Cover image for John Muir's last journey : south to the Amazon and east to Africa : unpublished journals and selected correspondence
John Muir's last journey : south to the Amazon and east to Africa : unpublished journals and selected correspondence
Muir, John, 1838-1914.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington : Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
lii, 337 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH31.M9 A3 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QH31.M9 A3 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QH31.M9 A3 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"I am now writing up some notes, but when they will be ready for publication I do not know... It will be a long time before anything is arranged in book form." These words of John Muir, written in June 1912 to a friend, proved prophetic. The journals and notes to which the great naturalist and environmental figure was referring have languished, unpublished and virtually untouched, for nearly a century. Until now. Here edited and published for the first time, John Muir's travel journals from 1911-12, along with his associated correspondence, finally allow us to read in his own words the remarkable story of John Muir's last great journey.
Leaving from Brooklyn, New York, in August 1911, John Muir, at the age of seventy-three and traveling alone, embarked on an eight-month, 40,000-mile voyage to South America and Africa. The 1911-12 journals and correspondence reproduced in this volume allow us to travel with him up the great Amazon, into the jungles of southern Brazil, to snowline in the Andes, through southern and central Africa to the headwaters of the Nile, and across six oceans and seas in order to reach the rare forests he had so long wished to study. Although this epic journey has received almost no attention from the many commentators on Muir's work, Muir himself considered it among the most important of his life and the fulfillment of a decades-long dream.
John Muir's Last Journey provides a rare glimpse of a Muir whose interests as a naturalist, traveler, and conservationist extended well beyond the mountains of California. It also helps us to see John Muir as a different kind of hero, one whose endurance and intellectual curiosity carried him into far fields of adventure even as he aged, and as a private person and family man with genuine affections, ambitions, and fears, not just an iconic representative of American wilderness.
With an introduction that sets Muir's trip in the context of his life and work, along with chapter introductions and a wealth of explanatory notes, the book adds important dimensions to our appreciation of one of America's greatest environmentalists. John Muir's Last Journey is a must reading for students and scholars of environmental history, American literature, natural history, and related fields, as well as for naturalists and armchair travelers everywhere.

Author Notes

The naturalist John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland. When he was 11 years old, he moved to the United States with his family and lived on a Wisconsin farm, where he had to work hard for long hours. He would rise as early as one o'clock in the morning in order to have time to study. At the urging of friends, he took some inventions he had made to a fair in Madison, Wisconsin. This trip resulted in his attending the University of Wisconsin. After four years in school, he began the travels that eventually took him around the world.

Muir's inventing career came to an abrupt end in 1867, when he lost an eye in an accident while working on one of his mechanical inventions. Thereafter, he focused his attention on natural history, exploring the American West, especially the Yosemite region of California. Muir traveled primarily on foot carrying only a minimum amount of food and a bedroll. In 1880 Muir married Louie Strentzel, the daughter of an Austrian who began the fruit and wine industry in California.

One of the first explorers to postulate the role of glaciers in forming the Yosemite Valley, Muir also discovered a glacier in Alaska that later was named for him. His lively descriptions of many of the natural areas of the United States contributed to the founding of Yosemite National Park in 1890. His urge to preserve these areas for posterity led to his founding of the Sierra Club in 1892.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

An extraordinary man, Muir led an extraordinary life, and as Branch and Gisel, the eloquent and expert editors of these two groundbreaking volumes, reveal, there's much yet to be learned about his adventures and writings. Branch, the first Muir scholar to recognize the significance of Muir's last journey, an astounding 40,000-mile voyage to South America and Africa undertaken in 1911-12 when he was 73, has resurrected Muir's notes and journals from that expedition, incredibly vivid and poetic documents that have "languished" unread for 90 years. Branch dubs Muir a "naturalist with global concerns," and, indeed, the brilliant botanist and environmentalist's indelible descriptions of sea, river, sky, and forest reveal the great depth of his incisive and joyous response to life on Earth. Branch interweaves journal entries with the letters Muir sent to his daughters and friends, and each resurrected sentence is a window into Muir's world-embracing and world-altering mind. Muir was fortunate in his choice of friends. He was 22 when he met 35-year-old Jeanne Carr, the wife of a professor, at the Wisconsin State Fair. They became devoted correspondents, and Carr, mentor and "spiritual mother," became his anchor and confidante as she struggled to fit her botanical pursuits into a busy family and social life. Soul mates, both wrote lengthy letters pearled with thoughts of God and the sacredness of nature. Muir confessed that he felt unequal to the task of translating his transcendent experiences into language, but Carr never failed to encourage him, and readers owe her much gratitude for keeping Muir's pen in motion. Muir's letters to Carr have been available, but this is the first time her compelling correspondence has been published, and the combination, thanks to Gisel's scholarship, creates one of the great duets in the annals of nature writing. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1911, at the age of 73 (just three years before he died), John Muir embarked alone on a 40,000-mile journey to South America and Africa, during which he kept extensive journals and wrote considerable correspondence none of which has been published until now. Edited by Muir scholar Michael P. Branch, associate professor of literature and environment at the University of Nevada, Reno, John Muir's Last Journey: South to the Amazon and East to Africa Unpublished Journals and Selected Correspondence is a rich and fitting tribute. The revelation of Muir's aspirations as a world traveler and, in particular, his fascination with the Amazon, asserts Branch, completes the understanding of a naturalist best known for his founding of the Sierra Club and his conservation efforts in the American West. B&w illus. (July 24) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Well-known conservationist Muir founded the Sierra Club and helped to establish the Yosemite and the Sequoia National forests in California. In 1911-12 at the age of 73, he traveled alone for eight months to South America and Africa to study the natural vegetation. This collection of hitherto unpublished journals and correspondence is an edited but rare glimpse of Muir's epic voyage that unveils his passion for international exploration. Branch (literature and the environment, Univ. of Nevada, Reno), a Muir scholar, includes useful footnotes that explain the many references Muir makes as well as some interesting explanatory material at the beginning of each of the seven chapters. Still, Muir's writing, which for the most part consists of brief descriptions of his daily activities and especially the weather, will not be of interest to anyone other than scholars. To understand most of this very personal correspondence, one needs to spend quite a bit of time reading the footnotes. Academic libraries with extensive conservation collections should consider. Alison Hopkins, Queens Borough P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In August 1911, 73-year-old naturalist and writer John Muir left New York by ship on an eight-month, 40,000-mile trip to study natural history in parts of South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Until now, this expedition has received little attention from historians, who have focused on Muir's American work. Alone (his wife had died in 1906), Muir finally undertook the travel he had originally planned in the late 1860s. Illness and lack of money had prevented his making the trip then. He had gone instead to California, where he became famous as a pioneering conservationist. But, although he traveled extensively over the next 40 years, including Eurasia and the Pacific in 1903-04, he was determined to set out on this final adventure. Publishers had high expectations for articles and perhaps a book about his experiences on his return in March, 1912, but Muir was uncertain about the form any published narrative might take. He died in 1914 without completing the project. Branch (Univ. of Nevada at Reno) tells Muir's story by weaving together journal entries and personal correspondence drawn from the Muir Papers at the University of the Pacific in California with instructive editorial comment. General readers; undergraduates through professionals. K. B. Sterling formerly, Pace University

Table of Contents

Robert Michael Pyle
List of Maps and Illustrationsp. ix
Forewordp. xv
Prefacep. xix
Introductionp. xxiii
Chapter 1 Preparing for the Last Journey: California, New York, and Boston (26 January 1911 - 12 August 1911)p. 3
Chapter 2 Southbound and up the Great Amazon (12 August 1911 - 25 September 1911)p. 35
Chapter 3 Coastal Brazil and up the Iguacu River into the Araucaria braziliensis Forests (26 September 1911 - 8 November 1911)p. 69
Chapter 4 Southern Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and into the Araucaria imbricata Forests of the Andes (9 November 1911 - 10 December 1911)p. 102
Chapter 5 At Sea, South Africa, the Zambezi River, and to the Baobab Trees (11 December 1911 - 6 February 1912)p. 127
Chapter 6 East Africa, Lake Victoria, the Headwaters of the Nile, and Homeward Bound (7 February 1912 - 27 March 1912)p. 161
Chapter 7 Home to America, California, and Writing: The Fate of John Muir and His South America and Africa Journals (28 March 1912 - 29 December 1912)p. 184
Appendix A Timeline/Locatorp. 225
Appendix B Editorial Methodsp. 239
Appendix C John Muir's Reading and Botanical Notesp. 251
Appendix D South America and Africa Books Owned by Muirp. 267
Appendix E Annotated List of Selected Archival Materialsp. 269
Appendix F Table of Emendationsp. 287
Notes to Editor's Introductionsp. 293
Textual Notesp. 299
Bibliographyp. 313
Acknowledgmentsp. 317
Creditsp. 321
Indexp. 323