77 North Washington Street

Kenneth Brower

THE January, 1990, issue of The Atlantic Monthly contained a word portrait of a long-deceased hero of Canadian environmentalism. His name was Grey Owl, and he had described himself as half Apache, half Scot, and wholly committed to the protection of wildlife, four-footed and otherwise. As an author and a lecturer, Grey Owl had toured Canada and England, often dressed in buckskins and always preaching a gospel of preservation, of wilderness purity. Well into the article its author, Kenneth Brower, reminded readers of the astonishing truth: Grey Owl was not an Indian of any sort. He had been born Archie Belaney, in Hastings, England, in 1888, the son of a drunken scam artist who was exiled from England not long after Archie's birth. The tale of Archie's fascination with Indian lore, his eventual migration to Canada at eighteen, and his construction, out of whole cloth, of a new -- eventually celebrated -- persona is remarkable, made to order for a writer invariably engaged by questions of authenticity, and in particular by the struggle between what is real in the natural world and what is imagined on its behalf.

Brower, the author of "Photography in the Age of Falsification," in this issue, has written for The Atlantic about the perils inherent in the captive breeding of condors, about the damage done to Hawaii's forest environment by rapacious wild pigs, about the unintended but remorseless slaughter of dolphins by tuna seiners using illegal fishing tactics, and many other matters. The natural world has many champions, but none, quite possibly, more conspicuous than Kenneth Brower.

Unlike Archie Belaney, Brower came to his calling naturally -- one might say inevitably. His father, David Brower, is the founder of Friends of the Earth and a past director of the Sierra Club, and is one of America's most celebrated conservationists. Kenneth Brower, born in 1944, attended the University of California, Berkeley, and began editing books about nature when he was twenty. (The photograph at left, of the young Brower in 1967, is from the jacket flap of ) All told, he has written eleven books of his own, and co-authored or edited another thirteen. Brower lives in Oakland, California, with his daughter and son.

"Photography in the Age of Falsification" is Brower's sixteenth piece for The Atlantic.


Photograph by Robert Goldstrom

The Atlantic Monthly; May 1998; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 281, No. 5; page 6.