In this case, choosing the appropriate artifacts was no
straightforward matter. When it comes to assembling the tools of a
professional's trade, there is a world of difference between an
equipment-dependent person like Julia Child
and someone like Brown, an ascetic who has devoted himself to words and
ideas. The Spartan lifestyle and work habits he embraced as a young
man followed him throughout life, and -- save for his writings -- did not
leave an especially large wake of material objects.
My colleagues and I met twice with Brown and Earth Policy Institute
vice president Reah Janise Kauffman to discuss how Brown practiced his
craft as an analyst, writer and public speaker, all with an eye toward
determining what the museum might collect. Here is a sampling of what
we ultimately acquired.
Naturally, we wanted examples of the principal devices he used as a
writer. As someone who never learned to type, Brown's prolific output
was enabled by his quick mind and mastery of the art of dictation. Early
in his career, he relied on assistants who took shorthand. Later, he
used electronic recording equipment. We collected his Norelco NT II
Dictaphone recorder, a highly portable machine on which he dictated five
of his books published between 1999 and 2005. As a corollary, we also
acquired his Norelco System 500 transcriber set, which his assistants
operated from roughly 1980 to 2008, when the office turned to digital
Brown enjoyed an international reputation as an engaging and
persuasive speaker on environmental matters, and we sought to document
that aspect of his work. Rather than writing out and then reading his
presentations, he spoke from notes -- a style of public speaking he learned
in college. Prior to the late 1970s, Brown prepared his talk notes on
index cards. Thereafter, he switched to letter-sized paper, with his
notes running down two or three columns. The example below is from a
highly provocative 1995 talk on China's looming food crisis.
As his longtime associate Kauffman told us, Brown simplified his
life as much as possible "to save time and to conserve where he put his
mental energies." Even his clothing choices reflected this approach. He
developed, for lack of a better word, a summer and winter "uniform,"
both of which were accented (for formal appearances) with a clip-on
bowtie, which became a distinctive part of his image. Kauffman made and
repaired most of them, including the one pictured, which she
refashioned from a four-in-hand necktie given to Brown by Ted Turner in
1998, on the occasion of Turner's establishment of the U.N. Foundation with a $1 billion gift.
The humbleness of these associative artifacts speak volumes about
Lester Brown's life. They are, however, no substitute for his writings.
If you are not familiar with his body of work, you might want to begin
by turning to his latest book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.