Encounters with the archdruid

by John McPhee

Paperback, 1971

Status

Available

Publication

New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux [1971]

Description

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member clogbottom
The finest non-fiction book I have ever read, and very close to the top of the list of finest books of any kind I have ever read.

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.
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LibraryThing member DirtPriest
So, this is apparently assigned reading for Environmental Geology. It is basically three conversations between David Brower, an early member of the Sierra Club and friend of Ansel Adams, and three 'opponents' who have more utilitarian views of nature. One is a mining expert and they walk through Yosemite National Park to view some valley before a copper mine is dug there (based on a claim from before the wilderness tag was placed on the park. The second is a visit between Brower and the developer of Hilton Head Island on nearby Cumberland Island, owned mostly by the Carnegie family, and the final (and best) is Brower and the Commissioner of Reclamation arguing about the pro's and con's of dam building.

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.
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LibraryThing member kukulaj
Classic McPhee - he gets himself involved with leading characters of some facet of the world and we get to learn through him telling the story of his learning. Here David Brower, environmental activist, hangs out with a mining prospector, a real estate developer, and a dam builder. People will impact the environment one way or another just like any other organism. But clearly both through the growing number of people and the growing impact per person, we're degrading the environment to an unsustainable degree. Brower retells the story of creation, using a week as the time scale of planetary history. The industrial revolution happened in the last fortieth of a second. The logic of "we've always done things this way, why shouldn't we just continue?" doesn't hold because we have done things this way for only a very short time.

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.
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LibraryThing member starynite
I find this to be slow going with small passages that read faster. I greatly enjoyed his Coming into the Country which described the ironies of Alaska so well. Perhaps the underlying problem/nightmare described in Archdruid is the depletion of our land due to overpopulation and the quandary of conservation vs. preservation, is what irks me.… (more)
LibraryThing member FolkeB
In the area of Geology, John McPhee's books paint an amazing picture of the natural Earth and the interactions of humans in it.
LibraryThing member rickumali
One of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. The writing is superb.
LibraryThing member amelish
Like a lot of McPhee books I've read, this one reads like a collection of articles, connected in a surprisingly loose way considering that one man (David Brower, formerly of the Sierra Club) is the subject of all three chapters. But McPhee is not going out of his way to make arguments or draw conclusions. In this case it may well be the perfect structure, since it suggests a snapshot of a moment in time, acknowledging that conservation is a battle--political, ecological, semantic--that people have been waging for a long time, and will most likely continue to do so for an even longer time. "There are no victories in conservation," as McPhee repeatedly reminds one.… (more)
LibraryThing member isetziol
A core book in the canon of environmental writing. Funny and informative.
LibraryThing member TomCook.cff
McPhee is a detailed descriptive writer and he powerfully frames the nature vs. man debate that underlies so many environmental issues. While written in an era when the choices were more stark, the book reveals the complexities that are inherent to the struggle to achieve a sustainable society.
LibraryThing member fdholt
John McPhee is a noted writer who has pioneered in the art of what is known as creative non-fiction. In Encounters with the archdruid written in 1971, he uses this technique to tell the story of David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club and noted environmentalist, and his encounters with three other gentlemen: Charles Park, mineral engineer, Charles Fraser, developer; and Floyd Dominy, head of the Bureau of Reclamation from 1959 to 1969. McPhee and Brower take a hike in Glacier Peak Wilderness with Park where they look at the site of a possible copper mine. Fraser, developer of Hilton Head Island, invites Brower and McPhee to camp with him on Cumberland Island, which he hopes to develop. In the third part, Brower, McPhee and Dominy take a white water raft trip down the Colorado River, exploring the possible site of what will eventually be Glen Canyon Dam.

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.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
I always enjoy books by John McPhee and "Encounters with the Archdruid" was no exception. Published in 1971, this book is a series of three of three loosely connected tales about the balance needed between conservation and development. The tales are connected through the appearance of David Brower, former leader of the Sierra Club, as anti-development as they come, as he takes trips with McPhee and folks who never saw value in wilderness unless they can take something out of it.

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.
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LibraryThing member 1Randal
An amazing book, written during the era of DDT, the "death" of Lake Erie, the imminent extinction of the condors, moon landings, and the construction of huge dams. It's fascinating to look back at where the environmental movement began, and to a fair and balanced examination of both sides of the issue. It's almost inconceivable to believe that there was a proposal to mine copper in the mountains of Washington by inserting "a nuclear bomb in Plummer Mountain, bring the mountain down in shards into the Suiattle Valley, then pour rivers of chemicals over it to leach out the copper". It was known as "Operation Plowshare", and was discarded not because of it's outrageousness, but because the nuclear engineers couldn't "direct their blast", making a cylindrical shaft, not one that would follow the ore deposits. I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned about the environment.… (more)
LibraryThing member 1Randal
An amazing book, written during the era of DDT, the "death" of Lake Erie, the imminent extinction of the condors, moon landings, and the construction of huge dams. It's fascinating to look back at where the environmental movement began, and to a fair and balanced examination of both sides of the issue. It's almost inconceivable to believe that there was a proposal to mine copper in the mountains of Washington by inserting "a nuclear bomb in Plummer Mountain, bring the mountain down in shards into the Suiattle Valley, then pour rivers of chemicals over it to leach out the copper". It was known as "Operation Plowshare", and was discarded not because of it's outrageousness, but because the nuclear engineers couldn't "direct their blast", making a cylindrical shaft, not one that would follow the ore deposits. I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned about the environment.… (more)
LibraryThing member b.masonjudy
Encounters with the Archdruid is a provocative discussion about the way humans interact with the land, the wilderness, and its uses. I thought the discussions seemed currently relevant despite the age of the book and I wished that the depth of insight within the discourse could be encountered more often in the current political climate.… (more)
LibraryThing member 1Randal
An amazing book, written during the era of DDT, the "death" of Lake Erie, the imminent extinction of the condors, moon landings, and the construction of huge dams. It's fascinating to look back at where the environmental movement began, and to a fair and balanced examination of both sides of the issue. It's almost inconceivable to believe that there was a proposal to mine copper in the mountains of Washington by inserting "a nuclear bomb in Plummer Mountain, bring the mountain down in shards into the Suiattle Valley, then pour rivers of chemicals over it to leach out the copper". It was known as "Operation Plowshare", and was discarded not because of it's outrageousness, but because the nuclear engineers couldn't "direct their blast", making a cylindrical shaft, not one that would follow the ore deposits. I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned about the environment.… (more)
LibraryThing member librarianbryan
Someday we are going to have to choose.

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