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Whole Earth:

The Many Lives of Stewart Brand

by John Markoff

After finishing this book in September of 2023, I wrote,


"I was a fan of the Whole Earth Catalog when it first came out in 1968. In reading this book, I got to see that its creator, Stewart Brand, has continued to leave his mark upon the world in many other valuable ways."


My clippings below collapse a 416-page book into sixteen pages, measured by using 12-point type in Microsoft Word.

See all my book recommendations.  

Here are the selections I made:

Although he was largely an observer of the technical community that created Silicon Valley, his various ideas and crusades around the Whole Earth Catalog, which he created in the fall of 1968, foreshadow and resonate with the techno-utopian culture that the Valley spawned. He went on to rethink modern architecture from a biological perspective and later publicly broke with the environmental movement over nuclear power and GMO food.


Both as a young man and more recently, he first figuratively and then literally set out to “play God,” initially by making the claim that humans had the power of gods and then during the past decade by creating an organization to save and restore endangered species with modern biotechnology.


At the top of the page is a photo of sunrise as seen from space, and in between are the words “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” Brand intended the photo as a way to describe living a life open to serendipity. As Jobs put it, “I have always wished that for myself.”


It was a worldview that both resonated and broke with the New Left, for Brand rejected traditional politics and focused instead on what he called direct power—a focus on tools and skills for the individual—emerging from his early libertarian sympathies.


Indeed, Brand’s thinking has evolved in many ways—from anti- to pronuclear, from environmentalism to conservationism, and from libertarianism to something closer to traditional liberalism.


In particular, Brand has been constant in his commitment to science, which he refers to as the only “true news”; in his commitment to bottom-up democracy (with a small d); and in his relentless curiosity.


Not only had Stewart’s mother gone to Vassar, but her sister and her mother were graduates as well. The school was legendary for its skeptical academic mantra, “Go to primary sources,” an outlook that was repeatedly conveyed to Brand through the maternal side of his family.


At Stanford he read both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and was seduced by Ayn Rand’s romantic view of free-market capitalism as well as her view of businessmen as heroic.


Mike Brand had counseled his brother not to focus on selecting individual courses but rather to find the best professors. One of those he recommended was a charismatic professor of religion, Frederic Spiegelberg.


A decade later Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog would begin with the premise “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”


On one side were the survival skills he was acquiring; on the other, a list of things that he was forced to endure—running, cold, wet, lack of sleep, etc. Then he added a series of arguments in each column. On the pain side, he noted, “What is a Ranger in the life of writer-photographer?” After lunch, he saw his commanding officer and walked up and told him he was leaving. “I don’t go along with the principle of hardship for its own sake,” he said. Just like that, he was gone. What Brand worried about most was the phone call to tell his mother he had quit.


Whether it was “consciousness expansion” or “intelligence amplification,” something was afoot in Northern California at the beginning of the 1960s that would be instrumental in both the creation of the sixties counterculture and, in the 1970s, the formation of Silicon Valley. The spectrum extended from the spiritual, mystical, and chemical—“instant mystic”—paths to mind expansion, to the pragmatic access-to-tools philosophy that Brand pioneered in the Whole Earth Catalog and that would be best expressed by Steve Jobs in the 1980s when he described the personal computer as a “bicycle for the mind.” Brand’s Big Sur weekend would point him in a radical new direction, a path that ultimately contributed not only to the emergence of the counterculture in Northern California but also to the birth of a new environmental movement.


The human potential movement can be dated to the fall of 1962 in Big Sur, at what would soon be named the Esalen Institute.


At the start of the day he was given a dose of carbogen, a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen that was used as a benchmark at the clinic to determine how the subject might react to psychedelic drugs. The effect was immediate: as Brand later described it, he went to a “very interesting” other universe for what he thought must have been “seven eternities.”


Brand decided Koestler’s framework was a good metaphor for his own life—not a carefully plotted arc of ambition, or even a narrative, but rather doing one different thing after another, each of which seemed like a good idea at the time and which, hopefully, would evolve into something profound.


As a former army officer, he felt he had knowledge the protesters didn’t have. Moreover, his brother-in-law, Donald Sampson, had gone to fight in Southeast Asia. Brand wasn’t for the war (he considered himself to be on the “psychedelic side” in the political dispute over Vietnam), but he had a basic sympathy for the enlisted men, and he bridled when he heard that protesters were calling them baby killers.


As the Vietnam War raged on and protests tore the country apart, Brand did his best to stay above the fray. When he set out to become a publisher in the fall of 1968, just months after Chicago police beat and tear-gassed protesters, he decreed the new publication would have nothing to say about the Vietnam War, and he stuck to what he believed was a no-politics editorial policy for the first three years he published the Catalog.


While he had once been interested in Ayn Rand, he added, he increasingly viewed her laissez-faire capitalist worldview as old thinking. Now the ideas of Buckminster Fuller—pro-technology, with a deep faith that the coming of computerization and automation would result in an infinite abundance that would arrive shortly—were increasingly appealing to him.


At Stanford, he had experienced an epiphany: “I’m not really actually here to learn French, or whatever, I’m learning how to be able to learn anything, and then I can go forth and have a life. . . . I don’t need the class.” Learning was an end unto itself.


His romance with tools—the Catalog would be subtitled Access to Tools—came in part from his 1966 encounter with Fuller, who was legendary for claiming: “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”


Both the Whole Earth Catalog and the Homebrew Computer Club, which gave rise to several dozen companies that forged the personal computer industry—including Apple—emerged from the fertile ground that Raymond created.


Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link, or WELL, a computer conferencing system that Brand launched in 1985.


One night in bed Jennings complained that Brand’s monologues were growing harsh and boring. She asked him to please “gentle up.”


Years later Brand would adopt the mantra “Live small, so you can live large.” Indeed, when the Brands first arrived on Alpine Road in Menlo Park, they lived in a fifteen-foot-long box trailer that had little more than a bed and a tiny kitchen.


The staff would grow to almost thirty by the time of the release of The Last Whole Earth Catalog in 1971.


The Catalog itself was first announced to the world in May 1968 in a Portola Institute marketing brochure, offering $8 annual subscriptions covering two issues and two supplements, and setting the single-issue price at $5.


Soon the decision was made not to carry advertisements. The philosophy was simple as was spelled out in the Catalog: “We don’t carry ads anymore, if you have a product, let us see it, if we like it, you don’t owe us anything.”


Brand was gradually moving away from LSD, but he still had a penchant for psychedelics. For a while an E tank of nitrous oxide, ordered weekly, was a permanent fixture at the Truck Store office. It was a convenient quick high, or “flash,” as Brand liked to think of it. It was kind of a workingman’s drug.


Clearly, he had gone over some physiological edge with nitrous oxide, so he abruptly stopped using it. Before he stopped, however, nitrous oxide—or perhaps the combination of the explosive growth of the Catalog, nitrous oxide, LSD, and a crumbling marriage—would push him into a deepening depression. It would be a significant factor in his decision to place an end date on the Catalog: 1971—in the fall of 1969, only a year after its first publication, just as it began its exponential growth.


she knew who Brand was: one day walking across Harvard Square after class she had seen this odd fellow in a top hat, standing in the square with a billboard that read “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?”


Tcherepnin had a crucial qualification—she was a good typist. After a brief conversation, Brand told her the job was hers and invited her over to the Portola Institute for a celebratory round of nitrous oxide. She became the Whole Earth Catalog’s first employee.


When they began, desktop publishing did not exist, but for $150 a month, Brand leased an IBM Selectric Composer, an advanced version of the company’s workhorse electric typewriter that had been introduced in 1966. The composer was capable of producing camera-ready justified copy with proportional fonts and it opened the door to low-cost publishing. (The Fall 1969 Catalog cost only $33,000 to produce.)


The new desktop publishing tools meshed perfectly with Brand’s editorial design for the Catalog. By purchasing an $850 halftone camera, he freed the Catalog from the world of print shops and graphic design houses completely. It made self-publishing not only possible but easy and adaptive in real time.


It was all tied together by Brand’s introductory sentence: “We are as gods and might as well get used to it.”


(In a second printing of the first edition it was edited to read “get good at it. . . .”) The notion, he later acknowledged, was borrowed from Edmund Leach, the British social anthropologist who in 1967 had given a series of lectures focused on the interconnectedness of the world and humanity’s relationship to the environment.


A Runaway World?, a book based on his lectures, begins: “Men have become like gods. Isn’t it about time th...


Under “PURPOSE” the Catalog noted that government, big business, formal education, and the church had gone about as far as possible. Now a “realm of personal power” was ready to “find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.”


On the back cover, Brand added a final philosophical touch in large type: “We can’t put it together. It is together.”


From the outset, while much of the counterculture rejected computing technology for being a central component of the bureaucratic mainstream world they dismissed, Brand embraced it.


Although it was still more than seven years before the first hobbyist personal computer would appear, the Catalog was sprinkled with hints that the power of computing might be seized from corporations and the military.


The Last Whole Earth Catalog, published in 1971, would offer a vast menu of items sprawling over almost 500 pages.


It was soon even clearer that they were riding a rocket ship. Brand had advanced the project about $25,000 from his family inheritance to produce the first Catalog. After selling out the first two thousand, they did ten thousand more in the spring, followed by a second run of twenty thousand. In July of 1969, the Catalog operation had its first profitable month, taking in almost $16,000 in income against $8,000 in expenses. For the Fall 1969 issue, they printed sixty thousand copies and had four thousand subscribers.


National recognition, however, meant more pressure and more work, and it quickly began to take a toll. In September, after just eleven months, Brand announced, “The CATALOG has but 20 months to live.” Then he added: “The function of the skyrocket is to get as high as possible before it blows.”


The Catalog and the Truck Store became a vehicle for Brand to follow his whims and chase after any kind of new idea. He reviewed a build-your-own-airplane kit and found it interesting enough that he decided to order one. Ultimately, the plane, unfinished and unflown, ended up in the barn on Bill English’s property. Brand purchased a BMW motorcycle and discovered that as great an adventure tool as his new motorbike was, it was also probably more risk than it was worth. Thinking about the hazard of zipping along the freeway at seventy miles per hour, he decided to sell the bike after several misadventures.


Telling someone they had to get to a particular place was ultimately much less effective than providing them the tools by which they might leapfrog from curiosity to curiosity until they got there—or somewhere else that was even better.


Brand responded with a more upbeat version of the truth. “We wanted to stop something right for once,” he responded. “So many institutions sort of fade out and piddle out. It seemed like stopping it was more important than starting it.”


His marriage to Jennings was disintegrating. It seemed that the world was starting to close in, and he had become agoraphobic. In the end, he kept up appearances, putting out the last Catalog, but he had begun to contemplate suicide.


A microphone was set up in the audience, the one-inch-thick envelope of hundred-dollar bills was handed to each speaker, and people started walking up to the mike, taking the envelope, stating what they thought should be done with the money, and then handing it to the next person.


There were a lot of what seemed to Brand to be knee-jerk liberal ideas. One guy stood up and said, “Let’s give the money back to the Indians.” That prompted Jennings to go to the microphone and say, “I’m an Indian and I don’t want the money.”


It had been four years since The Population Bomb had been published, and the issue of potentially mandatory population control remained a flashpoint in international forums. Barry Commoner, a rival biologist who was also in Stockholm, actively attacked Ehrlich’s view. Commoner argued that there would be a demographic “transition” and that population growth would abate. At the time, Brand remained firmly in Ehrlich’s camp, although years later he would change his view and acknowledge that Commoner had been correct.


it was the moment when he discovered Gregory Bateson, who would supplant Buckminster Fuller as his intellectual guiding star. He had with him a copy of Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind, published earlier that year, a tightly coupled collection of essays offering a synthesis of cybernetics, philosophy, and the social sciences, situating humanity in the natural world. Brand was spellbound.


Style aside, the article caught virtually all of the significant trends in computing, ranging from PARC scientist Alan Kay’s Dynabook, which was the archetype of the modern laptop personal computer, to the impact of ARPANET and the fact that a new generation of computer chips, then just on the horizon, would consume far less power, making possible a generation of inexpensive consumer-oriented machines. He also captured the original spirit that would engender the community of hobbyists from which the personal computer industry emerged beginning in 1975.


The term personal computer did not appear in the original Rolling Stone article. Brand would first use the term in an epilogue that he added to his first book, titled II Cybernetic Frontiers, published in 1974.


Brand’s divorce from Jennings at the end of November 1973 was not contentious, and they continued to stay in contact as directors of the Point Foundation. Their community property totaled about $40,000. Brand kept the Nova Scotia property while Jennings kept the $10,000 savings account and the TV.


As an editor Brand put his earlier army philosophy to work—that the best managers were the ones who were smart and lazy, leaving it to their employees to take their own initiatives.


The Summer 1975 issue was the first to have significant impact, thanks to a cover story on the Gaia hypothesis, proposed by British chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis, for the first time presenting their concept to a nontechnical audience.


LeBrun called attention to a 128-page “underground” publication, Computer Lib/Dream Machines, published the previous year by Ted Nelson, a former sociology graduate student and coinventor of the concept of hypertext—Doug Engelbart had simultaneously come up with the same idea—that would eventually lead directly to the creation of the World Wide Web. (Like a range of publications, Computer Lib was modeled on the format of the Catalog.)


Anne Herbert, a young writer from Ohio, was one such discovery. A talented poet and writer of fiction, Herbert would soon move to Sausalito to join the Quarterly as an editor. She would be remembered for the phrases “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” and “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”


“O’Neill’s Space Colonies,” the cover announced. “Practical, Desirable, Profitable, Ready in 15 years.” Within, O’Neill proposed a vision of a vast industrial-scale space-based platform for the exploration and colonization of the universe, a concept that horrified many of the Whole Earth Catalog’s devotees.


The issue, which also featured an article by E. F. Schumacher, of Small Is Beautiful fame, and a transcription of a conversation between Governor Brown and Bateson, would drive a wedge between Brand and some of his closest environmental allies and cement his reputation as a “techno-utopian.”


Writing in the Quarterly, he declared that “ ‘self-sufficiency’ is an idea which has done more harm than good. On close conceptual examination it is flawed at the root. More importantly, it works badly in practice.”


The Quarterly never experienced the rocket growth of the Catalog. After four years of publication, subscriptions were hovering around 20,000 and newsstand purchases added another 35,000 in sales—still not enough to break even.


In November, Brand wrote his mother to let her know that he had become a father. “A nifty kid,” he told her. “At present I see Noah every couple of weeks and I provide some things for him—a camera, a stroller, etc. I can go dote anytime, or they come here. As for the future we’re taking it as it comes. I may or may not acquire a family of my own.”


Phelan, who was living with someone else at the time, had fallen for Brand head over heels, and it would soon be apparent to him that he had finally found his great love. Their friendship went quickly from dating to something much deeper.


He took her to the emergency room at about seven p.m. Finally, after an examination, Phelan was admitted to the hospital at midnight. The doctors were concerned that she was bleeding internally, and they wanted to keep her for observation. Her doctor said that they suspected she had a burst appendix. Brand went home deeply worried. It turned out to be a burst ovarian cyst. When she came out of surgery, Brand was there with a small pillow he had fetched from her apartment. That was it. “This guy’s a keeper,” she decided.


It was the most remarkable offer Kleiner, who was still mired in his journalism school thesis, could imagine. He joined to work on the Catalog and would spend the next five years as part of the Quarterly staff, first putting together a massive, completely reworked Catalog, a 608-page rendition that would be considered by many the definitive statement of the genre.


By 1981, the counterculture that Brand had helped create was not so countercultural. The Vietnam War was over. The most famous Hollywood star was not a long-haired rebel but a newly elected, right-wing president. Psychedelics were being replaced by cocaine. Vegetarian cuisine could be found in supermarket freezers, and the most prominent celebrity antiwar protester had shifted her focus to profiting from her aerobics videos.


In the Christian Science Monitor, Stewart McBride added: “Brand’s embracing of Milton Friedman’s neoconservative economics and his enthusiasm for Gerard O’Neill’s space colonies have recently gotten him into hot water with the organic, ‘small is beautiful,’ appropriate technology constituency. But Brand seems too preoccupied with the search for tomorrow’s frontiers to be looking over his shoulder or slowed down by his critics.”


Now he came to agree with Calthorpe, who in 1985 wrote that in terms of impact on the environment, dense urban cities were the most benign forms of human settlement.


It would later become one of the key ideas in Brand’s own Whole Earth Discipline—a book that evoked cries of betrayal from many in the environmental movement when it appeared in 2009—that cities were the “greenest” of human communities, with the least impact on the environment.


The plan to move onto the Mirene also led to Phelan’s decis...


The story included a full-page photo of Brand and Phelan posed in front of the Mirene, just as they were about to move into it, and her mother, a devout Catholic, was not at all happy with the notion of her daughter living in sin.


Phelan had had no intention of marrying Brand, but in the wake of her father’s death, seeing the pain she was causing her mother, she softened her views. In October of 1983 they were wed by a Zen priest at Green Gulch, the San Francisco Zen Center farm near the Pacific Ocean. In their vows they didn’t promise to be forever faithful to each other—rather their common bond was to protect all sentient beings. To appease Phelan’s mother, a Catholic prayer was read during the ceremony.


As part of that effort, he offered a series of classes focused on helping others. Like many of Brand’s schemes, Uncommon Courtesy: School of Compassionate Skills had bubbled for many years as an idea before he launched it.


The Point should explore the humanitarian uses of “applied laziness,” by which he meant that the amount of work wasn’t the issue, rather the degree of impact was.


At the end of 1972, Brand had defiantly announced in his Rolling Stone article on Spacewar!: “Ready or not, computers are coming to the people.”[9] It would be another decade, however, before he would acquire his own computer. When it arrived, the machine was a Kaypro II, one of the last successful entries in the hobbyist period of the personal computer age.


Just as Brand had found his way to the early wellspring of personal computing in the late 1960s and early 1970s at SAIL, PARC, and Engelbart’s Augmentation Research Center, now he found himself surrounded by the technologists who were building the digital world that would become both the World Wide Web and the “Internet of Things.” One key idea that was deeply embedded in the Media Lab was the notion of personalized media. What Negroponte called the Daily Me, the concept that each person’s newsfeed would be personalized, was seen as an inevitable future with little understanding of the darker reality that would become known as filter bubbles several decades later.


The New York Times reviewer noted, “When he assesses potential problems arising from the new technology, Mr. Brand worries that it is easy to be paranoid; others might worry that it is also easy to be complacent,” adding, “At times, Mr. Brand seems overwhelmed by imminent utopia.”


Underlying it all was the recursive curiosity that had been behind all of Brand’s enterprises: What questions should we ask so that they would keep asking themselves usefully?


In November 1993, Brand attended a GBN-led meeting at Science Applications International Corporation, a Reston, Virginia, company with close links to the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies. The following month the New York Times would publish the first news article describing the “World Wide Web,”[12] but there was already a growing buzz about the potential impact of the internet.


Genius or not, Brand soon learned that, unlike in the technology world, there were few hefty speakers’ fees available from architects, who proved to be a generally miserly group. Perhaps because unlike in his previous book, he was not extolling the profession but indicting it. Indeed, How Buildings Learn found a much more receptive audience among urban planners than architects.


Shortly after the Clock Library project was launched, Brand returned to the Black Rock Desert to attend the annual Burning Man festival, which since 1990 had been held annually on the Black Rock playa, which he had first visited in the early sixties.


For a while Hillis was passionate about locating the clock in Cheyenne Mountain, where the North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD, is headquartered. For his part, Brand was continuing to explore the idea of finding a place for the clock in the mountains just south of the Black Rock Desert.


Bezos offered the Long Now Foundation land and underwrote the construction of the clock, beginning in 2005. In 2009, construction began on a massive version of the instrument inside a 6,000-foot-high mountain on the edge of his vast ranch and spaceport in West Texas.


“The adder rings were rotating! Clickety-click, clickety-click, and then TWO of the Geneva hexagons rotated, and up on the Clock face in the brass index rectangle ‘99’ became ‘00’ and ‘019’ became ‘020’—and . . .” Somebody cheered and was hushed and then through a painful silence a faint motor could be heard, and then a prolonged bonngggg. And then silence followed by a longer bonnnnggggg.


A decade after Hillis had sent out his email to friends, the clock was alive.


Influenced by his encounters with American Indians in Oregon in the early 1960s, Brand had always aligned himself with the conservationist wing of the environmental movement as distinct from the preservationists as characterized by Muir. Now, living and working within the technology-centric and corporation-aligned Global Business Network, he grew increasingly sympathetic to the Pinchot side of the debate—those who argued that in addition to exploiting the environment, humans were responsible for caring for it as well.


They were more likely to have a politically conservative outlook or to be apolitical, they were not anticapitalist, and they were comfortable with technology.


Untangling Brand’s rejection of the mainstream environmental movement after 2004 reveals that portions of his new worldview were clearly rooted in his long-held antipathy of the Left—going all the way back to his 1950s anticommunist ideals centered around individual freedom—as well as his rejection of neo-Luddite environmentalists who raised the specter of the unintended consequences of technology.


Now he asserted that within a decade, genetically modified organisms would be embraced by the environmental movement. He took aim at his former mentor Paul Ehrlich and his argument in The Population Bomb declaring that urbanization was lowering population growth trends dramatically. Finally, he tweaked his friend Amory Lovins, calling him out for convincing environmentalists that a battery-powered Green car was possible but refusing to do the same with nuclear power.


“Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn’t plan to be isolated for long,” Tierney wrote. “He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They’ll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They’ll stop worrying about ‘Frankenfoods’ and embrace genetic engineering.”


Brand then shifted to climate. “My fellow environmentalists on this subject have been irrational, anti-scientific and very harmful,” he asserted, also bashing Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth for their opposition to GMO foods in Africa.


In the fall of 1968, he had set out by arguing, “We are as Gods and might as well get good at it.” Whole Earth Discipline opened with his new epigraph: “We are as Gods and HAVE to get good at it,” underscoring his belief in the existential threat of climate change.


Yet the proposed revival of Xerces is perhaps the clearest way to illustrate Brand’s pragmatic approach and his optimistic philosophy, a literal evocation of the “butterfly effect” that suggests the possibility that the smallest change in the environment can have an immense and nondeterministic effect.


However, there is an important difference between the “We are as gods and better get good at it” in the 1968 Catalog and the “We are as gods and have to get good at it” in Whole Earth Discipline four decades later.


In the preface to the Catalog, Brand was addressing individuals, young individuals of his own generation, many of whom had set out to reinvent society by moving back to the land. In the second case, “we” refers to civilization. To the entire human species.


The opening in the rock face instead leads to the clock of the Long Now, housed in a five-hundred-foot-tall cylindrical space hollowed out inside the mountain thanks to the largesse of the Long Now Foundation’s largest benefactor, Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest people.


To mark the end of his publishing venture, when Brand shut down the Whole Earth Catalog he decided to throw a party and then surprise the guests with the announcement that he was giving away $20,000 based on a group decision about what to do with the money. He dressed in his father’s monk outfit to make the announcement. The partygoers couldn’t reach an agreement, and so in the early-morning hours most of the money was given to a militantly anti-money draft resister named Fred Moore. Moore would go on to cofound the Homebrew Computer Club several years later.


Marlon Brando became a fan and supporter of the Catalog and the Coevolution Quarterly. Independently both men had become supporters of American Indians in the 1960s. Later Brando invited Brand to the island he had purchased in the South Pacific to publish the Quarterly. Brand visited but never moved his publication there.


Having convinced his publisher that he would completely edit and produce How Buildings Learn, Brand established his studio in a shipping container he converted. It gave him space to assemble the photographs he wanted to use as well as doing page layout. Despite being a critique of modern corporate architecture, the book was well received by the architectural community.


In 1977 Brand became a father after a long-distance girlfriend, Alia Johnson, visited and told him she was pregnant with their son, Noah. Brand agreed to be a somewhat involved father. Johnson would later marry physicist Robert Fuller, and Brand stayed active in Noah’s upbringing.


Patty, later Ryan, Phelan came to work at the Quarterly and proved to be a skilled organizer of events such as the Whole Earth Jamboree shown here, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Whole Earth Catalog. The couple decided to get married after they had purchased and renovated a tugboat as their new home among the Sausalito houseboats. Brand’s motto became “Live small, so you can live large.”


Brand married Ryan Phelan in 1983 in a Zen Buddhist ceremony at Green Gulch, a rural retreat center and farm in the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To appease Phelan’s mother, a Catholic prayer was read during the ceremony.


Kevin Kelly had the original idea of an event that would allow the characters in Steven Levy’s Hackers to meet one another. Brand and Phelan helped organize the event, which was held in the fall of 1984. In response to a remark by Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, Brand said, “Information wants to be expensive . . . and information wants to be free.” Virtually everyone ignored the first half of his aphorism, and “Information wants to be free” would become the rallying cry of the dot-com era.


Although Brand had first conceived of the idea of an online community even before starting the Whole Earth Catalog, he founded the Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link in 1985. Part of the wave of interest in computer networks that preceded the internet, the WELL attracted a small but devoted community. Presaging the clashes over social media by several decades, six years later Brand left the WELL’s board feeling that the online community he had founded was flawed.


Brand looks at a prototype of the Clock of the Long Now, a project he began with computer scientist Danny Hillis as an exercise to inspire long-term thinking. Significantly, the two set out to build what will effectively be the world’s slowest computer just when Silicon Valley and the world became obsessed with ever quicker internet time. Funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, a full-scale version of the clock is near completion.


“Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?” —San Francisco, March 1966


“We are as Gods and we might as well get used to it.” “We are as Gods and we might as well get good at it.” —First and second printings of the first Whole Earth Catalog, October 1968


“When we realize that we are as gods, then we will know that we have to assume a god’s responsibilities, and that we are able to. Many good things are very simple.” —Parsons School of Design, Earth Day 1970


“We can’t put it together. It is together.” —Back cover, The Last Whole Earth Catalog, 1971


“Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics.” —Opening sentences from “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 1972


“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” —Back cover, Whole Earth Epilog, 1975 (first found in personal journal, March 1966)


“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.” —First Hacker’s Conference, November 1984


“A major source of learning, maybe the major source, is other people’s mistakes.” —Journal, August 1986


“We shape our buildings, then they shape us.” (Winston Churchill) “Then we shape them.” —Journal, September 1987


“Most of adulthood and its skills consists of adventure prevention.” —Journal, July 27, 1988


“Rushing is at the root of all lack of quality.” —Journal, June 1990


“If I were to write an autobiography, it would have to be Float Upstream. Based on the supposed Morley Clan observation, ‘Toss any Brand into the river and they’ll float upstream.’ ” —Journal, High Tide, July 1993


“The most proficient knot is one that can be easily untied.” —Journal, September 6, 2005


“We are as gods and we HAVE to get good at it.” —Epigraph to Whole Earth Discipline, where Brand endorses nuclear power and GMO foods, 2009

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