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Book Review: John Muir In His Own Words: A Book of Quotations

Compiled and Edited by Peter Browning

Cover photo of John Muir In His Own Words book

Review by Harold Wood

98 pp., $9.95, paperback.
Great West Books, (1988)
P.O. Box 1028-A
Lafayette, CA 94540
(415) 283-3184

Also available as a Kindle ebook.


I am frequently asked for the source of particular Muir quotations. Answering many of these requests is difficult, because many of Muir's best passages were written in different locations. Muir frequently wrote for newspapers and magazines, and then later edited his writings for book publication. So, there are sometimes two or three slightly different versions of the same Muir quote! In addition, some of his most memorable quotes come from his journals, only part of which have ever been published. To complicate matters even further, in recent years there has been an increasing number of inaccurate John Muir misquotes due to online social networking and the spread of viral messages on the Internet.

One way of finding many of Muir's best quotes is available through this 1988 compilation by Peter Browning. Browning has selected quotations from Muir filling 74 pages, arranged chronologically. Each chapter reflects a particular time period. For example, the first chapter, "So Little a Time, " reflects 1860-1869. The book ends with a chapter reflecting some Muir quotes from as late as 1920, published quite a few years after his death.

The most valuable feature of the book is the index. The 22 page index includes most of the topics that one might think of when thinking of John Muir, for example, "Animals," "Bears," "Earth," "Mountains," "Nature," and "Wilderness." It also contains many topics you might not expect: "civilization," "darkness," "ignorance," "People," and "wives." Then, under each of these topics, you will find the first line or a portion of a phrase which uses that topic in the quotation.

Thus, if you look up "Freedom," in the index, you will find five quotes using that word, indicated by phrases like "boasted f. of the town," or "f. and beauty and peace come in." If you look up the latter, you'll find this relatively-unknown gem from Muir: "Only spread a fern-frond over a man's head, and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in." Browning indicates the source of each quote, this one from both the Atlantic Monthly (January 11,) and My First Summer in the Sierra, with the correct page numbers indicated. Browning also indicates when it was first written, when that can be determined; in this case on June 13, 1869.

With the advent of the World Wide Web, it is now possible to do a search on this John Muir Exhibit Website for the source of many Muir quotes. If you need to find the source of a particular Muir quote, you can do a search on the John Muir Exhibit website with the search box in the upper right hand corner of every page.This allows you to type a key phrase from the quote you are trying to find (put it in quote marks), and, if it is on any of Muir's books, you should find it.

Even with the Web, Peter Browning's compilation provides a very useful service, allowing keyword searches, and it is also fun just to leaf through the book to read many of Muir's best quotations. Of course, at 98 pages, the book is not exhaustive, and the selection are those preferred by Browning. Some of my favorite quotes are not found in Browning's book. But most of Muir's best quotes can be found in the book, so I recommend it if you have a need to find Muir sources.


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