A Passion for Nature:
Exploring the Life of John Muir

Donald Worster and Richard White with Jon Christensen

Thursday, May 7, 2009 | 7:30–9:00pm | Kresge Auditorium | Free and Open to All

In Donald Worster's new biography, John Muir's "special self" is fully explored as is his extraordinary ability, then and now, to get others to see the sacred beauty of the natural world. A Passion for Nature is the most complete account of the great conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club ever written. Rich in detail and personal anecdote, it traces Muir from his boyhood in Scotland and frontier Wisconsin to his adult life in California right after the Civil War up to his death on the eve of World War I. It explores his marriage and family life, his relationship with his abusive father, his many friendships with the humble and famous (including Theodore Roosevelt and Ralph Waldo Emerson), and his role in founding the modern American conservation movement. Inspired by Muir's passion for the wilderness, Americans created a long and stunning list of national parks and wilderness areas, Yosemite most prominent among them. Yet the book also describes a Muir who was a successful fruit-grower, a talented scientist and world-traveler, a doting father and husband, a self-made man of wealth and political influence, and a man for whom mountaineering was "a pathway to revelation and worship."

DONALD WORSTER, Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Distinguished Professor
of American History and Environmental Studies at the University of Kansas

Donald Worster, a scholar of the environmental history of North America, was educated at the University of Kansas and Yale University. His publications include An Unsettled Country: Changing Landscapes of the American West (1994); The Wealth of Nature: Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination (1993); Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (1977); and A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell (2001). His biography of John Muir, A Passion for Nature, was published by Oxford University Press in 2008.

RICHARD WHITE, The Margaret Byrne Professorship in American History Margaret Byrne Professorship in American History and Co-Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford

Richard White is widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading scholars in three related fields: the American West, Native American history and environmental history. He came to Stanford in 1998 and is the author of five books, including The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republic in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, which was named a finalist for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize. Among other honors, he is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

JON CHRISTENSEN (moderator), Associate Director, Spatial History Project
at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford
Jon Christensen is currently working with Richard White on a Ph.D. in American History and the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. He is examining the history of conservation, the science of conservation biology, and measuring conservation. He has an extensive background in science writing and environmental journalism and, since 1996, has been a free-lance contributor to the New York Times and numerous other newspapers, journals and radio and television shows. He was a Knight Professional Journalism Fellow at Stanford in 2003.

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