Book review: ‘David Brower’ by Tom Turner

brower book

A review of David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement, by Tom Turner; published by the University of California Press

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

At the corner of Allston Way and Oxford Street in downtown Berkeley, directly across from the campus of the University of California, sits the David Brower Center. Opened in 2009, the Brower Center bills itself as “A center for the environmental movement.” The four-story, Platinum LEED-certified building houses an art gallery, a small auditorium, and some 30 nonprofit organizations, most of them engaged in addressing environmental issues. But who was this man, David Brower? It seems unlikely that more than a fraction of Berkeley residents today could identify him.

Who was David Brower?

If there is a Berkeley native other than David Brower who has achieved more, and had a greater impact on the world, I can’t imagine who that might be, and I’ve lived here for nearly 50 years.


Brower died at the age of 88 on the cusp of the 21st century. During the decades when he was a prominent figure in the news, he was frequently cited as the voice of the environmental movement, at once its most impassioned and articulate spokesperson, and the architect of several influential environmental organizations, chiefly the Sierra Club.

Anyone who knew Dave Brower, as I did (slightly), will quickly concede that the man had his faults. Even his long-suffering wife, Anne Hus Brower, was outspoken in acknowledging them. Tom Turner’s new biography, David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement, freely describes those faults, even though the author was a long-time associate and friend of his subject.

There are some who might claim that the faults outweigh his accomplishments — I’ve met a few such people — but most environmental activists who know of Brower’s career would argue strenuously that that is not the case. Brower was a genius. He was a seminal figure in the history of humankind’s effort to right our balance with nature. Turner’s biography artfully gives the man his due without sugar-coating the story.

A life filled with controversy

In the course of his 88 years, Brower was a pioneering mountaineer with more than 70 first ascents, a decorated officer in the Tenth Mountain Division of the U.S. Army in World War II, the first executive director of the Sierra Club, the editor and publisher of numerous large-format books extolling nature, founder of Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, Earth Island Institute, and the principal subject of an influential book, Encounters With the Archdruid, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author John McPhee.

Brower is perhaps best known for spearheading the successful, high-profile campaign to save the Grand Canyon — and for having been publicly fired by the Sierra Club board of directors. Turner describes every one of these events in Brower’s life with sensitivity, acknowledging the complaints of Brower’s critics along the way when they were germane…


…Continue reading review on Mal Warwick’s Blog on Books.

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