The naturalist John Muir, that great lover of flora and fauna, rock and ice, the natural world in all its grandeur, died a century ago on Christmas Eve. He had been admitted to California Hospital in Los Angeles the day before, wracked by pneumonia. Like many nature-lovers, Muir had courted countless opportunities to “die doing what he loved,” as the euphemism goes, whether by freezing on a mountaintop, falling off a cliff, or being eaten by a bear who shared his views on the interdependence of all living things. That he met his end in a hospital bed is not such a tragedy; Muir was, in fact, doing something he loved at the time, working on the manuscript of his memoir Travels in Alaska (1915).

The journeys described in that book furnish most of the subject matter of Kim Heacox’s entertaining, albeit overly politicized, biography, John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and...


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