A tribute to David Brower (1912–2000), father of the modern environmental movement, on what would have been his 100th birthday.
Nature writer Kenneth Brower (A Song for Satawal, 2009, etc.) interviewed 20 environmental leaders about his father’s influence on their lives and conservation. The result is an engaging compilation that serves as a balanced testimony to Brower's leadership and an eloquent and candid insider reflection on the movement and how it has changed (more institutionalized, less about fundamental grassroots change). The book also works well as an analysis of effective advocacy and business/nonprofit leadership. After dropping out of Berkeley and establishing himself as an elite mountain climber, Brower became the first executive director of the Sierra Club in 1952. He proceeded to transform it from a "hiking fraternity" to an influential conservation advocacy organization. In 1969, the board of directors he built fired him in a controversy that would repeat itself at Friends of the Earth in 1986. These episodes of conflict are never fully deconstructed in the book, but rather referenced in discussions of David Brower's inimitable leadership style. He was a "visionary with the ability to articulate that vision" and a charismatic, bold, decisive speaker who inspired young people. He was uncompromising in his purpose and would act on urgent matters with little consideration for funding, but was personally shy and a bad manager. The interview content can feel rambling, and the litany of names is difficult to navigate for readers unfamiliar with his story. But the informal style captures the energy and immediacy of the contributors' passion for the cause and respect for one another. By addressing the work of others in the field, and not just their impressions of Brower, the author avoids sappy reverence and does justice to his father's cause by tracing the movement as a whole.
A worthy tribute and a good lesson on the conservation movement.