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The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  270 ratings  ·  46 reviews
It all began simply enough. In 1976 the Point Reyes Wilderness Act granted the highest protection in America to more than 33,000 acres of California forest, grassland and shoreline - including Drakes Estero, an estuary of stunning beauty. Inside was a small, family-run oyster farm first established in the 1930s. A local rancher bought the business in 2005, renaming it The ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 11th 2015 by Counterpoint (first published May 12th 2015)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  270 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Summer Brennan
Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Full disclosure: I wrote this book ;)
Dov Zeller
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
Summer Brennan has gone and written a stunning and powerful first book. This isn't just an account of a conflict between conservationist forces and small farmers, the Lunny family in particular (with a bunch of politicians and scientists and journalists and locals getting into the fray). This is a well-researched historical, ethical and philosophical exploration into the following questions (and more): what is wilderness? what is native flora and fauna? how native is native? can and should degre ...more
Sep 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature, 2015
A year ago January my family and I spent a few days in Point Reyes, about an hour's drive north of San Francisco. The natural landscape of Marin County is some of the most beautiful in the country, but there is something particularly edenic about Point Reyes. There was one hike down a gently-sloping hillside trail thick with cedar, shore pine and juniper that was one of the most pleasant hiking experiences I've ever had. I also distinctly remember watching from the top of a cliff as a mother sea ...more
Sep 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
I had just visited Point Reyes in July and saw many signs about saving Drakes Bay Oyster Company. the signs piqued my curiosity but only as much as to speculate about whether a small business had gone belly-up due to the usual economic forces.

Now back on the east coast, I'm wandering through the local library and see The Oyster War in the New Reads section. Always ready to learn more about foodways I read at the back cover and what a coincidence! Read it on the beach to become one with the oyste
Greg M. Johnson
Dec 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An important topic. The prose tends to jump around a bit, sometimes making me re-read a section to try to grasp what the transition between topics was.
A truly excellent book. Brennan’s writing is so clear and communicates well with a sense of humor. I loved the historical anecdotes, which always connected to the specifics of the case. I would recommend this book to anyone. The case is fascinating, as are the people involved, and it makes me want to walk along the shore.
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked this book. But let me go to the dark side first.

Talk about burying the lede! On page 269 of this 296 page book we are first introduced to the cataclysmic idea that the Koch Brothers are looking to leverage the environmental issue so the Oyster Farm “exception” might be the basis for establishing exceptions in other Federally protected areas.

Well, I may not have stated that clearly. But the point is that there is huge national environmental issue for which this otherwise regional conserv
Kelly O'Mara
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I actually really liked this book, despite the fact that she came to fairly different conclusions than I did when I was reporting on the same story. It's well-written and well-researched, and the most interesting stuff is the history and back story of how the park and oysters came to be. The major problem I had with it was that it comes from a very specific lens/bubble that is the product of mistaking what was being said/thought in a small town for what was being said/thought everywhere. I get w ...more
Jan 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well researched and well written, this book presented the history of the oyster industry in the San Francisco area, the formation of the national park, and the potential wilderness designation. I knew nothing of the oyster farm and Point Reyes before I read this book, but I am interested in wilderness policy issues. The fight between the farm and the NPS grew contentious very quickly, but the author presented the facts in the story, until the final chapter where she gave her opinion on the farm ...more
Dan Carr
Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Told with humor, style and insight, it chronicles the inevitable complexity when individual, community and governmental interests collide. It is a rare chance to step into the center of such a maelstrom while buffered by the engaging narrative. Humans and their institutions are fascinating subjects, and the author delivers them perfectly for our inspection and, yes, amusement. A joy in both the reading and reflection.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it liked it
A very well researched and unbiased account of the Oyster Company controversy in Point Reyes. I liked how the author showed how both sides distorted and misrepresented facts and data for their own benefit.
The book is a little slow in the beginning and lingered on to much of the local families history. The early chapters felt like separate news articles and didn’t form a seamless narrative.
The rest of the book was good though and helped me understand the issue through all perpesticves.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fine example of journalism at its best - thoroughly researched and seeking objective facts then trying to present them in an accessible form for the reader. I would have liked to rate this book higher but I feel it was held back by the author only minimally connecting the specific case of Drake's Bay Oyster Co. to the broader political conflicts around the issues addressed in the book. I also felt that the some of the space dedicated to background about the local area, commercial oyster operatio ...more
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I first picked up this book before heading to Point Reyes for a spring break vacation, hoping to read a breezy juicy gossipy true story about the area as I relaxed. I discovered that it wasn’t a breezy vacation novel, but a thoroughly researched and dense epic! It took me awhile to read it, because it was so dense and I wanted to take time to digest and ponder each nugget of info, but I was hooked, and Brennan’s writing style is a delight to read.

I have so many thoughts on this but I don’t want
Wendy Feltham
Sep 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Since I used to live in Marin County for many years, this book was a memory walk through familiar places, lore, and politicians-- the white stags, the ranches, the ridges, the bakery, the oyster farms, the newspapers, the elk, the beaches. Summer Brennan thoroughly researched the history of west coast oysters and the inflamed passions behind the two sides of the oyster war in West Marin. I enjoyed learning about the two perspectives, and know which side I'd support if I'd been there. The tragedy ...more
This is originally a book that should be up my alley, and for the most part it was. For a 300+ page book, I'd say a third of the book was bibliography and appendices. Out of the remaining 288 pages, 80% of it was the back story. While a good portion of the back story was important, I feel like it could have been a bit more streamlined. I would have liked to know more about the final outcome process than a rushed 40 pages at the end. It was a build up for a fizzle. Overall I still learned a lot ...more
Will Fleming
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really interesting dive into the conflict around a Federal wilderness area in CA and an oyster farm on the land petitioning to be allowed to continue operating there. It's a tangled political morass, but Brennan's prose is engaging and clear. The book does seem somewhat padded out, like it had to hit a page count: some of the historical asides seem longer than necessary and can end up quite far afield from the core subject of the story. ...more
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When Drake's Bay Oyster Company was sold, the new owners were told that the license to grow oysters in Drake's Bay would run out in just a few years because the area was now part of Point Reyes National Seashore. However, the new owners carried out a long battle to continue to farm there. Eventually they lost, but not before the community was divided and national political figures were drawn in. ...more
Nov 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Delves into fascinating issues that played out in a place I know passingly well. Thoroughly reported, but not so thoroughly edited - I wish the telling had been tightened up, especially in the middle-to-later chapters. What will stay with me is the illusory nature of "wilderness" and our conception of wild places, landscapes that we want to stay fixed in time even though they may have been actively managed by the indigenous inhabitants that came before us. ...more
This was interesting to me as I have spent time in Marin County so the country is familiar to me.
I bogged down in reading the story, however, as the author goes into a great deal of background on the individuals that, presumably, will play big roles in the unfolding of the war. It is probably a symptom of the pandemic mind that I could not concentrate on so much detail. I hope to come back to it sometime.
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A page turner detailing, among other things, the natural history of Northern California, the people who live here today, and the battle between a family farm and the National Park Service. Brennan turns what could have been a dry treatise on legalities and politics into a riveting account of the personal stories and high stakes involved.
Alli Shea
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Environmental politics, a small Northern California town, some interesting perspectives on what ought to be wilderness, and how humans do or don't figure into the equation. Gets a little slow on some of the policy deep dives but all in all quick read. ...more
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Love oysters, and am always curious about the many dimensions of conservation. Had to get this. Rather a unique story and unique access to the story (for the author). Sound narration, but read this more for the appreciation of the topics versus a dramatic plot.
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is almost certainly the most invested I have ever felt in a nonfiction book. Extraordinarily well researched and beautifully written.
Laura Alice Watt
Jan 02, 2020 rated it did not like it
Unfortunately this book is full of historical inaccuracies.
Nov 17, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is a history of the long, bitter controversy over the survival of the Drake's Bay Oyster Farm which lay within the boundaries of the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County north of San Francisco. The farm worked a marine area called Drake's Estero which had been designated wilderness in legislation. It was owned by the Johnsons and sold to the National Park Service in return for a 40-year permit to operate the farm until 2012. The permit was sold to Kevin Lunny who hoped that th ...more
Apr 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I first heard of The Oyster War in an Indiegogo campaign with the title, "Help My Book Research on Oysters & Climate Change." Its author, Summer Brennan, was looking for a bit of support so she could finish her book, and based on an intriguing description--

In a dispute that the Los Angeles Times called "a complex web of alleged conspiracies and politicking worthy of a Cold War spy novel," a family-owned oyster farm in Northern California has been locked in a legal battle with the U.S. Government
The Pfaeffle Journal (Diane)
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Who would have thought that an oyster farm on the coast of Northern California could have caused a national hullabaloo? Summer Brennan does an excellent job of providing a history of oyster farming on the West Coast (who knew that oysters are not native to the Northern California Coast) and how the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act set the stage for ten-year battle to save an oyster farm on the beautiful Northern California coastline.

In 2005 the Oyster Farm sold; becoming The Drake's Bay Oyster Co
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
The fight to be right. So much at stake and inevitably left to interpretation. Summer Brennan is the resolute researcher of this story with the history, geology and commerce presented thoroughly. I was fascinated by the history and facts, but very weary of the debate itself. Worried about a fair outcome to both sides. Mariculture vs. Wilderness (can they co-exist?) The specific area in question is the Point Reyes National Seashore in the San Francisco Bay area. Could the oyster farmers renew the ...more
Nov 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book - growing up in the area featured (north of San Francisco, CA), there was an extra special resonance.

I started reading this, expecting it to be a sort of try case study on a complicated environmental law case, however I was immediately floored by how compelling the narrative was, candid the author's voice, and clearly the complicated cast of characters were introduced and developed. It is a story filled with colorful characters, none inherently good or bad, and as the book qui
Dec 31, 2015 rated it liked it
I couldn't tell until the very end which side Brennan was going to come down on, which is a good sign that the book was even-handed. It raises lots of thorny issues: can the government take a place which has been continuously used for commercial agriculture for many years (and was occupied by native Americans before that), unilaterally declare it "potential wilderness" and then kick out only one of the commercial enterprises in favor of rebuilding a hypothetical human-free zone? What did the ori ...more
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Summer Brennan is a journalist and author. She received the 2016 Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award and was a visiting scholar at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. Her first book, The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America (2015) was a finalist for the 2016 Orion Book Award. Her second book, High Heel, p ...more

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