Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir

by Linnie Marsh Wolfe


( from the book's dust jacket )


Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir
by Linnie Marsh Wolfe
1978
University of Wisconsin Press. Madison

Linnie Marsh Wolfe's Pulitzer prize-winning biography of John Muir, long out of print, is available once again in this popular paperback edition.

Working closely with Muir's family and with his papers, Wolfe was able to create a full portrait of her subject, not only as America's firebrand conservationist and founder of the national park system, but also as husband, father, and friend. All readers who have admired Muir's ruggedly individualistic life style, and those who wish a greater appreciation of the history of environmental preservation in America, will be enthralled and enlightened by this splendid biography.

The story follows Muir from his ancestral home in , through his early years in the harsh wilderness, to his history-making pilgrimage to .

As Wolfe reaches back to Muir's native Scotland, she creates a profile of his parents and grandparents that goes far in explaining Muir's outspoken and often rebellious love of liberty. Tracking the family's emigration to Wisconsin, the author describes Muir's stern boyhood life on his father's farm at Fountain Lake, where his love of nature was fostered. The early days of homesteading in Wisconsin are sketched vividly, giving the reader a real sense of the ravage which westward expansion would later wreak upon the land.

Muir's mechanical genius provided him with a means of escape from endless toil and the harsh discipline of his father. On the campus of the state university in Madison, young Muir's knowledge and horizons expanded rapidly until, after two and a half years of university life, he grew restless. Upset by the Civil War and uncertain about his course in life, he left Madison in 1864 to wander in the Canadian wilderness. An accident in 1867 forced on him a period of inaction, during which he came to a major decision: He must always be free to roam the wilderness. After recovering from his injuries, he set out on his life-long journey, traveling both south and west. In 1868 he arrived in San Francisco, and, from there, set out for the range. Although he later traveled widely, it was in California that he spent most of the rest of his life.

Contrary to much popular opinion, Muir was more than a wandering visionary or a "voice crying in the wilderness." He was many things -- son, father, and husband; inventor, geologist, farmer, naturalist, lecturer, writer, and lobbyist; outspoken friend and formidable adversary. His was a multifaceted character, shaped as much by his stern and liberty-loving Scottish heritage as by his love of all things wild and free. Through all his wanderings, Muir retained a close affection and responsibility for his mother, his brothers and sisters, and his wife and daughters. His battles against the encroachment of civilization were actually born of his love for civilization, for he was one of the few to realize that the destruction of the wilderness would diminish man himself.

Both the general reader and the specialist will welcome this opportunity to add a fascinating and important volume to their collections. Linnie Marsh Wolfe's work, originally published in 1945 and based in large part on her personal interviews with those who knew and worked with Muir, is on which could never be written again. It is, and will remain, the standard Muir biography.