In a brief, debut biography, Howland presents the history of lifelong Californian Bill Magladry, a doctor, outdoorsman, horse rider, and skeet shooter.
The author traces the Magladry line all the way back to Scotland, but his subject was born on a ranch in Modesto, California, in 1923. The bank repossessed that land during the Great Depression, but Magladry’s father had employment as a fish planter for the Department of Patrol. A long “monograph about fish planting” follows, which the younger Magladry wrote later. Howland mentions that Magladry helped develop photos for photographer Ansel Adams, and also frequently brings up John Muir, the Scottish-born naturalist and pioneer of American environmentalism who was Magladry’s idol. Some stories demonstrate Magladry’s pursuit of sportsman activities, as when he became a member of the Fort Ord Skeet Team, but others are less flattering; for instance, on a trip to Scotland, he took over a tour guide’s lecture on John Muir to regale the group with tales of Muir in California. Howland assures readers that “Both the guide and the crowd were quite impressed with Bill’s knowledge,” but who actually enjoys a know-it-all stranger on a guided tour? At times, the information in this book is rich and intriguing. But despite its extensive accounts of Magladry’s wide-ranging life, it often squanders readers’ interest. It aims to be both a biography and an interview, but it simply feels inconsistent, as the biographer often cedes the floor to Magladry for long, quoted stretches. This back-and-forth leads to some confusion between first- and third-person perspectives, and between present and past tense. This could have been a sweeping, panoramic account, but instead it’s a disjointed and shallow grab bag of anecdotes, quotes, and genealogy.
A reverent but uneven effort of biographical portraiture.