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Encounters with the Archdruid

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  4,355 Ratings  ·  213 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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Nov 11, 2011 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 05, 2013 Rex Fuller rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Jul 14, 2015 John rated it really liked it
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
Apr 12, 2012 Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing
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 28, 2015 Betsy rated it really liked it
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
Dec 28, 2016 Dave rated it really liked it
McPhee is a terrific writer. If you think you are a convinced conservationist, you might be surprised at how often you agree with the miner, the dam builder, and the real estate developer, rather than David Brower, the archdruid. That is McPhee's genius. "[Brower's] field, being the relationship of everything to everything else and how it is not working, is so comprehensive that no one can comprehend it."

Brower's passion and commitment don't allow for objective data or grey areas: "Objectivity
Craig Werner
Oct 01, 2011 Craig Werner rated it really liked it
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
Jan 26, 2011 Jeff rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 11, 2012 Matt rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 22, 2016 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Gosh I love John McPhee. Everything he touches is golden. It's strange how timeless his books feel, since they're hopelessly dated in terms of actual subject matter. What was once cutting-edge environmental activism now seems almost adorably quaint. What I think I love about McPhee is his remarkable ability to be fully objective--to present two (or more) sides to a story and to give each equal weight and consideration--while still writing with a clear and obvious passion for his subjects. McPhee ...more
Jun 11, 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
Jan 26, 2015 Jason Roth rated it really liked it
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
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
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
Jul 12, 2010 rachel rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 12, 2011 Bryan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
Someday we are going to have to choose.
Jan 02, 2016 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First read this in April 2000 and still love it
Tom Nixon
Jan 28, 2012 Tom Nixon rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 02, 2016 Maria rated it really liked it
Great Book! This book follows the meetings of Preservationist David Brower with a mineral engineer, resort developer, and a builder of dams. We go along on with them on their journeys in various settings while learning the environmental history along the way. The wonderful thing about this book is that the story flows, the scenery is vivid, and the characters are 3 dimensional and alive. We witness the conversations and hear compelling arguments on all sides. We "see" the beauty from the mountai ...more
Feb 08, 2017 Stephen rated it liked it
My big takeaway from this book is how truly complicated the idea of conservation is particularly when we are all members in our consumer society. Brower was a defender of wilderness, yet he relied on and used the same economic systems that continue to destroy our resources. This is a great difficulty that we all face, despite our love of wilderness, our day-to-day life destroys it, despite our best intentions.

The other part that I really liked about this book was how wilderness served to be the
Feb 15, 2017 Shannon rated it really liked it
I read this book for a class, but really enjoyed the beautiful imagery of the different scenic locations McPhee tags along with Brower to. The archdruid, Brower is both a hero and somewhat of a villain depending on who you ask. Every character is dynamic and sways you to see their side by the wonderful unbiased narration of John McPhee.
Carl Collins
Dec 16, 2016 Carl Collins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fine tale, more relevant by the year

An amazing story of struggles against the forces of our progress.

The story of direct conflict will keep continuing until we can see past the lure of quarterly returns.
Jane Wolfe
Dec 09, 2016 Jane Wolfe rated it it was amazing
McPhee is a master of nonfiction. I admire the way McPhee presented individuals who had opposing points of view about wilderness in the Sierra Nevadas, an island off the coast of South Carolina, and the Colorado River. Written in 1971, the book is worth reading today.
Feb 24, 2017 Tim rated it it was amazing
With every John McPhee book I read I learn a ton of stuff, I write down a huge list of stuff to investigate further, and feel like I've actually gotten to know the people featured. Encounters with the Archdruid is no different. I especially love McPhee's writing about nature.
David Robertus
Jan 12, 2017 David Robertus rated it it was amazing
John McPhee is perhaps the most lucid and engaging non-fiction writer I know. And this work is certianly no exception.
Jul 04, 2012 T rated it really liked it
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
Pat Delwiche
Jan 02, 2017 Pat Delwiche rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! It was the first John McPhee book that really engaged me. It was inspiring to see how arch-rivals can learn to respect the opposing side.
Aug 25, 2015 Marc rated it really liked it
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
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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...” 1 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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