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John Muir: His Life and Letters and Other Writings

edited and introduced by Terry Gifford


( from the book's dust jacket )


John Muir: His Life and Letters and Other Writings
Edited and introduced by Terry Gifford
(London: Baton Wicks; Seattle: The Mountaineers; 1996)

The Life and Letters of John Muir , the biography of the world's most celebrated and influential conservationist, forms the principal book in this second omnibus of Muir's writings (following John Muir - The Eight Wilderness-Discovery Books , (Diadem/The Mountaineers, 1992)

The Life and Letters , compiled posthumously by Muir's literary executor, William Frederick Badè, was originally published in 1924 in two volumes. It combines elements of John Muir's unfinished autobiography with letters selected from the voluminous correspondence between Muir and his many collaborators and admirers, all linked by Badè's restrained but perceptive commentary. The result is a vivid portrayal of John Muir the explorer, naturalist, correspondent, polemicist, writer, lobbyist, geographyer and family man. It shows clearly how his crusading passion for the outdoors projected him to the forefront of the American conservation movement and formed a critical element that led to the establishment of the first National Parks.

This new omnibus also provides an opportunity to bring together three of Muir's lesser-known books:

The Cruise of the Corwin describes the search for the ship "Jeanette" which was lost in Alaskan waters in 1876;

Stickeen is an affectionate portrait of a friend's dog that accompanied Muir on a glacier exploration;

Edward Henry Harriman is a tribute to a railroad magnate - Muir's unlikely ally in conservation politics.

Also included are a number of Muir's lesser-known pamphlets and essays: three inspiring essays from the elusive anthology Picturesque California (republished in 1976 as West of the Rocky Mountains ); Treasures and Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park ; a series of previously uncollected letters concerning Muir's return to Scotland in 1893, and some rare scientific papers and essays.

Another item is Samuel Hall Young's 1915 book Alaska Days with John Muir , which provides a gripping account of some of Muir's bold escapades in later life. The book ends with a series of assessments on Muir's contributions, written after his death by fellow Sierra Club members.

What emerges from this diverse collection is a broader reflection of Muir's activities that embellishes and amplifies the material in his better known books. It gives us the intimate, candid Muir of the letters, the first reports of his later adventures, the authoritative travel writer for magazines and journals and the passionate polemicist on behalf of the earth's riches. All these writings come fresh from the frontiers of ecological living a century ago, in a region where the commercial and urban development of an energetic new nation brought conservation concerns to the fore. Though rooted in the burning issues of the past, Muir's writings provide contemporary lessons for our present and future survival on what Muir termed the "Earth Planet."

Terry Gifford, who has organised and introduced this second omnibus (following on from the first), is a climbing writer and poet and Senior Lecturer in English at Bretton Hall College, Leeds University.


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