Book review // The Mountains of California

“Long, blue, spiky shadows crept out of the snow-fields, while a rosy glow, at first scarce discernible, gradually deepened and suffused every mountain-top… this was the alpenglow, to me one of the most impressive of all of the terrestrial manifestations of God” 

Reading John Muir’s books is like letting language seep into you, as it poetically transports you to another landscape. The Mountains of California is no exception. 


The book is structured like layers of the Sierra Nevada landscape, starting at the mountain tops and heading down into the alpine meadows and deep in to the forests.

In each chapter, Muir takes the reader through the landscape, educating them about the history and formation of the land. In each chapter the language paints a vivid picture for the reader, such as this of the Diamond Cascade, 

“Here the tense, crystalline water is first dashed into coarse granular spray mixed with dusty foam, and then divided into a diamond patter by following the diagonal cleavage-joints that interest the face of the precipice over which is pours.”

At times Muir places himself in the landscape, recapping adventures ascending the mountains and wild camping by glacial lakes. At other times the book becomes a poetic textbook, particularly in the chapter on the forests, in which he writes sections on individual trees species. Even in these sections the focus is on describing in rich language the beauty of the individual trees rather than providing a scientific description.

The Mountains of California is not only a fantastic textbook on the Sierra Nevada landscape, but shows the depth of Muir’s passion for the landscape which he sought to protect through his campaign work.

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