Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand

Penguin Pr. Mar. 2022. 416p. ISBN 9780735223943. $32. BIOG
Best known for his Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand (b. 1938) has led a life that’s a biographer’s dream. Markoff (What the Dormouse Said) gives readers a well-researched account of Brand’s life, from his early start in 1960s counterculture, to founding the famous Whole Earth Catalog, to his influence on Steve Jobs. Beginning with Brand’s early years at boarding school and later Stanford, Markoff guides readers through Brand’s life and career, intertwined with a brief genealogy. Markoff devotes a significant portion of the biography to the Whole Earth Catalog but doesn’t prioritize it over Brand’s later work and ideas and skillfully shows the evolution of and influences on Brand’s thought process. Brand’s detractors will not find much to grab on to in Markoff’s mostly laudatory biography, and readers might wish it was a more critical take. Markoff does spend time addressing criticisms of Brand—from his neckties, to Silicon Valley techno-libertarianism, to his support of nuclear energy—but dispenses with them with well-documented counterarguments. The biography makes no apology for its approach, as there is plenty of good to find in Brand’s long life; it’s an insightful account of the Zelig-like figure.
VERDICT A laudatory biography of Brand that admirers, the unfamiliar, and even some detractors will find insightful.
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