The Mountains of California

John Muir

Book cover

Read this for free on the Kindle (thanks for being extremely old, John Muir!).

It was hit and miss. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are already a big fan of JM (like me) or live in Northern California (also me). It is sort of methodically structured, with different sections on the glaciology, flora, and fauna of the Sierras. Some of these parts can get tedious, as when he is going over all of the different evergreen species. The book contains the famous story of JM climbing a tree during a storm, just to see what it feels like. The couple of parts that are narratives of specific experiences he had, including that one, are nice, more engaging than the “catalog” parts. But my favorite two sections are the extended descriptions of his favorite animal and bird, the squirrel and the ouzel (I had to look for YouTube videos on the latter, which is apparently also known as the American dipper). Neither is a “traditionally charismatic” creature; I more or less ignore squirrels even in Berkeley, let alone in the wilderness. But JM really makes each of them come alive, and gives you a strong impression of their unique characters. He talks a lot about just sitting still for hours while watching these creatures, and it’s clear that by doing so, he is able to observe many interesting things about them that remain opaque to those of us who haven’t devoted the effort.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars