In The Man Who Built the Sierra Club, Robert Wyss begins not with David Brower's birth in 1912 but with his emergence as a nationally significant figure in the 1950s, leading the pivotal conservation victory against dam building in Dinosaur National Monument. Brower's leadership of the campaign to protect this area, employing new tools such as motion pictures and full-page newspaper advertisements, began the Sierra Club's metamorphosis into a national conservation organization. Wyss traces Brower's life from his hardscrabble beginnings in depression-era Berkeley, California, through his early years as a peak-bagging Sierra Club member with numerous first ascents to his credit, his World War II service with the Tenth Mountain Division, and his early career as an editor at the University of California Press. It was his 1952 firing from the press that brought him to the Sierra Club, when well-placed friends offered him a job as executive secretary. After convincing them to give the position the more encompassing title of executive director, Brower accepted—an early sign of his independence, creativity, and tendency to accumulate power. Brower's fierce and uncompromising pursuit of his conservation goals was often effective, but it also caused him trouble. Generally convinced that he was always right, Brower bridled at efforts to rein him in. His expansion of the Sierra Club's publication program, particularly the Exhibit Format books series that he developed, illustrated his tendency to pursue his own course despite the misgivings and warnings of the Sierra Club board of directors, who feared that producing the expensive books would threaten the group's finances. Brower's tireless work ethic, charismatic personality, and creative leadership helped build the Sierra Club into one of the most powerful and effective national conservation groups. By the 1960s, Brower's Sierra Club had achieved several of its goals: the 1964 Wilderness Act was passed, the Grand Canyon dams were blocked, and the North Cascades and Redwood National Parks were created. But Wyss does not ignore Brower's flaws and gives full treatment to his infidelities, drinking, and other personal issues. Brower's dogged and often-reckless efforts to expand the club's publishing program, his drive to establish chapters of the Sierra Club overseas, and his rebellion against the board over whether to oppose the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on the California coast, ultimately cost him his job in 1969. He later led Friends of the Earth and the Earth Island Institute, but neither yielded the kind of prominence—or victories—he achieved leading the Sierra Club. Wyss has crafted a detailed and thorough account of Brower's life, employing archival collections at the Bancroft Library, oral histories, and—befitting his profession as a journalist—extensive interviews. The Man Who Built the Sierra Club delivers on the title's promise, clearly illuminating Brower's central role in transforming the Sierra Club from a regional outdoor club into a national organization at the forefront of the emerging environmental movement. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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