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The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower

Biography / Memoir

By: Robert Wyss(Author)

400 pages, 20 b/w illustrations

Columbia University Press

Hardback | Jun 2016 | #230170 | ISBN-13: 9780231164467
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £26.99 $35/€31 approx

About this book

David Brower (1912–2000) was a central figure in the modern environmental movement. His leadership, vision, and elegant conception of the wilderness forever changed how we approach nature. In many ways, he was a twentieth-century Thoreau. Brower transformed the Sierra Club into a national force that challenged and stopped federally sponsored projects that would have dammed the Grand Canyon and destroyed hundreds of millions of acres of our nation's wilderness. To admirers, he was tireless, passionate, visionary, and unyielding. To opponents and even some supporters, he was contentious and polarizing.

As a young man growing up in Berkeley, California, Brower proved himself a fearless climber of the Sierra Nevada's dangerous peaks. After serving in the Tenth Mountain Division during World War II, he became executive director of the Sierra Club. This uncompromising biography explores Brower's role as steward of the modern environmental movement. His passionate advocacy destroyed lifelong friendships and, at times, threatened his goals. Yet his achievements remain some of the most important triumphs of the conservation movement. What emerges from this unique portrait is a rich and robust profile of a leader who took up the work of John Muir and, along with Rachel Carson, made environmentalism the cause of our time.

"David Brower – mountaineer, ardent conservationist, fierce advocate for wilderness – led a life that mattered then and still does. Like Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, Brower stood up for the natural world when it had much to lose, and made a difference. Robert Wyss captures the man and that critical moment in this insightful, moving, and consequential book. The Man Who Built the Sierra Club adds an essential work to the canon of American environmental history."
– William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

"Wyss provides a penetrating and readable narrative of the highest-profile American environmentalist in the postwar decades and of the many battles he and the Sierra Club fought. He makes clear the multiple layers of Brower's personality: passion, commitment, aggressiveness, and, at times, recklessness. Readers will come away with a clear and compelling portrait of this cutting-edge environmental activist."
– Mark Harvey, author of Wilderness Forever: Howard Zahniser and the Path to the Wilderness Act

"Wyss's assiduous research will lay to rest many lingering misconceptions about a man who exasperated and inspired by turns, and always spoke to our hearts' love for wild earth. A tremendously worthwhile and interesting chronicle of Brower's evolution into an uncompromising crusader."
– Stephanie Mills, author of Epicurean Simplicity and In Service of the Wild: Restoring and Reinhabiting Damaged Land

"Brower remained a force in the environmental movement until the end of his long life, and this book makes fitting homage. Thorough and well written [...] [The Man Who Built the Sierra Club] provides a highly useful view of how environmental battles are waged in the trenches."
– Kirkus Reviews

"A riveting [...] extensively researched, balanced account [...] This absorbing portrait of a flawed yet fascinating figure, beloved and scorned, who defined America's national parks will engage all biography lovers."
– Library Journal


List of Illustrations

1. First Fight
2. Mountains
3. The Club
4. The Lesson
5. Wilderness
6. Forest
7. Parks
8. Glen Canyon
9. Progress
10. Books
11. Escalating the Risks
12. Grand Canyon
13. Losing While Winning
14. Diablo and Galápagos
15. Conflict
16. Campaign
17. Echoes


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Robert Wyss is associate professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut and a journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, Smithsonian, Yankee, and the Providence Journal. He is the author of Covering the Environment: How Journalists Work the Green Beat (2007).

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