Encounters With the Archdruid
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Encounters With the Archdruid

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  3,095 ratings  ·  158 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
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 1st 1977 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1971)
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Rex Fuller
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
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.
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
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
Oct 23, 2012 Matt rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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...more
Brian Davis
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
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...more
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...
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.
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
Someday we are going to have to choose.
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...more
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...more
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...more
Sheather Nelson
I'm frequently a fan of McPhee but this isn't one of my favorites.
I was very interested in the people who were set up to be "the bad guys" in this book, particularly the infamous Dominy and the Hilton Head developer (my husband grew up on Hilton Head). But I was just so annoyed by the way McPhee had contrived these situations to throw together the Sierra Club "archdruid" with his opponents. It was twice as awkward that McPhee never came straight out and said that he is the one who manufactured a...more
Tom Nixon
A Quiet Man contribution to my ever burgeoning library, Encounters With The Archdruid was my first John McPhee book and if The Quiet Man was looking to convert me to the glories of creative non-fiction, then all I can say is: mission accomplished.

Encouters is divided into three distinct sections- all of which detail encouters with Dave Brower, one time Executive Director of the Sierra Club, conservationist and environmental champion without peer- McPhee is writing in 1971, so memories of Rachel...more
I enjoyed this book, but didn't find it riveting. I'm an enviromentalist from Canada, and hadn't heard of David Brower, although I was of course familiar with the Sierra Club. I've read John McPhee's Coming into the Country and loved it. The author does a pretty decent job as coming of unbiased, although from reading the other book, I think I know where his sympathies lie. McPhee presents Brower and his opponents via their verbal sparring, casual observation, reputation and anecdotes. He managed...more
Two birthdays ago, I was spending a few days and nights in Havre de Grace, a little seafaring town on Maryland's beloved Chesapeake Bay, where the Susquehanna River enters it. Besides riding my bike along the coast line (in the rain) and touring through streets full of lovely Victorian mansions, I found a charming second hand book store called Courtyard Bookshop, whose proprietor was a lovely fellow and we had some good conversation. Searching for a book to buy as a souvenir of my enjoyable time...more
Craig Werner
Published in 1971, his book deserves its iconic status. McPhee engages the tension between environmental conservation and the economic "needs" of American society in a way which is both clear-eyed and, to use the term in a way that has nothing to do with Fox's co-optation, "balanced." The Archdruid is David Brower, long-time head of the Sierra Club who was ousted by the organization as a result of his increasingly radicalism and what his opponents saw as rhetorical overkill. Brower's position is...more
This is officially one of my new favorite nonfiction books. John McPhee's style is wonderful, using dialog and descriptions to paint characters and relay facts so that his work reads like a good novel. Beyond this, the content itself is excellent- engaging, enlightening and entertaining. He does not take sides as he describes the encounters of David Brower, a modern day John Muir and the "Archdruid" of McPhee's text, with other men who disagree, to one extent or another, with Brower's fervent pr...more
In Encounters With The Archdruid, John McPhee has provided three beautifully written narratives of his travels with David Brower, environmentalist and founder of the Sierra Club. He brings to life Brower’s conversations and discussions (verbal battles?) with:

1. A resort developer (Charles Fraser) bent on converting a lonely and beautiful stretch of South Carolina shoreline into a resort for the wealthy and famous (that area is now protected as a National Seashore);
2. A geologist who wants to ext
Read it because we read a third of it in high school for my awesome Rivers class (all things rivers), and it's been sitting on my shelf two thirds unread ever since. Also because I have this feeling that to be a Good Reader I should read some long-form nonfiction now and again amidst all the delicious fiction.
So, John McPhee is awesome. Loved his talk when he came to speak at Yale, tooootally covet his lifestyle (following around whoever he wants, doing new things constantly, writing about it an...more
This is a book I have felt I should read for years, just judging from the cover. It is about David Brower and the Sierra Club. I had always assumed that it was about John Muir. It is not, but it is about someone who wanted to carry on his legacy. There are three portraits presented here, in relationship. On one side in each pairing is the Archdruid, Brower. On the other is first a miner, then a controversial “green” (though the term does not appear here and was twenty years from coinage at press...more
John McPhee was recommended to me as a non-fiction writer that I might like, and this book came up. It follows a genre of environmental non-fiction that I have grow to like over the past few years, starting with Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, and So I Married Adventure. Encounters with the Archdruid splits into three equal case-studies as microcosms of the debate between reclamation, business, and conservation. The three different sections, Mountain, Island, and River, find David Brower (the form...more
Oct 20, 2012 Lesley rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Lesley by: Cindy Slater
Shelves: 30-for-30
Encounters with the Archdruid is a bit of a biography mixed with a travelogue and some beautiful nature writing while all along politics and philosophy are woven in.

I didn’t know much about David Brower -- the titular Archdruid -- before I read this book, but I found him so inspiring. Here’s one point that really made an impression for me:
“Sooner or later in every talk, Brower describes the creation of the world. He invites his listeners to consider the six days of Genesis as a figure of speech...more
Wendy Bousfield
Though written in 1971--before global warming became a part of national conversation--this is a vital contribution to the dialogue between those who seek to preserve pristine wilderness and those who seek to build a comfortable world for a growing population. A friend of David Brower, McPhee arranges wilderness excursions that bring Brower together with, respectively, a mineral geologist, a resort developer, and a dam-builder. All three make surprisingly nuanced arguments for altering wilderness...more
Tom Hammer
McPhee is an outstanding writer and well worth the investment of time and leisure to absorb regardless of your literary bent. His primary milieu is geology with a good deal of Naturist content, particularly about California and Alaska. This particular tome of is of historic interest because it chronicles the modern cause of environmentalism by one of hits midwives, the primary environmentalist of the latter half of the 20th Century, David Brower. Its a fascinating look at the leader of the Sierr...more
I read this book for my upcoming Environmental Science course in Colorado. I have long been an admirer of John McPhee's work. He combines a clear, incisive writing style with an ability to express multiple perspectives on an issue.

In this book, McPhee explores the conflict between making use of natural resources (metal, coastal land, and water) and preserving natural environments. He pits David Brower, former head of the Sierra Club and environmental advocate (the archdruid of the title) agains...more
missy lambert
May 27, 2009 missy lambert rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to missy by: Dad
Shelves: non-fiction
What do you get when you take David Brower, the hard-core Sierra Club conservationist, and put him in the wilderness with his "natural enemies" (e.g., a miner, a developer, and a dam-builder)? You get this book. I was totally riveted by this account of the roots of contemporary environmentalism, and about the dialogue between conservationism and progress. It's dated, of course, written in 1970 (back when people could apparently purchase houses in fancy developments on coastal islands for $50,000...more
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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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