Dean King’s poetry is a match for Muir’s ... Guardians of the Valley adds a compelling perspective: an examination of Muir’s relationship and friendship with the editor Robert Underwood Johnson ... Their relationship provides a compelling narrative that guides the reader through decades of what might otherwise have read as dense statecraft and legislative history. Instead, King deftly contrasts Johnson’s lobbying with Muir’s exploits ... King’s book adds much-needed perspective on the power of the press in lobbying for conservation ... We see through this book the immense power of language to sway, the ability for selectively chosen words to convey awe and power, resentment and raw anger, to change the minds of lawmakers and tourists alike.
The story [King] tells — vividly, often excitingly — is of two decent men devoted to public service ... Guardians of the Valley brings to life two compelling figures whose flaws are more apparent in our time than they were in theirs, a reminder that history is the final editor. It’s also a poignant portrait of an era when mere words could change the world.
Guardians of the Valley tells several stories, some captivating, others instructive. Muir’s adventures in an almost virginal Yosemite will entrance park lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and California history buffs, the narrative swept along by Muir’s shimmering, deftly excerpted prose. Larger-than-life characters — Roosevelt, Ralph Waldo Emerson — make star appearances. King vividly re-creates both the San Francisco earthquake and fire and the titanic political fight that would consume both the proponents and opponents of the plan to flood the Hetch Hetchy ... Though general readers may tire of King’s blow-by-blow account of legislative efforts to save Yosemite, the book will resonate with students of environmental policy ... We can never repay what we owe Muir, both for founding the environmental movement and for beginning the process of establishing American national parks.
Like an experienced trail guide, Mr. King, author of several nonfiction books of history and adventure, takes time to linger over remarkable landscapes, recount revealing anecdotes, and take worthwhile detours ... Mr. King’s blow-by-blow retelling of the Hetch Hetchy struggle, with its in-depth accounts of political maneuvering and lengthy quotations from governmental hearings, may provide more detail than some readers desire. But in other chapters the leisurely pace serves his story well. Written with polish and feeling, Guardians of the Valley is a rich, enjoyable excursion into a seminal period in environmental history.
Journalist and adventure writer King was inspired by a personal connection to Yosemite, and this comprehensively researched and compellingly readable history offers an intimate yet sweeping portrait of an inspirational friendship that literally altered the American landscape and enshrined the modern-day conservation movement.
The author is particularly adept at recounting the complex politics surrounding frontier resources in a time when official policy was utilitarian ... A welcome study of environmental politics in action.