You are a staff writer
for The New Yorker
in the 1960s
. You have a talent for literary journalism
and you want to cover the state of the environment
al movement in the United States
, but you need to provide a balanced perspective
. And you need to sell magazines. What do you do?
For John McPhee, the answer was to arrange interviews in the field with the most ardent conservationist of the time, head of the Sierra Club David Brower. But each time, also invite along a nemesis.
The book, comprised of these three pieces from the magazine, profiles Brower (nicknamed the "Archdruid" for his passionate attempts to save the Grand Canyon, among other wilderness areas) face to face with men of strongly differing opinions.
Part 1 features Charles Park, a mining engineer, taking McPhee and Brower into the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area in the Cascade Mountains;
Part 2 brings Brower to a Carolina coastal island to meet Charles Fraser, a resort developer, who thinks environmentalists are all tree-hugging druids;
And Part 3 puts McPhee, Brower, and Floyd Dominy, the man who as head of the Bureau of Reclamation built the most dams in the United States, in a raft floating the Colorado River.
Now, thirty years later, the book stills resonates. Not only is it compelling nonfiction, but the same issues that Brower and his antagonists argue over: conservation, development, and resource management, are still being argued today.