The narratives in this book are of journeys made in three wildernesses - on a coastal island, in a Western mountain range, and on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The four men portrayed here have different relationships to their environment, and they encounter each other on mountain trails, in forests and rapids, sometimes with reserve, sometimes with friendliness, sometimes fighting hard across a philosophical divide.
This book of completely factual accounts of things that really happened and of information that is researched and verified contains more character, theme, and plot than most fictitious novels being written these days.
Fascinating, educational, and quite moving, this is the book I most often recommend when I recommend books. I can't imagine how anyone could not enjoy it. And, as usual, McPhee predicts decades before the fact the crises facing us today.
You won't be disappointed.
As literature, it isn't particularly gripping, but as a discussion, it does a fine job of pointing out arguments on both sides of the conservation fence, how nature people can be pig headed and unwilling to reason when it comes to protecting wilderness at times, and those who 'abuse' the wilderness have the best interests of humanity in mind (as long as it is making money). The point of it is to show how taking strict one-sided views on a complex issue (and extending that idea to ANY issue) is usually a bad thing which leads only to arguing, even among friends. I would rank it as so-so for casual reading.
We get a very nice portrait of Brower here and also a good opportunity to reflect on what our real needs are. Another interesting puzzle presented here is the degree to which objectivity is suitable to solving environmental issues. This is an old book by now - published in 1971. Practically ancient history! Nowadays in the Trump era the notion of objectivity seems to have vanished almost completely from the public realm. But I am fascinated by the two facets of science, one that looks at the world, one that changes the world.
There is no deep analysis here. These are stories - pretty amazing stories, actually. David Brower at the dedication of the Glen Canyon Dam! There is rich soil here, giving readers plenty of opportunities for their own reflection and analysis.
Since the book was written soon after the events in the story, the conclusions were not known. I can find no evidence that the copper was ever mined in Glacier Peak. Fraser sold back his interest in Cumberland Island and it was developed by the National Park Service. However, even with Brower’s opposition, the dam was built in Glen Canyon.
McPhee writes in an easy and enjoyable style and presents the four men fairly. The characters and their views come alive. There is no bibliography or index nor are they needed.
The environment and conservation are as important a topic today as they were when this book was written. Since David Brower is an important figure in the conservation movement, McPhee’s book helps to understand the man and his vision.
McPhee is a great writer and puts together a good story without weighing too heavily on one side or another of the development versus conservation debate. He perhaps comes off a bit anti-Brower-- rather quick to point out all of the man's foibles.
My quibbles about the book may relate to my penchant for picking up original editions rather than updated volumes (assuming there is a more recently published version of this book.) At times, McPhee alludes a bit to situations that were probably newsworthy in the 1970's so everyone knew the story then, but I didn't. Also, it would be nice to know what happened with the proposed developments he mentions... but of course, in 1971 it was too soon to tell.
Overall, this book was right up my alley, though, and an interesting portrayal of the environmental issues related to three development projects.