries to surpass it, but ultimately comes up short. The chapters on Muir and his relationship with his father and the Thousand Mile Walk are superior to Wolfe. Unfortunately, Worster's chapters on Muir and the Sierra fail in comparison to Wolfe. Worster does not bring to life Muir's passionate intensity for ...more
Jan 31, 2016 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent biography. When I finished I felt I knew John Muir, as much as one can from the distance of years. Besides learning about his life and his devotion to nature, we learn about his beliefs and the cultural climate that made him a leader in the conservation movement. It throws a light on the conflicting interests that still face conservationists and environmentalists today
B. R. Reed
Jul 15, 2015 B. R. Reed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorites Americans. Though born in Scotland, John Muir embodied the American spirit. He was intelligent, thoughtful and full of energy for the great outdoors. I think of him as Robert Frost's swinger of birches. He actually climbed a tree during a storm to catch the feeling of the swinging branches. Muir was more than a man who took grand hikes through beautiful American forests, he was also a rancher who took over his father-in-law's place in Martinez, CA. Muir met some great America ...more
Dec 31, 2015 Deb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Worster certainly has the cred to write Muir, and this is a good book -- possibly as good as it's likely to get. But very hard to encapsulate Muir from a single perspective.
Jan 06, 2016 June rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a great deal about the formation of the national parks/forest in the USA. What an incredible pioneer John Muir was!
Feb 03, 2010 Katy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The second of two Donald Worster books I've read. The first of which was Rivers of Empire. Since I loved "Rivers" - I was eager to see this historian's approach to a biography. I have to say, I am not disappointed. Thorough and presented with oodles of historical and ideological context of the period, this biography creates a truly comprehensive vision of the life and times of John Muir. I suspect that I have yet to fully realize the effects of this Muir biography. Most obvious effects: I feel l ...more
Mar 21, 2012 Zack rated it really liked it
John Muir lived a ridiculous life. I mean, really. His 1,000 mile walk to the Gulf during Reconstruction, gallivanting all over the world, helping spearhead the development of the conservation movement. This man truly was a larger than life character. It is honestly tough at times to keep in mind that I am reading a work of non-fiction!

Not much to say other than I am impressed my Worster's ability to put together a cohesive narrative when there is so much info out there about Muir.

Basically, if
Eric Lopez
Jul 07, 2016 Eric Lopez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic book on the controversial character and the United States favorite conservationist, John Muir.
Mar 14, 2015 Hampton210 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent summary of Muir's life. Beautifully written. Disagreed with author's assessment of Muir's faith.
Jan 14, 2014 Katie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Although this book was well-researched and full of information, I absolutely HATED it!!!! It was 400 pages about a man that goes hiking everyday. I realize that John Muir is an important figure in history, and that his efforts to preserve the Yosemite Valley are still impacting California tourism, but I found that this book was dry, boring, and made me never EVER want to visit Yosemite just because I am so damn tired of reading about it! Unless you are somebody that is truly passionate about nat ...more
Oct 21, 2015 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An amazing life and a well-told, comprehensive story about this amazing life.
David Barney
Nov 05, 2014 David Barney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Did a lot for the country. Interesting person.
Nov 23, 2009 Gordon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book provided a good historical account of John Muir's life. However the author seemed to have another agenda throughout the book; it seemed that he was set on trying to make Muir into something he was not, a modern day secular humanist. John Muir was a pragmatic nature lover; he had no grand political agenda. His political involvement was limited to conversation at every turn. The book could have been better had the author focused on the extraordinary man that John Muir was instead of who h ...more
Michael Avery
Aug 09, 2015 Michael Avery rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. It really shows Muir's complete life. I was fascinated to learn about his life and compare and contrast it against my own. Muir definitely worked for a living.
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  • Nature Writings: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth / My First Summer in the Sierra / The Mountains of California / Stickeen / Essays
  • The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
  • Wilderness and the American Mind
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  • American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation
  • The Singing Wilderness
  • The Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir's Greatest Adventures
  • The National Parks: America's Best Idea
  • The Land of Little Rain
  • Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature
  • A Place In The Woods
  • Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir
  • Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness
  • A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century
  • Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind
  • Wildwood: A Journey through Trees
  • More Readings From One Man's Wilderness: The Journals of Richard L. Proenneke, 1974-1980
  • Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History

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