Cover image for The young John Muir : an environmental biography
The young John Muir : an environmental biography
Holmes, Steven J. (Steven Jon), 1960-
Publication Information:
Madison : University of Wisconsin Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 309 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
QH31.M9 H65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As a founder of the Sierra Club and a promoter of the national parks, as a passionate nature writer and as a principle figure of the environmental movement, John Muir stands as a powerful symbol of connection with the natural world. But how did Muir's relationships with nature begin? In this book, Steven J. Holmes offers an interpretation of Muir's formative years, one that reveals the agony as well as the of his earliest experiences of nature. From his childhood in Scotland and Wisconsin through young adulthood in the Midwest and Canada, Muir struggled - often without success - to find a place for himself both in nature and in society. Far from granting comfort, the natural world confronted the young Muir with a full range of practical, emotional and religious conflicts. Only with the help of his family, religion, and the power of nature itself could Muir, in his late 20s, find a welcoming vision of nature as home.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Now in its sixth year, American Nature Writing continues to present emerging writers alongside some of the more established names in this often lyrical, frequently provocative, and unquestionably essential genre. In this edition, writers report on life in realms as varied as the violated plateaus of Tibet, a sleepy Baja, California, town, Florida wetlands, the southwestern desert, and Montana's Glacier National Park. In each locale, nature works its magic in contrast to what humans have wrought: "development" that leads to as much destruction as convenience. But the ongoing vitality of nature writing is cause for optimism: as long as the tradition of contemplating and celebrating nature is maintained, there is a chance that wilderness itself will survive. No history of nature writing, however brief, would omit John Muir (1838^-1914), ecstatic nature writer, seminal environmentalist, founder of the Sierra Club, and champion for national parks. Muir's writings remain relevant and revelatory, and his life and achievements have been thoroughly analyzed and celebrated in previous biographies and other interpretative works, but Holmes, a lecturer at Harvard, believes that there's more to be learned. Seeking to create a new form, the "environmental biography," he focuses on Muir's formative years and his relationship with place. Muir conceived of nature as both "home" and the manifestation of the divine. In his densely psychological chronicle, Holmes explores those paired visions and Muir's exalted sense of wilderness, analyzing Muir's boyhood in Scotland, complex relationship with his demanding father, immigration to the U.S. and subsequent university education in Wisconsin, and soul-stirring travels throughout the South and on to the site that became his spiritual center: Yosemite. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The life and writings of early environmentalist John Muir (1838-1914) taught Americans to appreciate the Yosemite Valley, the redwood, the glacier and the beauty of California. This scholarly and interpretive work takes on Muir's life from his birth in Scotland to his first years in California (up to 1872), along with his writings about those years. Holmes (who teaches history and literature at Harvard) sets out and glosses relevant facts, but his abiding interest is in theories, implications and readings. With attention and talent, Holmes primarily writes for other experts on Muir and for the emerging field of literary studies now dubbed ecocriticism. Though the wealth of knowledge and information here might attract some ambitious lay readers, the tone and aims seem purposefully academic. Holmes describes Muir's childhood in Scotland and Wisconsin through (among other lenses) Wordsworth's Prelude and the child development theories of Edith Cobb, Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott. He places Muir's stories of his own boyhood in "the wilderness/coming-of-age tradition" exemplified by Faulkner's "The Bear." He reads and rereads the emotional implications of Muir's correspondence with Emily Pelton and Jeanne Carr, and connects Muir's walks through Georgia's fauna and flora in 1867-1868 to particular readings of Paradise Lost. One appendix comprises new textual scholarship on Muir's important My First Summer in the Sierra; another offers more on Klein and Winnicott. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In this biography, which began as a Harvard dissertation, Holmes plumbs various elements in the formation of Muir's character, especially cultural, environmental, and religious components. His revisionist study has also been "informed by a more recent formulation of psychoanalysis, the object relations approach." The period covered ranges from Muir's birth in Scotland in 1838 until his departure from the Yosemite in 1872. The text is largely straight biography; in footnotes, Holmes typically dilates on the theoretical insights that buttress his conclusions. A detailed discussion of object relations theory appears as one of the appendixes. In another appendix, Holmes explores the antecedents of Muir's book My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), which was based on notebooks dating from 1887, 18 years after his early experiences in Yosemite. A third appendix looks into changes Muir made later in life in the journal he kept during his walk from Indiana to the South in 1867-68. The author suggests that these alterations reflected Muir's more mature musings on the events of his youth, which must be taken into consideration by students of his career. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. K. B. Sterling; Pace University