cover image Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand

Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand

John Markoff. Penguin Press, $32 (416p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2394-3

Journalist Markoff (Machines of Loving Grace) paints a sympathetic if overbusy picture of Stewart Brand, a writer and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog who had a knack for reinvention. Born in 1938, Brand grew up in Rockford, Ill., in a family well-to-do enough that he was still getting by with the help of “his mother’s continued largesse” at 48. Brand worked on numerous projects throughout his life, including a 1965 multimedia exhibit entitled America Needs Indians! and his most recent, the Clock of the Long Now, a mechanical clock built to function for 10,000 years and funded by Jeff Bezos. Brand was also an early computer enthusiast, Markoff writes, who first used the phrase “information wants to be free”; was an assistant to California governor Jerry Brown; and did a stint at MIT’s Media Lab in its early days. Markoff covers Brand’s personal life, too, including his “deep depression,” though the dips into the minutiae of his day-to-day sometimes overwhelm (one evening, “he burned a TV dinner and then decided to fry a steak instead”). And Markoff’s writing on Native Americans raises some flags (for example, noting that Brand’s wife, “befitting her Indian heritage, was generally fearless in the wilderness”). This one has potential but often gets lost in the weeds. (Mar.)