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April 25, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE CRUISE OF THE CORWIN by John Muir (Sierra Club Books: $10; 226 pp.). In 1881, John Muir embarked on his last great expedition, traveling on the steamer Corwin around the coasts of Alaska and Siberia. William F. Bade, Muir's literary executor, assembled this account from scientific papers, newspaper correspondence and personal journals. Many of the entries have an oddly contemporary tone: As they were hastily recorded, they lack the fulsome, 19th-Century flourishes that ornament Muir's other writings. The Corwin cruised the northern seas for four months, making the first documented landing on Wrangell Island, north of Siberia. Always a keen observer, Muir notes the effects of glaciation on rocky islands, laments the pernicious effects of alcohol on the native people of the region, and denounces the ruthless slaughter of a herd of walruses with characteristic eloquence: "In nothing does man, with his grand notions of heaven and charity, show forth his innate, low-bred, wild animalism more clearly than in his treatment of his brother beasts."

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