Beautiful illustrated field guide of Sierra Nevada

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Amateur naturalist John Muir Laws painted all 2,800 illustrations for the The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. The Los Angeles Times has a profile of Laws and his remarkable book.

There is also something sweet and obsessive, and marvelously 19th century about the whole enterprise, the idea of a lone amateur, now 41 years old (living in a rented $600 apartment in San Francisco), spending season after season tramping around the mountains, painting mushrooms and moles. "The pages and pages of bugs, flies, beetles," says Malcolm Margolin, founder of Heyday Books in Berkeley, the nonprofit publisher of the field guide. Margolin says he may not be able to "tell one from another, but isn't it wondrous that they're out there? Isn't that marvelous?"

"I'm a beauty junkie," he adds. "And this book was done by somebody who is stunned by the beauty of the world."



  1. At least his parents name him properly. Imagine if they called him Jeeves Laws. We’d have a field guide on butlers and all things butlers do.

    (Note this joke was stolen from some comedian, who was much funnier than me).

  2. Thanks for the pointer to this article. This field guide has been getting rave reviews; it’s unique in that it covers a geographical area with such a broad scope. I hope he considers doing something for the Bay Area!

  3. I got my hands on a copy of this book over the holidays (my gf’s parents are friends with the author) and it’s fantastic.

    The content is amazing and beautiful, and the organization is intuitive and easy to use.

  4. The book is published under the aegis of the California Academy of Sciences, better known as ‘that museum in Golden Gate Park’. It’s actually one of the world’s great scientific institutions and has amazing natural history collections on display and deep in the bowels of the museum. Back in the 80s and 90s, they used to offer art classes that took place in the museum at night, when it was empty. You could have the whole aquarium to yourself if you felt like sketching the octopus. I don’t know if they still do it, but it was a sweet deal.

  5. “Marvelously 19th century” indeed. He has to be a time traveler to get a $600 apartment in San Francisco. I’m not interested in his book about bugs, but I’d love to read his book on how to get affordable flats in San Francisco.

  6. @#10,

    SF has rent control. When I left in 2000, I was paying $1,200 for a three bedroom house with fireplace, yard and garage. Of course, I moved in during the reign of Norton I.

  7. The picture reminded me of the ‘Wanted’ posters of the Colorado Beetle which appeared outside police stations here in the UK in the 70s, when it was feared that the creature may gain a foothold here.

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