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Encounters with the Archdruid

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  4,225 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
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 1st 1977 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1971)
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Silent Spring by Rachel CarsonA Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo LeopoldThe Lorax by Dr. SeussThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanDesert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Best Environmental Books
99th out of 581 books — 776 voters
Desert Solitaire by Edward AbbeyPilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie DillardA Sand County Almanac by Aldo LeopoldWalden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David ThoreauThe Journey Home by Edward Abbey
Best of Outdoor Literature
7th out of 96 books — 25 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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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
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.
Sep 28, 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
Jan 21, 2016 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
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
Oct 23, 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
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
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
Apr 21, 2011 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.
Nov 11, 2011 Bryan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
Someday we are going to have to choose.
Jan 11, 2016 Josh rated it it was amazing
First read this in April 2000 and still love it
Tom Nixon
Mar 03, 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
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
Sep 28, 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
Dec 16, 2012 Silvio111 rated it really liked it
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
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
Craig Werner
Jul 24, 2012 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 21, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing
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
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
Sheather Nelson
Jul 28, 2009 Sheather Nelson rated it it was ok
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
My first reaction in reading this book is that I can’t believe people knew all this stuff forty years ago! I wasn’t even born when this book was written, but David Brower and others here spoke of things that are only now making their way into mainstream awareness. Two things strike me: David Brower was a genius . . . and we are doomed.

From Page 21, a conversation between Chas Park (a pro-mining geologist and Dean at Stanford) and David Brower, “the most militant conservationist in the world”: Pa
Wendy Bousfield
Feb 09, 2014 Wendy Bousfield rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 19, 2014 Amerynth rated it really liked it
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
Oct 20, 2012 Lesley rated it liked it
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
Nov 23, 2014 Patrick rated it really liked it
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
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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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