It’s a story Americans need to know and appreciate ... I’ve spent much of my life sharing a property boundary with the Forest Service, but I knew little of the complex behind-the-scenes machinations and the public appeals that produced this unlikely wonder. I’m struck, reading these accounts, how useful the history is for the present moment. They prompt the important recollection that Americans have at times demanded that our prosperity protect the public good, not just private interests ... Clayton’s book sheds valuable new light.
... smart and very readable detail ... Clayton boils the details of this complex picture into a story of big personalities and even bigger priorities, and it’s his own cri de coeur about those priorities that rings in the reader’s ear as the book concludes ... Where do you look for meaning? Anyone who’s ever been stunned into silence by the views of Lake McDonald’s Glacier National Park (not to mention its bristling array of wildlife) will be familiar with the meaning such sights can impart.
... some readers may find the political maneuvering more detailed than they require. And the decision to structure his story not as one continuous narrative but as two distinct parts, one focusing on the relationship between Muir and Pinchot and the other on the birth of public lands, at times yields an account that is fragmented and repetitive. But on the whole Mr. Clayton writes with clarity, passion and insight ... uneasily relevant to today, when more public lands are being opened to commercial exploitation.
... crisply written ... Clayton paints vivid portraits of each, with Muir as the bedraggled backwoods explorer whose storytelling could charm the rich and powerful into supporting his causes, while practically minded New Yorker Pinchot peddled science and profitability to win political backing for his schemes. What makes their stories especially compelling is their preservation versus conservation debate, which still rages as environmentalists struggle to protect America’s natural resources from predatory special interests.