Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Dean King's "Guardians of the Valley"

Dean King is an award-winning author of ten nonfiction books. He crossed the Sahara on camels and in Land Rovers while researching Skeletons on the Zahara, trekked the Long March trail in the mountains of Western China for Unbound, and was shot at while researching The Feud in Appalachia. For his most recent book, Guardians of the Valley: John Muir and the Friendship that Saved Yosemite, King traveled to John Muir’s boyhood homes in Dunbar, Scotland, and rural Wisconsin and spent months roaming Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada.

King applied the "Page 99 Test" to Guardians of the Valley and reported the following:
Alas, page 99 of Guardians of the Valley is a service page and prelude to “Part 2: Making the Mountains Glad,” Muir’s phrase explaining his reason for founding the Sierra Club, which he will soon do. While this page, containing two brief lists of presidents and interior secretaries, does not give you a sense of the narrative style or soul of the book, it does tell you a few things.

The epic story of John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson’s efforts to create and shape Yosemite National Park and to save the American landscape take place over four decades, involving six presidents, even more interior secretaries, and countless Congressional leaders, state politicians, and powerbrokers. The political landscape is an essential element of the story. This page tells you that the action in the next seven chapters takes place during the administrations of Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley, from 1889 to 1901. Five secretaries of the interior served during that time, and Johnson would call the first of these, John Noble, in the role from 1889 to 1893, “officially the pioneer of the conservation movement in this country” (a veiled dig at the attention-grabbing “Wilderness Warrior,” Theodore Roosevelt).

Page 99 of Guardians shows that the book’s historical context is accessible and handy. If the ghost of an image on the preceding blank page tempts you to turn it, a spectacular century-old photograph of Half Dome on the other side just might hook you. And if you flip forward from page 99, you will find one of my favorite chapters, which recounts the rather humorous first meeting of Muir, the California nature savant, and Johnson, an urbane New York City magazine editor, at the grand Palace Hotel in San Francisco, followed by their groundbreaking visit to the even grander Yosemite Valley, a visit that sets the stage for the rest of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Dean King's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: The Feud.

--Marshal Zeringue