A sturdy life of David Brower (1912-2000), the legendarily tough and tough-minded pioneering environmentalist who shaped the Sierra Club into a national political force.
By the reckoning of a fellow activist, Brower was “the last of the great amateur environmentalists”—meaning, as Wyss (Journalism/Univ. of Connecticut; Covering the Environment: How Journalists Work the Green Beat, 2007, etc.) elaborates, that he did not come to the job equipped with the tools of a CEO or development officer in the way of a modern nonprofit leader. Instead, Brower wielded the ice ax of a mountaineer and the blue pencil of an editor, and he knew his way around a podium as well as a goat path. As Wyss notes, the board of the Sierra Club, which Brower led for years, had to confine him to the office by contract to keep him from running off into the field. The author writes under the long shadow of John McPhee, whose Encounters with the Archdruid (1971) cast Brower as a quixotic hero. Wisely, Wyss elects not to compete with McPhee but instead to round out his account with details of the daily work of advocating for conservation. That work involved hated office routines and lots of politicking, to be sure, but also afforded Brower the opportunity to do some interesting things, such as publish a line of books featuring such writers as Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey and photographers such as Galen Rowell and Ansel Adams, the last of whom would prove a testy friend and uneasy ally. So it was, too, with Stewart Udall, the interior secretary on whom Brower pinned much hope but who regularly crossed him. Often reprimanded and sometimes fired, Brower remained a force in the environmental movement until the end of his long life, and this book makes fitting homage.
Thorough and well written, if sometimes dry. The book lacks Brower’s soaring idealism, but it provides a highly useful view of how environmental battles are waged in the trenches.