God's Wilds
John Muir's Vision of Nature
Environmental History
6.125 x 9.25, 264 pp.
7 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 02/13/2002
Environmental History Series
  cloth
Price:        $39.95 s

978-1-58544-143-3

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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God's Wilds

John Muir's Vision of Nature

By Dennis C. Williams

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 (he was 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 shows him as a fundamentalist about nature, who learned his passion, his way of organizing the world, and his moral principles in the demanding world of nineteenth-century Calvinism.

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, 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 sciences, 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 offers insight into 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.

Dennis C. Williams is 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.

What Readers Are Saying:

“I am quite taken with Nature and Soul. Dennis Williams offers the most convincing articulation of what I’ve always believed: that John Muir was a fundamentalist about nature who learned his passion, his way of organizing the world, and his principles in the malevolent world of Calvinism. Williams makes his case in powerful ways, offering a necessary corrective to environmental history as left-wing advocacy. His articulation of the differences between Pinchot and Muir are far more astute than any prior set of observations on those two, and his location of Muir in Bob Crunden’s Ministers of Reform formulation rings true and solid. The response to this work will tell us much about the maturity of the field of environmental history as the new century begins. In short, I think this is a book that can have considerable impact. It covers the turf in a direct kind of detail that is thoughtful and powerful, and it revises an important historical figure.”--Hal Rothman, Editor, Environmental History

“I am quite taken with Nature and Soul. Dennis Williams offers the most convincing articulation of what I’ve always believed: that John Muir was a fundamentalist about nature who learned his passion, his way of organizing the world, and his principles in the malevolent world of Calvinism. Williams makes his case in powerful ways, offering a necessary corrective to environmental history as left-wing advocacy. His articulation of the differences between Pinchot and Muir are far more astute than any prior set of observations on those two, and his location of Muir in Bob Crunden’s Ministers of Reform formulation rings true and solid. The response to this work will tell us much about the maturity of the field of environmental history as the new century begins. In short, I think this is a book that can have considerable impact. It covers the turf in a direct kind of detail that is thoughtful and powerful, and it revises an important historical figure.” --Hal Rothman, Editor, Environmental History

“Searching. Readable. Essential for understanding Muir’s life and work.” --Southwest Book Reviews

“An excellent contribution to our understanding of the depth and species of Muir’s religious attitude and how his theological commitments informed his life and work. . . . Williams’s engaged review of Muir’s religious fundamentalism provides the best explanation yet of Muir’s preference for the faith-minded science of Asa Gray and Joseph LaConte over ‘Darwinism, in both its biological and social strains’(196).” --Environmental History

“Williams does challenge assumptions and inspire further debate.” --Isle

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