The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower
The Sierra Club evolved from a select social club to a nationally respected wilderness institution. The principal instrument of change was a single individual, David Brower. His World War ll experience in Europe of seeing wilderness vanishing drove his lifelong resolve to impede efforts to destroy America’s natural heritage. In a captivating biography, Robert Wyss applauds Brower for taking command, but not without a caveat. Wyss’s account, seconded by many, suggests Brower was controversial and bombastic, trampling down those in his path to establish his goal of wilderness conservation.
Brower sounds to have been an irascible but attractive man, tottering on a shaky pedestal as his salvation efforts became entangled with conflicts. For years he battled with the National Park Service and the National Forest Service, in one instance going so far as to declare in a letter to a friend that the Forest Service was “second only to the H-bomb in its plans to destroy wilderness.” Seemingly close at times to biting the hand that fed him, contrition was never part of his make up as he claimed “I was not always unreasonable, and I am sorry for that.”
Wyss intersperses the story of David Brower’s work to protect the redwoods and the Grand Canyon, among many other cherished landmarks, with asides about his friendships and marital life. It was Brower’s multiple successes as well as the few failures that led him to admit, “I try to be as inflexible as possible in saving resources.” It’s a beautifully constructed profile, a tribute to a dedicated man who was unequivocally human.
|Columbia University Press
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