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The Oyster War

The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America

List Price: $18.95

August 11, 2015 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 256 Pages | ISBN 9781619025271
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“That fried oyster sandwich you’re eating comes with a bigger backstory than you might have thought. In journalist Brennan’s first book, she looks at an oyster farm in an environmentally protected area of California that fought the federal government for its right to keep doing business.” —Men’s Journal (7 Best Books of August)

It all began simply enough. In 1976 the Point Reyes Wilderness Act granted the highest protection in America to more than 33,000 acres of California forest, grassland and shoreline – including Drakes Estero, an estuary of stunning beauty. Inside was a small, family-run oyster farm first established in the 1930s. A local rancher bought the business in 2005, renaming it The Drakes Bay Oyster Company. When the National Park Service informed him that the 40-year lease would not be renewed past 2012, he vowed to keep the farm in business even if it meant taking his fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

Environmentalists, national politicians, scientists, and the Department of the Interior all joined a protracted battle for the estuary that had the power to influence the future of wilderness for decades to come. Were the oyster farmers environmental criminals, or victims of government fraud? Fought against a backdrop of fear of government corruption and the looming specter of climate change, the battle struck a national nerve, pitting nature against agriculture and science against politics, as it sought to determine who belonged and who didn’t belong, and what it means to be wild.

SUMMER BRENNAN was born to parents living in a houseboat on the San Francisco Bay. She has written for magazines and newspapers all over the country and works regularly with the United Nations Press Office in New York covering issues related to decolonization, disarmament, human rights and the environment. As an undergraduate at Bennington she studied with Mary Oliver. Later she took her masters from NYU in journalism and the Middle East. The Oyster War is her first book. Learn more at


“That fried oyster sandwich you’re eating comes with a bigger backstory than you might have thought. In journalist Brennan’s first book, she looks at an oyster farm in an environmentally protected area of California that fought the federal government for its right to keep doing business.” —Men’s Journal (7 Best Books of August)

“Brennan is a natural storyteller who makes a tough tale — that many locals and visitors winced through and tiptoed around — into a narrative celebration of the striking landscape of the Point Reyes Peninsula, and the spirit behind the oyster war itself.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Brennan’s prose comes alive while detailing the environmental histories of Point Reyes and Northern California that lead up to the oyster wars… The book is filled with surprises that complicate our thinking about the value of nature, the meaning of “wilderness,” and the local and national political efforts that concern them.” —High Country News

“Brennan’s background as a writer encompasses the local and the global, making this particular story one that resonates on a number of levels.” —Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“How’s this for an unexpected fact? Oysters are not native to San Francisco Bay. That’s just one of the truth-bombs that first-time author Summer Brennan throws into her studied look at the Drakes Bay Oyster Company lawsuit and the many other business-versus-conservation battles that have roiled local waters.  Read it if you like contemplating humankind’s impact on the natural world.” —San Francisco Magazine

“If you’re looking for great nonfiction to read that will hold your attention like a novel does, then read The Oyster War by Summer Brennan.” —“All the Books” Podcast

The Oyster War makes for a captivating read that’s as well researched as it is well written… keep an eye on Brennan. She’s definitely an author to watch.” —BookRiot

“In The Oyster War, Brennan writes with clarity and grace about an environmental conflict centered on an oyster farm in one of the most beautiful preserves in America, the Point Reyes National Seashore in Northern California, as the forces of history, culture, and politics converge to decide the farm’s fate. Her saga raises the question: How far can one go to return a land to ‘wilderness,’ when throughout its history it supported all manner of human endeavor? It’s a compelling and evocative read for anyone who, like me, shares Brennan’s belief that this territory is, in fact, ’a little bit magic.’” —Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of Devil in the White City and Dead Wake

“Brennan is a lyrical and lovely writer.” —Reason Magazine

“An absorbing account of the clash between environmentalists and oyster farmers in the coastal towns north of San Francisco… [Brennan] confronts the ambiguities of the conflicting arguments and motives of the key players… Well-written and superbly reported.” —Kirkus Starred Review

“Brennan ably documents and contextualizes decades of history.” —Publishers Weekly

“In a lyrical narrative Brennan explores a legal case with potential implications for the future of wilderness legislation and administration for decades to come, presenting a complex matter with thorough and deliberate care.” —Publishers Weekly Spring 2015 Announcements

“This book invites the reader to consider the oyster in an entirely new way. More than a delicacy best enjoyed with Champagne, the prized bivalve is metaphor for the intersection of environment and commerce. The Oyster War is a must read for anyone who cares about the poetry and politics of the plate. It’s a local story that asks questions with national implications: when commerce and the environment meet, what does it mean to protect something wild?” —Anne Zimmerman, author of An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher

“Like the northern California fog she perfectly evokes, Brennan weaves her way around the tricky terrain of what wilderness means today. The Oyster War is a smart, page-turning account of what happens when a cultural landscape is imagined as something potentially pristine. Her superb research, local’s vibe, balanced view, and ability to summon the magic that is Point Reyes, make The Oyster War vital reading for everyone interested in the future of U.S. environmentalism.” —Amanda Adams Hinde, author of A Mermaid’s Tale and Ladies of the Field

“In these times of crucial need to protect both wild places and working landscapes supporting real people, difficult decisions must be made about who gets to stay and who must go. But we quickly find ourselves in a hall of mirrors. This is a devoutly honest book whose author recognizes that sometimes the closest we can get to truth is a matter of opinion. Her self-questioning integrity is a compass that can help us all steer a wiser course when we find ourselves in a tangle and the right direction is not easy to discern.” —Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel

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