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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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


"The importance of this lively book in the unmanageably proliferating literature on ecology is in its confrontation between remarkable men who hold great differences of opinion with integrity on all sides. Mr. McPhee, not pushing, just presenting, portrays them all in the round, showing them clashing in concrete situations where factors are complex and decisions hard. Readers must choose sides."
The Wall Street Journal

"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

"Brower and his antagonists are revealed as subtly and convincingly as they would be in a good novel."—Time

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374514313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374514310
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 Pine Barrens (1968), A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles (collection, 1969), The Crofter and the Laird (1969), Levels of the Game (1970), Encounters with the Archdruid (1972), The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed (1973), The Curve of Binding Energy (1974), Pieces of the Frame (collection, 1975), and The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975). Both Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By John Anderson on March 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
This was the book that introduced me to John McPhee (I grew up around the corner from Dave Brower)and it made me a lifelong fan of McPhees remarkable insights and abilities as a reporter. Here he takes Brower -probably the leading voice for landscape conservation in the second half of the 20th century- and puts him Up Close and Personal with three very remarkable antagonists: the greatest Dam builder in North America, the developer of Hilton Head, and with a mining engineer who has "an affinity for beds" -but has managed to spend nearly 8 years in total sleeping rough in search of minerals world-wide. What is most intriguing about this book is that one comes away with an appreciation of the complexities surrounding environmental issues. This is no polemic or one-sided rant, rather McPhee shows us the strengths and weaknesses of each of his characters, and by weaving the personal in with the political we are left to make up our own minds just who are the heroes and who the villains. Recently I used this book in an Environmental Lit. class & to my surprise about half of the students had never heard of Brower (hence the title of my review. In spite of this they were all captured by the artful transparency of McPhee's prose -they were on that raft with Dominy & Brower, they went up that mountain, they walked that beach, and most important, they had that conversation. Thirty years after its publication this book still has the zip to draw its reader in. Regardless of your position on Things Environmental, I encourage you to give this a good read.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
As the other reviewers here have noted, this is John McPhee's superb recounting of three episodes in the life of famous environmental activist David Brower. The three people he encounters are a geologist, a land developer, and a dam builder. The structure of the book allows a revealing contrast between one of America's greatest environmental activists on three key issues. These are: 1) the desirability and advisability of exploring and mining for ore and minerals in protected wilderness areas, 2) whether it is preferable to develop land on the Atlantic Coast or allow it to be developed, and 3) the desirability of damming major rivers in the Southwest.
My favorite portion of the book featured Brower's encounter with the fascinating Charles Fraser, one of America's greatest and most gifted land developers. At debate was whether to develop Cumberland Island as a recreational and residential area, or whether to leave it wild and protect it as a National Seashore. The editorial reviewer inaccurately stated that Fraser was successful in his goal to develop it. He was not. Today Cumberland Island is a designated National Seashore. Fraser had hoped to develop Cumberland much as he had Hilton Head. What is compelling about Fraser is his desire to develop land on the one hand, with an intent to respect the physical surroundings to the greatest possible degree. Brower himself says in the book that while he is opposed to developing Cumberland Island, if anyone were to develop it, he would want Fraser to be that person.
The section of the book in which Brower and dam builder Floyd Dominy discuss a wide range of issues is fascinating not just in contrasting two fundamentally opposed viewpoints, but in bringing out both Brower's most conspicuous success and failure.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
A collection of 3 narratives, these are stories of the interactions between David Brower, a militant environmentalist and former head of the Sierra Club, and three of his natural enemies from the worlds of engineering, government, and real estate development. McPhee does a brilliant job of getting the reader into the hearts and minds of these people without taking sides, and you won't look at environmental issues quite the same again. I was especially impressed with McPhee's exploration of Floyd Dominy, a builder of monumental dams and the man behind the notorious Glen Danyon dam. I couldn't put this book down. John McPhee is an amazing writer who has tackled just about every subject. I think it's much easier to shop McPhee in an online setting like Amazon.com than to try to locate him at your local bookstore. He has covered so many topics that no one really knows where to shelve his books, and used book dealers have an especially hard time of it. Southern California readers will enjoy his book "The Control of Nature" if only for his wonderful piece entitled "Los Angeles against the Mountains." You cannot go wrong with John McPhee!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on April 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
In chemistry, a catalyst is used to mix two substances unlikely to join in nature. John McPhee here acts as a catalyst in stimulating reactions between the Archdruid, David Brower, and three of his antagonists. As a catalyst, McPhee deals with each pairing in the most detached way possible. Even so long after its original publication, the attitudes expressed by the mineral engineer, the dam builder and resort developer through McPhee's superb journalism remain with us. He succeeds admirably at that in relating these confrontations, while his writing skills keep you aware of him at all times. Brower, a towering figure in several senses, is portrayed in an almost subdued manner. The strength of his message, however, so appropriate today, is conveyed by McPhee as a muffled riptide.
Join McPhee as he struggles over copper-bearing mountains with Brower and geologist Charles Park. Park "would move the White House if there was copper under it." To Park, mineral extraction is mandated by the need of Americans to maintain the lifestyle they've achieved in the 20th Century. Brower argues that lifestyle growth must slow its pace to retain the remaining natural resources. Park counters Brower's desire to protect the wilderness with assertions that "managed mining" will achieve both aims. Park argues that mining need not destroy wilderness and that Glacier Peak's hiking trails will not be lost because copper is removed from its innards. Does this sound familiar?
The Archdruid's second encounter is with the rather more flamboyant Charles Fraser. Fraser has a winning track record in development, particularly golf courses. He wants to "open" an island off the Carolina coast.
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