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"This book hits the perfect sweet spot: it's both a work of real scholarship and a terrific and entertaining read."

Montana Quarterly

"Energetic and insightful... bravura"

Washington Post

"A terrific page-turning experience."

Associated Press

Wonderlandscape book cover
High Plains Book Award winner
Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of
an American Cultural Icon

August, 2017

Winner of the High Plains Book Award

A Montana Book Award Honor Book

An "Best book of the month: Nonfiction" 

In calling Yellowstone "Wonderland," the first white explorers were comparing its weird geological features to the just-published Alice in Wonderland. But over its history, Yellowstone has become famous for not only its geysers but also its grizzly bears, bison, elk, and other wildlife; its informal architecture and ties to the Western frontier; and its status as the world’s first national park.


Those meanings, and others, evolved long after the park's founding in 1872. Wonderlandscape presents a new perspective on Yellowstone, the emotions evoked by its various wonders and attractions, and how these reactions explain the park's relationship to America as a whole.

In Yellowstone, people—whether they're artists or naturalists, entrepreneurs or pop-culture icons—use the values of their era to reinterpret and redefine the park. For example, when naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton wanted to observe bears in 1897, his adventures highlighted the way the park transformed from a set of geological oddities to a wildlife sanctuary, reflecting a nation increasingly concerned about disappearing populations of bison and other species. Subsequent eras added Rooseveltian masculinity, democratic patriotism, ecosystem science, and spiritual inspiration as core Yellowstone hallmarks. Wonderlandscape shows how every time America changed what it wanted out of its signature park, the Yellowstone landscape was able to offer previously-unappreciated wonders.

As the National Park system enters its second century, Wonderlandscape helps us see the values and heritage that Yellowstone alone has come to represent—how it has shaped America's relationship with her land, and will continue to do so for generations to come. 

More praise for Wonderlandscape:

"A great primer on Yellowstone history and a unique discussion of the park’s place in America."

Yellowstone Insider

"entertaining anecdotes, thorough research, and vivid storytelling."

Big Sky Journal

"a new perspective... leads us to an understanding of how truly marvelous and rich the history of our first National Park is."

Great Falls Tribune


"a lively introduction to the park’s colorful history and the evolving story of its value to the American people."

Bernie Quetchenbach, Billings Gazette

"Readers get a sense of the park's changing meaning over time and will see a fascinating interplay between nature and culture, each shaping the other. Verdict: A consummate American location receives a considered, nuanced treatment."

Library Journal

"Wonderlandscape is well-written and smart—a thoroughly enjoyable read of an American cultural icon."

Brandon Withrow, The Curious Ape


"Clayton's prose is lucid and direct, and he raises compelling challenges to consider when thinking about our evolving relationship with the last of our wild places."

Aaron Parrett, Montana: The Magazine of Western History

"hopeful, philosophical, and hugely stimulating."

Susan Cahill, "Talking Books,"

"Wonderlandscape does an excellent job of giving the reader new ways to appreciate the park."

Missoula Independent

"Clayton leads the reader on an enjoyable path to knowledge. 'You didn’t have to be excited about geology or wildlife or frontier conditions to love Yellowstone,' Clayton wrote. 'You could come because you wanted to be a better citizen, take a civics lesson, become inspired about your country’s ideals. Yellowstone had been discovered and set aside by vacationing middle-class folks just like you, who had a spirit of patriotism just like yours.' Think of that the next time you drive through the East Gate." —Cody Enterprise

"Highly recommended." —ACRL Choice (Association of College and Research Libraries)

"Clayton succeeds in presenting Yellowstone as a core American institution... through which Americans have redefined themselves across generations."

Publishers Weekly

"Clayton enthusiastically tells the foundational stories of the magnificent park, which continues to capture the imagination of millions."


"a worthy contribution to the ongoing debates on the management of America’s public lands."

American Spectator


High Country News (tongue slightly in cheek)

"The writing is clear, relaxed, and accessible. His storytelling makes a credible case for why Yellowstone has long occupied the top of the national park pyramid."

National Parks Traveler

"A thoughtful study of a celebrated natural wonder that has come to truly 'embod[y] American ideals.'”

Kirkus Reviews

"America’s relationships to its unfettered landscapes has much to tell us about the “wild nature” of our own character. In lively, highly entertaining prose John Clayton deftly guides us into that most beloved of all preserves, Yellowstone National Park, there to unearth the brilliant, surprising history of some of our most fanciful hopes and hungers. Wonderlandscape will change the way you think about the country. And beyond that, it will leave you with a with a fresh sense of how the world’s first national park has long been a mirror for who we are, and who we hope to become. "  

—Gary Ferguson, author of The Carry Home:

Lessons from the American Wilderness 

"Wonderlandscape is a fascinating and entertaining cultural history—a portrait not so much of Yellowstone itself, but of what we as Americans have needed Yellowstone to be. Written in a breezy, accessible style, the book nonetheless has important things to say about our evolving ideals over the past 150 years and how they have shaped our relationship to wildlife and the American landscape."

—Gary Krist, New York Times-bestselling author of

The White Cascade, City of Scoundrels, and Empire of Sin

ISBN: 978-1681774572  Published by Pegasus Books

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