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Encounters with the Archdruid

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  4,204 Ratings  ·  201 Reviews
The narratives in this book are of journeys made in three wildernesses - on a coastal island, in a Western mountain range, and on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The four men portrayed here have different relationships to their environment, and they encounter each other on mountain trails, in forests and rapids, sometimes with reserve, sometimes with friendliness, ...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published October 1st 1977 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1971)
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Jan 28, 2016 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-nature
David Brower was an extreme conservationist. His 'religion' was wilderness. Brower's natural enemies were the mineral engineer, the resort developer and the dam builder.

What John McPhee did, in the three parts of this book, was to contrive meetings between Brower and each of these three. But these were not meetings in some boardroom. No. Brower hikes in the Cascades with the mineral engineer; he camps out on Cumberland Island with the resort developer; and he goes rafting through the Grand Canyo
Rex Fuller
Jun 06, 2013 Rex Fuller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Have no idea why I never ran across John McPhee before stumbling upon him as a non-fiction author C. J. Box's Joe Pickett character read. Looked him up and found him to be a prominent and prolific writer and picked this one, probably his most popular work, to start with. Published in 1977 it describes three meetings in the wild the then head of the Sierra Club, Dave Brower, the "archdruid" of the title, had with then prominent agents of development: hiking Glacier Park Wilderness wit ...more
Aug 01, 2007 Aaron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book about the soul of environmentalism. The author perfectly captures the equally valid perspectives of David Brower, former head of the Sierra Club, and the miners, developers and dam-builders to which he stands opposed. Best of all, these perspectives are shown through in-person encounters and the arguments take place in the very settings over which they will fight their battles.
Sep 28, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, nature
There's a passage from a science fiction story by Robert Charles Wilson that I love, and which came to mind more than once as I was reading this book. Here it is, from Wilson's story "The Inner Inner City" (and which you can find in his excellent collection The Perseids and Other Stories):

We contrast the urban and the natural, but that’s a contemporary myth. We’re animals, after all; our cities are organic products, fully as “natural” (whatever that word really means) as a termite hill or a rabb
Aaron Arnold
I found this book to be riveting; both a nature travelogue and an applied ecology seminar in one slim volume. Sierra Club director David Brower is the Archdruid, a man who uses the word "conserve" the way Carl Sagan used "billions". He's a die-hard environmentalist with a gift for PR who fights a never-ending battle against the government, developers, miners, and even humanity at large in his quest to keep as much of America as possible out of the reach of man forever, and McPhee – whose writing ...more
Just finished. Absolutely excellent. John McPhee is one of the great nonfiction writers of our time. As a New Yorker staff writer since 1965, he has contributed greatly to my own understanding of geology and natural science in general, as well as the broader and more all-encompassing science of conservation ecology and the environment.

Most poignant is the contrast between the environment of 1971, when this book was written, and the environment of today. The very first paragraph makes this painf
Jun 03, 2016 Keely rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had recently read "Cadillac Desert," and this book was mentioned as one of the references. Being somewhat familiar with the characters of Floyd Dominy and David Brower, I thought it was a joke that they would be rafting down the Colorado River together, and I had to read this story for myself. I'm still not sure how much of it is true, but I particularly enjoyed the presentation of the drastically-different opinions in a mostly-unbiased manner. Also, the descriptions of the various wilderness ...more
Jan 26, 2011 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
McPhee's account of the conversations between environmentalist David Brower and three representatives of development may be 40 years old, but the issues it sets out are still surprisingly relevant. More than just an issue book, though, it presents the vital and engaging characters who hold the opposing positions and shows how closely intertwined position and and character are. The book is divided into three sections--each is a conversation between Brower and one of his "natural enemies." Althoug ...more
Oct 23, 2012 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: conservationists, or those opposing them
Recommended to Matt by: recommended to read before Cadillac Desert
My first encounter with John McPhee, and a memorable one. I will definitely be reading more of him. He has a great, objective, journalistic style, where most of the storytelling is done through summary and dialogue. This book serves as a good introduction into David Brower and his conservation tactics, his reason and stubborness, as he competes verbally with men of a different mind than his: a mineralogist, a developer, a dam erector. The interplay between passion and character is fascinating, a ...more
Jun 19, 2008 Shawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing to see how far behind we are in the 2000's or how far ahead some were in the 1960's. This book chronicles David Brower's, executive director of the Sierra Club for seventeen years, interactions with three men that would be seen as enemies of the environmental movement, a mineral engineer working with the mining industry, a resort developer and a builder of large dams.

This from David Brower, executive director of the Sierra Club for seventeen years, speaking about our lust to grow our ec
Jason Roth
Mar 08, 2016 Jason Roth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and well written book about David Brower's history, views, relationship with the Sierra Club, as well as the interaction and collective mindset with three preservation antagonists. I expected more bitter fighting between Brower and his adversaries and was surprised at how well they got along considering such opposite viewpoints. I suppose it shows how the current political rhetoric has shaped my mind to believe that inflexibility of differing opinions is the norm, consequently result ...more
Nov 15, 2009 Brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is a step back in time to the origins of modern American environmentalism. That is, the political reachings of "tree huggers" and rabid anti-developers. The founder and excommunicated leader of the Sierra Club, David Brower, is to me an uninspiring, mopey, and at times infuriating character. His willingness to embrace misinformation as a levering tool, propaganda, is totally reprehensible. And McPhee contrives all the "encounters" in the book, which in itself comes across as cheap sens ...more
Sep 10, 2015 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book changed my life, I suppose. It was one of the very first environmental books I read -- assigned by professors in two different classes. By cosmic coincidence, we got to meet the "Archdruid" near the end of the course because one of the professors sat next to him on a plane. At the time, he had been drummed out of Sierra Club for being too radical, but the club eventually came around, and I met him again years later at a Sierra Club event.

The book itself set me on the path to the career
Nov 23, 2014 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another really good book by McPhee, who is definitely one of my favorite authors at this point. I would award this one 4.5 stars if i could, but it was just short of 5 stars. The archdruid of the title is David Brower, the former head of the Sierra Club and one of America's original and most important nature conservationists. McPhee follows Brower through three situations where he takes up a conservation argument against forces of development. Basically McPhee arranges these situations, (Brower ...more
May 05, 2014 S rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went into this book not knowing what to expect as I didn't really know David Brower or any of the three other gentlemen in this book. I also hadn't read any of John McPhee's books.
It was ok. There was much that felt contrived and staged in this and after the first third I wasn't sure if any of it was real or if it was a novel.
The last section is the strongest, although the second section about Cumberland Island was pretty decent as well.
The narration is well done and, for the most part, both
Apr 21, 2011 rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
so i admit, i am not terribly interested in reading about environmental issues or debates on said issues. HOWEVER. i did find john mcphee's 3 part book following environmentalist brower around the US really interesting-- his descriptions of natural places & how they have been or have tried to be developed fascinating (even if dated).

for me the most fascinating part was about the development of hilton head island & the failed development of cumberland island...
Jan 11, 2016 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First read this in April 2000 and still love it
Three trail trips with David Brower and one of his natural enemies. David is both humble and proud, but so right. One of my favorite passages comes as the party of Brower, McPhee and Dominey, a Bureau of Reclamation dam engineer are rafting down the Colorado. Brower prefers to walk around some of the rapids, admitting to fear of a capsize. Dominey ribs him then tries to poke a little deeper, not knowing that Brower had been a noted rock climber (led first ascent of Shiprock) and had served in th ...more
41st book for 2016.

The book is a three-part construction, in which David Brower, the ex-president of the Sierra Club, meets up with three "enemies": a geologist who never finds a mineral deposit he doesn't want to mine; a "green" property developer who wants to build houses in paradise; and a dam builder who wants to flood part of the Grand Canyon.

I found the book interesting, in so far as it gave a sense of the environmental battles back in the 1960s/1970s. My natural sympathies are with Browe
Daniel Burton-Rose
Reductio ad absurdum of the American penchant for reducing all politics to personalities, then setting off two diametrically opposed people to create the illusion of objectivity. Yet undeniably moving and engaging.
Ashley F.
Apr 21, 2014 Ashley F. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an entertaining and informative read. If you enjoy reading about topics surrounding environmentalism, then I'd definitely recommend this book. However, even if you don't really fancy yourself an environmentalist, the character studies in this book are enough to entertain anyone. Though environmentalism is the catalyst for the action in McPhee's narrative, the true value in the story is with the interesting characters. The four main characters often have an incredible duality to their na ...more
Sep 28, 2015 Marc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was not familiar with the author John McPhee and really enjoyed both his writing style and how the book is structured into three encounters though it's clear from the book that McPhee spent quite a bit of time with David Brower, the executive director of the Sierra Club, than what was documented in the encounters. That caused confusion on my part as the author never explains who he is in the book. He seemed to have been riding shotgun with Brower during his travels and so I wondered if he was ...more
J Chritsian
Jan 21, 2016 J Chritsian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i feel like ecology movement and conservation have evolved so much since this snapshot was taken, but my god, what a snapshot, what a really weird snapshot. it's worth examining in what ways the principal players differ and are same across the three vignettes. interesting to me: all of the players do not seem to engage in the environment on its own terms - all of them were thinking of the land as something to be USED by humans in some way, even Brower. i need to read more books about philosophy ...more
Nov 11, 2011 Bryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Someday we are going to have to choose.
Marcia and Tom Ballard
This book is a series of conversations between very amazing people who achieved great things in life. The "Archdruid" is Dave Brower who lead the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth in protecting many amazing wilderness areas as parks, wilderness, national monuments, and national lake shores. Mister Brower is one of the greats of the environmental movement. The conversations reported in John McPhee's very clear prose are between he and equally great people in the world of mining and dam buildin ...more
Mary Rose
This is an extremely interesting insight into Brower, I really like how it was written (both because the writing style is beautiful and because the progression made a lot of sense.) I came away not particularly liking Brower, but I imagine someone who agrees with him politically would more so. McPhee does a great job of keeping himself out of the narratives, except for brief glimpses which make his perspective extremely interesting. If you like environmentalism or environmental history, I expect ...more
Jennifer Heise
May 22, 2015 Jennifer Heise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
John McPhee is at his best describing people, scenery and the facts behind them, so it's no big surprise that once I got started, I plowed through this in a single day. McPhee appears to have arranged to have conservationist Dave Brower roam several wilderness areas with him and, in turn, a top mining geologist, an environmentalist-developer, and the head of the bureau of reclamation. The Archdruid of the title is Brower; a reference based on a comment of developer Charles E. Fraser.

Like many en
I always enjoy books by John McPhee and "Encounters with the Archdruid" was no exception. Published in 1971, this book is a series of three of three loosely connected tales about the balance needed between conservation and development. The tales are connected through the appearance of David Brower, former leader of the Sierra Club, as anti-development as they come, as he takes trips with McPhee and folks who never saw value in wilderness unless they can take something out of it.

McPhee is a great
Jan 21, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! Great book. I had just finished reading "Cadillac Desert", and "Encounters..." is mentioned throughout...I'd actually been given a copy by a friend in college, but had never read, and had somehow lost in my move to NYC. But, that puzzles me, since its such a short, easy, and important read. The best thing is to do the opposite of what I did, and read "Encounters..." first, and that should whet your appetite for the detailed history "Cadillac Desert" provides.

"Encounters..." is great in that
Aug 20, 2012 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In hindsight, forty years after the book was published, this is still a fascinating look at important environmental opinion and decision makers of late 20th Century.
What a raft trip it must have been, when Dominy, builder of dams and Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, was joined by David Brower, defeater of dams and past president of the Sierra Club. Author John McPhee carefully recorded their verbal duels. The two men seem to have developed a respect for each other, if not for their o
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John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The P ...more
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“I'm addicted to the entire planet. I don't want to leave it. I want to get down into it. I want to say hello. On the beach, I could have stopped all day long and looked at those damned shells, looked for all the messages that come not in bottles but in shells...” 0 likes
“A small cabin stands in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, about a hundred yards off a trail that crosses the Cascade Range. In midsummer, the cabin looked strange in the forest. It was only twelve feet square, but it rose fully two stories and then had a high and steeply peaked roof. From the ridge of the roof, moreover, a ten-foot pole stuck straight up. Tied to the top of the pole was a shovel. To hikers shedding their backpacks at the door of the cabin on a cold summer evening -- as the five of us did -- it was somewhat unnerving to look up and think of people walking around in snow perhaps thirty-five feet above, hunting for that shovel, then digging their way down to the threshold. [1971]” 0 likes
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