Natural History in the Age of the Victorians

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Natural History in the Age of the Victorians

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1edwinbcn
Jul 12, 2013, 10:29pm

Exploration and discovery both before and after Charles Darwin, yielded a wealth of reading materials.

2edwinbcn
Jul 12, 2013, 10:30pm

Travels in Alaska
Finished reading: 4 April 2013



For readers who enjoy reading in the genre of natural history and travel, John Muir is a classic. Muir was a pioneer in traveling the vast expanse of wild nature on the North American continent and write about it, and through his love and religious adoration of nature, he was also one of the first to take the initiative to try to protect nature, and encourage the government to create national parks and reserves.

John Muir had a life-long interest in the rugged wilderness of Alaska, with its large forests and huge glaciers. Through endless observation, Muir discovered and reconstructed many facts about glaciers, then unknown or ill-understood, such as the idea that glaciers once covered a much larger part of the world and helped create the North-American landscape.

Muir's travels were made in the true spirit of exploration, and he was a very couragious adventurer, often exposing himself to risks other travellers would faint dare. His aversion of tackle and equipment, and his preference for the simplest mode of travel, often without much more than a knapsack and a crust of bread, foraging edible fruit and wild-life, enabled him to reach areas other explorers would not go.

Travels in Alaska bring together the reports on three trips John Muir made to Alaska, in 1879, 1880, and a decade later in 1890. Muir who made a living of his travel writing, always carried a note-book, but notes were not as detailed as a diary. His writings, based on the note-books and his memory are written in a fresh and engaging style, making the reader an immediate witness of the spectacle and event. Only, Muir's last trip to Alaska, which disappointed him as, even then, erosion and destruction of the landscape took its visible toll, is much shorter, and was written on and off for many years, a large part in the final year of his life.

So, especially, Muir's description of the first two trips, in 1879 and the following year, 1880, are brimming with his enthusiasm for the wild in the north.

Muir's writing style is always easy to follow. Most plants and trees are described using their English names, and only for some rarer species of herbs and mosses are sometimes Latin names introduced, but sparsely. Muir's language is poetic, but never baroque, making his descriptions as rich and pure as the phenomena he observed. There are some moments of real excitement, as, for instance his encounters with bears.

In all three reports about Alaska, Muir writes about the tribes of Native Americans he met on his travels, describing their culture and customs, making Travels in Alaska also of special interest to anthropologists and readers with an interest in the Native American Indians.

Muir's reports not only describe how civilization encroached upon these last remnants of the wilderness, but also how they corrupted and changed the lifestyle of the Native Americans in those parts.



3SassyLassy
Jul 14, 2013, 7:24pm

Coincidentally, my copy that I ordered after reading your Club Read review arrived the same day you posted this. Looking forward to it.

4edwinbcn
Aug 16, 2013, 7:10am

My first summer in the Sierra
Finished reading: 3 May 2013



John Muir came to live in the United States in 1849, when he was nine years old and his parents moved there. In his twenties he spent several years studying various subjects at university, including botany and geology, in an entirely eclectic fashion and without ever taking a degree. To avoid conscription he moved to Canada, where he spent time trekking through the wilderness. He spent the following several years wandering the woods in the good season and working to make money as it ran out, usually in the winter season, when collecting plants would be difficult.

Between 1868 and 1871, Muir visited Yosemite several times, spending most of his time there. My first summer in the Sierra, although written and published many years later, in 1911, describes this period of his life.

The descriptions in the book bespeak Muir's adoration of the wild nature he observed in the Yosemite. Muir's youthful vigor emblazons the his writing about the paradisaical nature he encountered in this place, including rich descriptions of the landscape, flora and fauna.

My first summer in the Sierra is written in the form of a diary, describing the wanderings and daily occupations of Muir as a shepherd, and although Muir did spend a season in the Yosemite as a shepherd, My first summer in the Sierra is inspired by the many more years he spend there. However, the chosen structure and story tie the book together into an enticing story.

The edition of Mariner Books is illustrated with prints of original photos, etchings and drawings by Muir.

Indispensable reading for anyone with an interest in Natural History, botany and the ecological movement, particularly in the United States.



Other books I have read by John Muir:
Travels in Alaska


Yosemite Creek

5edwinbcn
Edited: Sep 2, 2013, 2:28am

A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
Finished reading: 9 July 2013



In 1839, Henry David Thoreau spent two weeks rowing with his brother on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. However, in A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers this two-week trip is represented as having occurred in just one week.

For lovers of Natural History writing A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is a must-read. Thoreau are prose-poetry, and the dreamlike tranquility of the scene on the river comes through in full. The book is simply a pleasure to read.