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A Review of Cast Out of Eden

Yesterday, I received my copy of Robert Aquinas McNally's new book, Cast Out of Eden: The Untold Story of John Muir, Indigenous Peoples, and the American Wilderness. I was lucky enough to get to read this one before it was released so that I could provide a review blurb, and I was absolutely blown away. I had been impressed by McNally's previous book The Modoc War (you can read my review here), but I wasn't quite prepared for just how much of an impression this book was about to make on me. I finished reading it last summer as my wife and I returned from the Western Writers of America conference in Rapid City, South Dakota. Having this book in my head while I drove through the Badlands, the Black Hills, and especially when we crossed Pine Ridge Reservation, it made me consider my own thoughts about National Parks, preserved lands, and Native people.  Reconciling my joy that these places remain wild must be balanced with my terror at what was done to the people who inhabited them.  And to reckon with the tension that creates internal to myself, it was very helpful to have McNally's narrative voice walking me through Muir's journey and failings vis a vis Native peoples.


So, perhaps needless to say, I LOVED the book.


This was the short review blurb that I gave to Bison Books:


“A thought-provoking masterpiece. Following the life and achievements of John Muir, ‘Father of the National Parks,’ McNally masterfully shows how one of America’s greatest achievements—the preservation of our wildest places—is indelibly tied to one of our most abject failures—the treatment of the Native Americans who lived there.”—Matthew Kerns, Spur and Western Heritage Award–winning author of Texas Jack: America’s First Cowboy Star


Here is a full review:


"Cast Out of Eden" is a monumental work by Robert Aquinas McNally that is as breathtaking in its scope as it is in its depth of insight. McNally's profound exploration of John Muir's life, particularly his complex relationship with America's wilderness and the Indigenous peoples, presents a narrative that is as enlightening as it is heartrending.


Unlike previous biographies of Muir that often veered into hagiography, "Cast Out of Eden" offers a nuanced and critical perspective. While acknowledging Muir's pivotal contributions to the conservation of America's natural landscapes, McNally courageously delves into the more problematic facets of his legacy. The book addresses the overlooked consequences of Muir's environmental crusades, particularly the disregard for the rights and humanity of Native American communities whose displacement was rationalized by the very initiatives Muir championed. This approach provides a more balanced understanding of Muir's impact on America's wilderness preservation efforts, contrasted with the experiences of the Native American men, women, and children who had lived in the vast unspoiled wilderness Muir so revered.

"Cast Out of Eden" is a thought-provoking masterpiece that manages to capture the essence of one of America's greatest achievements — the preservation of its wild lands — while also laying bare the moral costs of this endeavor. McNally masterfully shows how the sanctification of wilderness areas is indelibly tied to the dispossession and suffering of the Indigenous peoples who lived in harmony with these lands for millennia.


Reading this book before attending the Western Writers of America conference in Rapid City, South Dakota, particularly enhanced my appreciation for McNally's narrative mastery. Driving through the Badlands, the Black Hills, and crossing the Pine Ridge Reservation, I found myself deeply contemplating the complex layers of beauty and tragedy that comprise our national heritage. McNally's lyrical narrative voice was a guiding light through this introspective journey, helping me to grapple with the uncomfortable truths about the lands we cherish and the histories we must reckon with.


"Cast Out of Eden" offers an unflinching look at Muir's vision of wilderness that excluded the very people who had cultivated these landscapes for centuries. McNally does not merely present a critique but invites us to imagine a future where America's wild spaces are inclusive, where the legacy of conservation is one of healing and justice for all its peoples.


In closing, Robert Aquinas McNally's "Cast Out of Eden" is more than just a biography; it is a clarion call to acknowledge the juxtaposed triumphs and tragedies of our past, to understand the present, and to strive for a more equitable future. It is a must-read for anyone who cares deeply about the natural world and the complex, often painful history that has shaped our relationship with it and the people who inhabited it.


Cast Out of Eden: The Untold Story of John Muir, Indigenous Peoples, and the American Wilderness by Robert Aquinas McNally is available at Amazon: https://amzn.to/49t4HsK And wherever books are sold.



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