Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee (1972)

Saw this at a library book sale for two dollars and couldn’t resist picking it up, though I’m sure I’ve read it before, and read it through that very afternoon. McPhee’s prose goes down like clear water from one of those gorgeous mountain streams he’s always writing about, and the story here, of renegade Sierra Club leader Dave Brower’s encounters with a miner in the Sierra Nevadas, a developer in Georgia’s barrier islands, and a dam builder in the Grand Canyon, are genuinely compelling. Funny to read this book forty-odd years on from the meetings it dramatizes, since it’s possible to check up on how its various debates panned out, as it were. I’m glad to find, for example, that the work the developer intended to do on Cumberland Island never came to pass. McPhee’s vaunted objectivity can be wearying. We’re meant to at least partially sympathize with the evil jackal who wants to blow up the Sierra Nevadas to extract their copper so we can have more telephones. Get real, man.