John Muir Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Muir (MYOO-ur), the “godfather” of the United States’ national park system, was not principally a writer, though he wrote a vigorous and muscular prose reminiscent of his life. He was born in Scotland to a strict Calvinist family, where harsh physical punishment was used to enforce work and study. In 1849 his father Daniel emigrated to pioneer Wisconsin with his three older children.

Muir’s love of nature and his inventive abilities manifested themselves early. Driven by eagerness to learn, he devised a wooden clock geared to his bed, “an early rising machine” to wake him for study before he had to go to work. In 1861, the year he entered the University of Wisconsin, many of his inventions relating to nature study were displayed at the state fair.

He left the university without taking a degree, though he was honored by four degrees in later life. His inventive genius gave way to his love of nature when a factory accident impaired his eyesight. Once he regained his sight, he decided to walk from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, observing nature and recording his thoughts along the way. His first journal, which was later published as A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, opens with the heading, “John Muir, Earth-planet, Universe,” indicating his desire to establish new values, turning away from mechanization and adopting a life in harmony with nature. In 1868, determined to “study the inventions of God,” he emigrated to California to continue his careful observations of nature, principally the forest and glacial regions, which were to fill seventy notebooks. In 1880 he married Louise Strentzel, whose father owned fruit ranch land. Muir’s industry as a manager and horticulturist made it possible for him to resume his naturalist pursuits.

During the administrations of Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt, he promoted conservation and urged the establishment of public parks, visited forest and glacial lands, and wrote articles and books that persuaded the American public to preserve their natural resources. He remained slight of build but vigorous to the end. The true value of Muir’s writing lies in his vision of the American wilderness. Because of his tireless campaigns to preserve this wilderness, his vision remains, notably in his real monuments, the national parks.


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Muir moved to a Wisconsin homestead when he was eleven and attended the University of Wisconsin from 1858 to 1863. After a year of farming while waiting for a draft call, he decamped to stay in Canada from 1863 to 1864. In 1867, he began a full-time career in nature study, starting with a projected thousand-mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico on his way to South America. Frustrated by serious illness, he went to California and lived in the Yosemite Valley for five years. In 1873, he began a full-time career as a nature writer and preservationist, spending summers hiking and observing natural phenomena in the mountains. In 1889, Muir began writing and lobbying to preserve Yosemite Valley as a National Park. In 1896, as one of its founders, he became the first president of the Sierra Club; remaining in that position until 1914. He was preeminent in publicity and lobbying (1905-1913) against San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy water project. Although unsuccessful, this effort broadcast the preservationist ethic nationwide. Muir’s contributions to glaciology and geomorphology give him minor scientific status. He published more than 500 articles and essays, many of which were based on his mountaineering journals. His books include Mountains of California (1894), My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) and The Yosemite (1912).


Cohen, Michael P. The Pathless Way: John Muir and...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cohen, Michael P. The Pathless Way: John Muir and the American Wilderness. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984. Describes Muir’s spiritual journey into nature.

Ehrlich, Gretel. John Muir: Nature’s Visionary. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2000. A well-written and profusely illustrated biography.

Fox, Stephen. John Muir and His Legacy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984. Examines Muir’s influence on the Conservation movement.

Holmes, Steven J. The Young John Muir: An Environmental Biography. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. Focuses on Muir’s youth and the role that the experience of nature played in forming his personality and philosophy.

Melham, Tom. John Muir’s Wild America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1976. A fascinating photographic retracing of many of Muir’s journeys.

Miller, Sally M., ed. John Muir in Historical Perspective. New York: P. Lang, 1999. This collection of essays includes discussion of literary and religious themes in Muir’s writings.

Miller, Sally M., ed. John Muir: Life and Work. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993. A collection of papers presented at a conference honoring Muir’s legacy. Two papers concentrate on Muir’s literary techniques.

Turner, Frederick. John Muir: Rediscovering America. l985. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Press, 2000. A clear and extensively researched biography.

Williams, Dennis C. God’s Wilds: John Muir’s Vision of Nature. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002. Discusses Muir’s ecological philosophy and the idea of sustainable development.