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God's Wilds

John Muir's Vision of Nature

By Dennis C. Williams

( from the book's dust jacket )

God's Wilds: John Muir's Vision of Nature
By Dennis C. Williams
(College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2002)
Number Eighteen: Environmental History Series
264 pp., 7 black & white photos. Bibliography. Index.

"In God's wilds," John Muir found beauty, inspiration, and the courage to battle governmental powers for the preservation of natural landscapes. Through his writing and his activism (as the founding president of the Sierra Club), countless others have also found a call to enjoy and preserve the natural world. In a profoundly intriguing, original view of Muir, Dennis Williams traces Muir's view of nature and his moral precepts for conservation to the nineteenth-century Calvinism in which he was raised.

Muir, still one of the most popular American nature writers, was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite National Park and other western parks. For years, environmentalists have used him as a bellwether for their objectives, making him into a wilderness man, a pantheist, and an ascetic. Williams, unlike other interpreters, suggests that Muir's ambition to save nature from development emerged out of his commitment to the assumptions of pre-twentieth century evangelical Christian theology.

Yet, as Williams shows, Muir and his followers were forced to render their metaphysical beliefs in terms that made sense to post-Darwinian America. As his public writings increasingly adopted the language of the new science, his private journals continued to express an evangelical view of nature as a revelation of the character of god. Nonetheless, Muir's secular terminology offered a relatively transparent disguise for his spiritual beliefs, as his prose continued to exude his enthusiastic natural theology.

Embodying the uneasy relationship of metaphysics and natural science in his culture, Muir's writing reflects the complex evolution of preservationist thought and politics. It is the melding of these two visions, Williams suggests, that continues to make his work appealing and gives it power to fuel nature appreciation, environmental activism and an alternative vision of the spiritual value of the environment in the modern world. the environment in the modern world.

DENNIS WILLIAMS is an associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Southern Nazarene University. He has worked as historian for the United States Environmental Protection Agency and has published numerous articles and pamphlets in the field of American environmental history. He earned his Ph.D. from Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

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