John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement

by Stephen Fox


( from the book's dust jacket )


John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement
by Stephen Fox
1981
Boston: Little, Brown and Company

Perhaps the most legendary woodsman in American history, John Muir (1838 - 1914) was a Scottish-born naturalist, an eccentric nature lover who would set out for the wilderness for days on end with only tea, oatmeal, and bread in his pack, and sing entranced from the tops of waterfalls. A spellbinding conversationalist whose acquaintances included Emerson and Theodore Roosevelt, he won the hearts of the eastern establishment intellectuals with his writings from the Sierra. More than anyone else, John Muir was responsible for our national park system, and the American conservation movement is very much his legacy.

John Muir and His Legacy is at once a biography of this remarkable man--the first work to make unrestricted use of all of Muir's manuscripts and personal papers--and a history of the century-old fight to save the natural environment. Stephen Fox traces the conservation movement's diverse, colorful, and tumultuous history, from the successful campaign to establish Yosemite National Park in 1890 to the movement's present day concerns of nuclear waste and acid rain.

Previous histories of conservation have focused on politicians and professional conservationists in government bureaus. Fox chronicles the development of the major conservation groups, spotlighting the zealous amateurs who have been at the heart and soul of American conservation. The cast of characters includes two Presidents, a Supreme Court justice, and a Pulitzer Prize winning historian. It also includes William Dutcher, an insurance agent who organized the National Audubon Society: J. Horace McFarland, a master printer who saved Niagara Falls; Will Dilg, an advertising man who started the Izaak Walton League; Rosalie Edge, "the only woman in conservation"; and Aldo Leopold, whose classic A Sand County Almanac was the final act in a distinguished career.

Conservation has run a cyclical course, Fox contends, from its origins in the 1890's when it was the province of amateurs, to its takeover by professionals with quasi-scientific notions, and back, in the 1960's to its original impetus. Since then man's view of himself as "the last endangered species" has sparked an explosion of public interest in environmentalism.

John Muir and His Legacy is at once a fascinating biography of America's foremost wilderness defender and a penetrating historical examination of the impassioned individuals and vigilant organizations that have borne aloft the movement he began.