Sunday 29 March 2009

Book Review: Muir and More: John Muir, his life and walks by Ronald Turnbull

Whilst I was reading A Passion for Nature, which I reviewed in my March 27 post, I went on the backpacking trip described on March 23. Now A Passion for Nature is a fairly hefty book, with 535 pages and a weight of 607 grams, so I didn’t want to add it to my load. As I also didn’t want to be distracted from thinking about John Muir I took instead Ronald Turnbull’s much smaller Muir and More, just 182 pages and 281 grams. Published by Millrace it’s a lovely little book, beautifully produced with high quality paper and proper binding. It’s a joy to hold and needed packing and handling carefully not to be damaged in the rucksack or the tent. It’s well-illustrated too with sketches by Colin Brash. I particularly like the one entitled “John Muir in bivvy”.

The book is based on the author’s walks along the John Muir Trail in California and, much more briefly, the John Muir Way in Scotland. Around these walks the author spins many entertaining tales and anecdotes, jumping from history to geology to traveller’s tales to ecology to literature, sometimes with startling leaps of logic. The author’s style is deceptively informal, almost languid in places and humorous in others, but don’t be fooled. This book contains hidden depths and repays concentration and thought. There is much going on here. Let your mind wander and you may miss the connection with yet another tangent. At one point I was very surprised to find myself reading about hiking in Polish National Parks! I was also surprised to discover an anecdote of my own about bears. The tale as told by Ronald is true and I did walk the Pacific Crest Trail, as he mentions. However the bear episode and the PCT walk took place at a distance of 21 years. (I should point out that I have met the author at various outdoor writers’ events and have corresponded with him by email so this is not a completely detached review though if I hadn’t liked the book I wouldn’t have reviewed it anyway).

Although John Muir and his importance today does appear in the book Ronald Tunrbull himself is an important presence and I suspect readers may finish knowing more about him than Muir. Turnbull’s own message, presented with gentle forcefulness, follows on from Muir “it’s not necessary to do everything. All that’s needed is for everybody to do something ……. Trees and the wilderness are a place to start”. They are indeed and John Muir would of course have agreed.


  1. This review is uncannily well timed for me. I susepect we were reading Muir and More at the same time. I'm a fan of Turnbulls writing. I find I have to be in the right mood since, as you say, you have to stay tuned in to get the message. Yes its only a little book, but I found, as with his other books, that it takes time to read. I often have to retrace my steps. Unfortunately I'm almost through the Turnbull books. Fortunately I still have the riddle of the sphinx to go. I intend to savour it!

  2. I read 'Muir and More' a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it too and enjoyed Turnbull's quirky style. Will go and walk the John Muir Way after Easter and will be on the john Muir Trail, albeit briefly in September (walking the South Lake - Bishop Pass - JMT - Piute Pass - North Lake loop from Bishop).

  3. I was glad to run across this review, as I am reading A Passion for Nature" right now.

    Your review made me want to read this book, which is what a good book review should do. Thanks!