Nightstand Reads: Bob Wyss

Robert WyssBob Wyss is associate professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut and a journalist who has written for the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, Smithsonian, Providence Journal and Yankee. His most recent work is the 2016 book, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower. He will read excerpts from the book and discuss his research on Tuesday, August 2, at 7 p.m. at the Central Library. We are exciting to have him here today as our guest blogger, with several suggestions for books about the environment.

In the four plus years that I worked on the biography about David Brower I discovered and rediscovered a treasury of books about the environment. Some are classics and some Brower created. While Brower is best known as an articulate, controversial environmental activist, much of the success he achieved at the Sierra Club in the 1960s was because of the books he edited and produced.

Sierra coverThey were called Exhibit Format books — big, expensive, glossy and oversize with many photos, often in colors that absolutely mesmerized readers and transformed publishing. Time after time people described how they joined the environmental movement and the Sierra Club by first browsing through an Exhibit Format book in a bookstore or at a friend’s house.

Among the most noteworthy:

In Wildness is the Preservation of the World by Eliot Porter, 1962. Porter spent 10 years shooting photographs to fit the text by Henry David Thoreau. Originally a physician, Porter employed his extensive knowledge of chemistry to produce color prints out of the darkroom that surpassed what anyone else was producing at the time in color photography.

The Place No One Knew, Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Eliot Porter, 1963. Exquisite photos of geological wonders that got buried under Lake Powell, created by the controversial Glen Canyon dam. This is Porter again, at the top of his game, using color. Even some dam proponents wept while looking at this book, in realizing what would be lost – or so the legend goes.

This Is the American Earth by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall, 1960. These black and white photos began as an exhibit at Yosemite and were so compelling they created the first Exhibit Format book. The book is an early warning about how we were endangering our earth, long before the nation’s environmental consciousness was raised.

The Wild Cascades, Forgotten Parkland by Harvey Manning, 1965. This is of special interest for Washington State readers. It was part of the campaign to create the North Cascades National Park. The photography of alpine wonders is spectacular.

Check out a complete listing of the Exhibit Format books and then come to the library to view them. While many of these copies are in reference and can’t be checked out, you may want to haunt used bookstores for a copy. It’s worth the hunt.

My bookshelf has a number of classics: The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey; Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir, Walden by Henry David Thoreau and virtually everything by John McPhee but especially Encounters with the Archdruid.

More recent books to also consider include Tom’s River, A Story of Science and Redemption by my colleague Dan Fagin about a toxic legacy haunting a New Jersey town. Also, On a Farther Shore, the Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder, a biography on the woman who changed America. And Wilderness Warrior, Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley, the best of all of the T.R. biographies.

~posted by Lindy G.

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