Remembering David Brower
edited by Kenneth Brower
Heyday Books ($20)
by Ryder W. Miller
David Brower, the first executive of the Sierra Club in 1952, was probably the most famous and successful environmentalist of his time. He wore many hats: a father, husband, editor, activist, publisher, soldier, mountain climber, writer, speaker, and countless other simultaneous identities. We can thank him for the preservation of The Grand Canyon, as well as the many organizations he started such as The Friends of the Earth and The Earth Island Institute. Bower was also a man who changed with the times. Some at The Sierra Club didn't agree that the organization should extend its influence beyond the Sierra Mountains. After being fired by the Club in 1969, Brower took the environmental message global.
In The Wildness Within, David Brower’s son Kenneth Brower brings together accounts and accolades of his late father’s colleagues (Brower senior passed in 2000), creating a dynamic and inspiring portrait of the man. The book is also a personal journey for Kenneth Brower, who wrote the book in part as an opportunity to revel in his father’s memory:
For me, the interviewer listening to them, the sessions that produced these recollections were a very fine thing, almost a kind of séance, a chance to spend many weeks again in my father’s company.
Among the assembled to testify on David Brower’s behalf are a group of conservationists, naturalists, authors, and journalists such as Paul Ehrlich, Amory Lovins, David Foreman, Harold Gilliam, Paul Hawken, and Peter Hayes. Still many more would likely step up to tell their stories—and not all so thoroughly positive. Brower was not an effective politician: he had issues staying on budget, his positions were predictable, and he was perceived as uncompromising. But he was also sociable and convincing. Al Gore may have been the one who eventually secured environmentalism within politics, but he owes much of this success to Brower’s early work taking on the capitalist giants of the 1960s and ’70s.
The book excels at giving the reader the inside tale of a diverse movement that cared enough about future generations to save the natural wonders of the planet. David Brower often made reference to Goethe’s passage, “If there is something you can do / Or dream you can, begin it / Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” The lesson that Kenneth learned from his father’s dream echoes this magical boldness: “The environmentalists job . . . is to fight as hard as possible on behalf of the Earth.” In The Wildness Within, Kenneth accomplishes a great deal in the service of keeping his father’s fight alive.