Summary

"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.
©2008 Donald Worster (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Wras on 26-01-16

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 him and his country.

“The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.”
― John Muir

The biography is less passionate than the subject but depicts his struggles and his changes through his life well, and the historical background to some of his motivations are presented in detail and with honesty without embellishing or giving anachronistic points of views. This is perhaps where he book is a bit timid in describing or representing some of the passion the subject had or in speculating a bit more on some of his personal feeling some of them quite evident by his actions and words; the author chooses to stick strictly to the facts and not humanise by quoting him more. Yes he is very detailed on many parts of Muir’s life but not enough on his humanity.

“As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can".”
― John Muir

Scottish by birth and immigrant to America, a man of a deep christian religious background, that finds a different god in wild America, a capitalist by need and one of the first ecologist, a man that saw a unspoiled world and tried to defend it against the forces of commerce and population growth before most had even the imagination to see what was to come.

“The sun shines not on us but in us.”
― John Muir

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”
― John Muir

“The world's big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
― John Muir

A true pioneer in every sense of the word, with all the weaknesses and limitation of a human being but with the spirit to overcome even culture and religious blindness to detect the truth and find a path that was less anthropomorphous and more universal and encompassing of all of creation and with respect for all its creatures as equals not products or subjugations to human need.

“How narrow we selfish conceited creatures are in our sympathies! How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!”
― John Muir

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”
― John Muir

The time we have to change our ways is short, perhaps we should start listening to men and women that are invested in all of Nature and the common needs of all its creatures, perhaps we should start discussing unthinkable thoughts like restricting our growth; infinite growth in a finite space is absolute madness not a universal right.
John Muir imagined and question what was absolute truth and what was expected of him and all, he thought outside the constraints of culture and religion and saw the world as it is not as we want it to be.

“On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death. ... Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights.”
― John Muir

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”
― John Muir

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6 of 10 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By fourflowers on 26-10-17

Doubtful accuracy for Scottish history

I felt that the author had taken his references for Scottish history from an American story book rather than from accurate accounts or source references giving a jaundiced view of events. Also the word "Scotch" rather than Scottish or Scots throughout the book grated on me - isn't Scotch the drink and Scots the people?. But hey, I'm only half Scottish so what do I know!

An account of an interesting man who led an interesting life made up for these flaws though.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Harold W. Wood Jr. on 15-05-14

A good biography for historical perspective

Where does A Passion for Nature rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

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.

What was one of the most memorable moments of A Passion for Nature?

Muir's entire life was memorable, from his adventures in the mountains and on glaciers, and in his conservation battles.

What didn’t you like about Jim Frangione’s performance?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

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12 of 12 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Jonathon Myers on 06-09-16

A great insight into the life of John Muir.

I prefer to listen to biographies and autobiographies simply because I find them difficult to read. That being said this ranks among the best. John Muir lived an interesting life that, when read or heard in this case, is surprisingly motivating.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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