Amazon (along with other booksellers, like your local independent bookstore) is now taking preorders for the new book Cast Out of Eden: The Untold Story of John Muir, Indigenous Peoples, and the American Wilderness by Robert Aquinas McNally—the book releases on May 1, 2024.
I was lucky enough to read a preview copy of this one, and here's my short-form review:
“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.”
Here's what the publisher, Bison Books (University of Nebraska Press), says:
John Muir is widely and rightly lauded as the nature mystic who added wilderness to the United States’ vision of itself, largely through the system of national parks and wild areas his writings and public advocacy helped create. That vision, however, came at a cost: the conquest and dispossession of the tribal peoples who had inhabited and managed those same lands, in many cases for millennia. Muir argued for the preservation of wild sanctuaries that would offer spiritual enlightenment to the conquerors, not to the conquered Indigenous peoples who had once lived there. “Somehow” he wrote, “they seemed to have no right place in the landscape.”
Cast Out of Eden tells this neglected part of Muir’s story—from Lowland Scotland and the Wisconsin frontier to the Sierra Nevada’s granite heights and Alaska’s glacial fjords—his take on the tribal nations he encountered, and his embrace of an ethos that forced those tribes from their homelands. Although Muir questioned and worked against Euro-Americans’ distrust of wild spaces and its deep-seated desire to tame and exploit them, his view excluded Native Americans as fallen peoples who stained the wilderness’s pristine sanctity. Fortunately, in a transformation that a resurrected and updated Muir might approve, this long-standing injustice is beginning to be undone, as Indigenous nations and the federal government work together to ensure that quintessentially American lands from Bears Ears to Yosemite serve all Americans equally.
McNally's last book, The Modoc War: A Story of Genocide at the Dawn of America's Gilded Age, was fantastic. I talked about the book, and the impact that the Modoc War had on America and the public reception that Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack received as noted "Indian fighters" during their first dramatic tour here:
I highly recommend McNally's work. He's a writer of rare skill, able to balance meticulous research with lyrical prose, and his ability to shine a penetrating light on the darker shadows of American history makes him an author whose books are always on my "Must Buy" list. I pre-ordered this one, and if you're interested in the balance between "America's Best Idea," our national park system, and our worst moral failure, our treatment of Native people, you should too.