John Muir and the ice that started a fire How a visionary and the glaciers of Alaska changed America

Kim Heacox

Book - 2014

"John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire takes two of the most compelling elements in the narrative of wild America, John Muir and Alaska, and combines them into a brisk and engaging biography.John Muir was a fascinating man who was many things: inventor, scientist, revolutionary, druid (a modern day Celtic priest), husband, son, father and friend, and a shining son of the Scottish Enlightenment -- both in temperament and intellect. Kim Heacox, author of The Only Kayak, bring us a story that evolves as Muir's life did, from one of outdoor adventure into one of ecological guardianship. Muir went from impassioned author to leading activist. He would popularize glaciers unlike anybody else, and be to glaciers what Jacques Cousteau ...would be to the oceans and Carl Sagan to the stars The book also offers an environmental caveat on global climate change and the glaciers' retreat alongside a beacon of hope: Muir shows us how one person changed America, helped it embrace its wilderness, and in turn, gave us a better world.In 2005, Californians had to choose a design for its commemorative quarter. Hundreds of submissions - the iconic Hollywood sign above Hollywood Hills, the 1849 Gold Rush, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. - fell away until one remained: an image of John Muir. 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of Muir's death. Muir's legacy is that he reordered our priorities and contributed to a new scientific revolution that was picked up a generation later by Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, and is championed today by influential writers like E.O. Wilson and Jared Diamond. Heacox takes us into how Muir changed our world, advanced the science of glaciology and popularized geology. How he got people out there. How he gave America a new vision of Alaska, and of itself. "--

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor BIOGRAPHY/Muir, John Checked In
Guildford, Connecticut : Lyons Press, An Imprint of Globe Pequot Press [2014]
Main Author
Kim Heacox (author)
Physical Description
xvii, 245 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 231-235) and index.
  • Prologue: the gospel of glaciers
  • Part 1. 1879-1880
  • Chapter 1. the heaven right here
  • Chapter 2. a skookum-house of ice
  • Chapter 3. it is not a sin to go home
  • Chapter 4. we must risk our lives in order to save them
  • Part 2. 1888-1898
  • Chapter 5. old friends, new friends
  • Chapter 6. no lowland grippe microbe
  • Chapter 7. moneyfest destiny
  • Chapter 8. that masterful grasp of material things
  • Part 3. 1899-1906
  • Chapter 9. author and student of glaciers
  • Chapter 10. bully
  • Part 4. 1906-1980
  • Chapter 11. a temple drowned
  • Chapter 12. in perpetuity
  • Epilogue: 2012-2014 blue ice and brown bears
  • Acknowledgments
  • Endnotes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • About the Author
Review by Choice Review

This is a fascinating biography of John Muir, the "father of America's environmental movement." The author uses Muir's many trips to Alaska, exploring and studying the glaciers, to form the framework for his life story. Muir was already enchanted with nature, but glaciers ignited his passion. Glacier Bay was a focus of his early efforts to save nature from exploitation. Readers get to meet the man with all his enthusiasms and foibles, a man who needed wild untrammeled nature as much as he needed air. This biography feels more personal than Donald Worster's A Passion for Nature (CH, Mar'09, 46-3834) and other biographies. It captures the romance and passion of Muir's life. The author's writing style is poetic, making the book a joy to read. Heacox is an award-winning writer and photographer, as well as a conservationist. He has authored many books and essays about Alaska, the polar regions, and wilderness. This excellent biography can stand alone or serve as a companion to Muir's Travels in Alaska (1915). The extensive bibliography and 16 pages of endnotes enhance its usefulness for students. Valuable for both pleasure reading and research. --Betty Galbraith, Washington State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Alaska writer Heacox (The Only Kayak, 2005) delves deeply here into the impact his state's glacial beauty had upon wilderness advocate John Muir. With a deft touch, the narrative wanders with ease from natural history, to biography, to travelogue and an exploration of how Muir's adventures in Alaska infused his later literary and conservation accomplishments. Muir is hardly an unknown figure, but Heacox finds much in his Alaska experiences worthy of further examination. The state's conflicted past with its native inhabitants comes alive as the author recounts Muir's interactions with Tlingit guides, determined men of God, desperate gold miners, and the denizens of the much-lauded 1899 Harriman Expedition. Heacox presents Muir at his most restless, curious best, heavily engaged in the environmental politics of California while never leaving far behind his northern glacial adventures. There are a dozen different aspects of this study that will strike deep chords with readers, most notably the climate implications revealed by glacial movements that Muir recorded. Long a highly regarded member of Alaska's literary establishment, Heacox is at the top of his game here. The science is fascinating, the prose is poetic, and the story weaves a long-lasting geographic spell.--Mondor, Colleen Copyright 2014 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Heacox (The Only Kayak) succeeds in producing a wonderfully personal biography of Muir, while also discussing a larger planetary issue that many know about only in passing. Heacox's fascinating treatment of Muir's life recounts his wilderness adventures, details the quirks and contradictions of his personality, and contextualizes his place in the infancy of the conservation movement. A cofounder of the Sierra Club, Muir was "a self-taught naturalist, glaciologist, ecologist"; he "popularized geology," is credited with birthing the movement to preserve nature instead of viewing it merely as an endless source of raw materials, and his efforts helped save our first national park, Yosemite. Had he been born even a little earlier or a little later, America today may not have many of its most treasured pristine environments. While we are fortunate for Muir's efforts, Heacox takes it a step further and analogizes his contributions to those of contemporary efforts to combat global climate change. The book is an engaging and informative look at Muir and his life's work, as well as a timely call to action that poses difficult questions to the reader and the philosophies that underpin modern life. Illus. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A riveting biography of John Muir (18381914), America's foremost "naturalist, activist, and pacifist." Examining Muir's legacy and recounting how his vision altered America's perception of the natural world, Alaska-based author Heacox (The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska, 2005, etc.) ably explores the story of the man who changed popular attitudes toward the American landscape. Told chronologically in four parts, Heacox begins in 1879 with Muir's "watershed" trip to Alaska, the first of seven he would make. Traveling by canoe with a group of Tlingit natives, Muir first glimpsed Glacier Bay, where he saw "the imposing fronts of five huge glaciers flowing into the berg-filled expanse of the bay." Toggling between Muir's life story and the popular culture of his time, Heacox creates a fully formed portrait of this American icon. A well-known cast of characters graces the pages of the author's narrative, including the nature writer John Burroughs, President Theodore Roosevelt, photographer Edward Curtis, author Mark Twain and the man who would become Muir's nemesis, the nation's chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot viewed the forest as an asset to be managed for wise use and harvested regularly, while Muir valued the aesthetics supplied by untouched landscapes. His books and magazines greatly influenced popular opinion about mountains, forests and glaciers. Moreover, he "may have been the first naturalist to ascribe glacial retreat to global warming." Though Muir made "no major peer-reviewed contributions to the science of glaciology," he would be, writes Heacox, "what Jacques Cousteau would be to the oceans and Carl Sagan to the stars." The author concludes with a moving epilogue artfully stitching Muir's legacy into the 21st century and the issues presented by climate change and its perils. A gripping biography of "a gentle rebel, a talkative hermit, an enthusiastic wanderer, a distant son of the Scottish Enlightenment, inspired by ice."]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.