Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands

John Clayton. Pegasus, $27.95 (292p) ISBN 978-1-64313-080-4
Naturalist John Muir and U.S. Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot, usually portrayed as rigid symbols of warring preservation vs. conservation approaches to public-land management, in fact had a nuanced rivalry with hopeful ramifications for modern environmental issues, argues journalist Clayton (Wonderlandscape) in this hybrid biography-history. The first of the book’s two parts begins with sketches of Muir, a writer and scientist best known for his role in the creation of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Club, and Pinchot, who had a privileged upbringing and studied forestry, embraced a pragmatic attitude toward nature, and influenced President Theodore Roosevelt’s environmentalism. Clayton details Muir and Pinchot’s differing views on the controversial Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite, which, in a defeat for Muir, was built. In the book’s second half, Clayton widens his scope, looking at how public lands became a uniquely “American hallmark.” He posits that Muir and Pinchot’s differing approaches, far from causing an irreparable rift, balanced each other out and nurtured the lasting “belief that an American landscape could be productively managed, through democratic processes, for the benefit of all.” Readers will share Clayton’s hope that a similar “marriage of morality and capability” can help solve today’s most pressing issues. Agent: Laura Wood, Fine Print Literary. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 06/06/2019
Release date: 08/06/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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