I’ve always admired Stewart Brand, without necessarily ever having dug deep into his story. He’s one of those unavoidable characters who pop up at every historical juncture, influencing everyone from hippie LSD trippers to titans of industry in Silicon Valley.
My vision of him as a benign sage is certainly at odds with this brilliant profile – or perhaps hatchet job – by Malcolm Harris in The Nation, which paints Brand as a cynical huckster, driven by individualistic greed to sell whatever people were buying and working with anyone who’d pay him:
“Stewart Brand is not a scientist. He’s not an artist, an engineer, or a programmer. Nor is he much of a writer or editor, though as the creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, that’s what he’s best known for. Brand, 83, is a huckster – one of the great hucksters in a time and place full of them. Over the course of his long life, Brand’s salesmanship has been so outstanding that scholars of the American 20th century have secured his place as a historical figure, picking out the blond son of Stanford from among his peers and seating him with inventors, activists, and politicians at the table of men to be remembered. But remembered for what, exactly?”