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Book Review: Confessions of the Night Ranger: Memoirs of a California State Park Ranger by Daniel C. Friend

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Author Daniel C. Friend spent his early career upon college graduation as a California State Park Ranger in the tumultuous 70’s. He has penned a long, rambling memoir titled Confessions of the Night Ranger about his recollections and reflections of his experiences in what many at the time, including Friend, perceived as an idyllic career opportunity. The latter part of the book, not alluded to on the back cover notes, is a “bonus” of sorts that recounts his exit from the park service to a new career with the CIA.

Friend is a competent non-fiction writer with an easy storyteller’s manner. The book, which utilizes the prevalent diary style of content presentation, is filled with anecdotes, observations and insights, told with candor and accessibility that will appeal to readers who want to really get to know an author through their memoir. In his introduction, Friend states that his aim is to share “what it was like to be a California State Park ranger during the turbulent 1970’s, what was going on with crime in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and finally, the challenges I was facing in my personal as well as professional lives.” The book manages to accomplish these objectives but requires 545 pages to do so. This voluminous amount of material results in several issues for the reader.

Confessions of the Night Ranger is a book that is true to its aim but which often seems to have been written for two different audiences–the reader for whom Friend intended it to reach, and, for Friend himself. It’s as if Friend couldn’t decide between those anecdotes which might most engage the reader and those which were his own personal favorites, so he includes them all. This results in an annoying redundancy of stories, as in the case of his running dialogue about the issue of his dual roles as folksy ranger versus park cop. From my perspective, the book would be greatly enhanced by some additional editing. This would also address another issue, that of excessive typos, which increasingly became a distraction for me throughout the book.

These observations aside, there is much to like about Confessions of the Night Ranger by Daniel C. Friend. It is especially rich in insight and understanding of the seventies in America and the impact of the period on the decades which followed, right up to the present time. If you work in the park and nature preserve field, or other allied fields such as botanical gardens, historic homes, museums, etc., you will most likely be engaged by the history and observations that Friend offers with regard to interpreting your resource for the general public. Finally, while the pace of the book is probably not brisk enough to hold the attention of the occasional reader, regular readers with time and patience will find the author to be an interesting man, to whom most people can relate, who has an interesting story to tell.

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