Encounters with the Archdruid

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Softcover, 245 Pages.
Narratives About a Conservationist and Three of His Natural Enemies.

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, sometimes fighting hard across a philosophical divide.

Born in 1915, the mountaineer and outdoorsman David Brower has arguably been the single most influential American environmentalist in the last half of the 20th century; even his erstwhile foes at the Department of the Interior grudgingly credit him with having nearly single-handedly halted the construction of a dam in the heart of the Grand Canyon, and he has converted thousands, even millions, of his compatriots to the preservationist cause through his work with the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and other organizations.

Brower was in the thick of battle when John McPhee profiled him for the New Yorker in a piece that would evolve into Encounters with the Archdruid. McPhee follows Brower into unusually close combat as Brower faces down a geologist who is, it seems, convinced that there is no sight quite so elevating as that of a fully operational mine; a developer who (successfully, it turned out) sought to convert an isolated stretch of the Carolina coast into a resort for the moneyed few—and who provided the title for McPhee's book, wryly opining that conservationists are at heart druids who "sacrifice people and worship trees"; and, most formidable of all, former Interior Secretary Floyd Dominy, who oversaw the construction of a structure that for Brower stands as one of the most hated creations of our time, Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. McPhee offers up an engaging portrait of Brower, a man unafraid of a good fight in the service of the earth, making Encounters an important contribution to the history of the modern environmental movement. —Gregory McNamee

“For those who want to understand the issues of the environmental crisis, Encounters with the Archdruid is a superb book. McPhee reveals more nuances of the value revolution that dominates the new age of ecology than most writers could pack into a volume twice as long. I marvel at his capacity to listen intently and extract the essence of a man and his philosophy in the fewest possible words.” ―Stewart Udall

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