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.
Finalist for the 2016 Orion Book Award
Finalist for the 2016 Northern California Book Award
"One of the 25 best food books of 2015" —The Guardian
"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, author of Dead Wake and Devil in the White City
"Written in a style reminiscent of Rebecca Solnit——the San Francisco environmental writer with a keen ability for melding the poetic and the political——The Oyster War makes for a fast-paced and dramatic read about a messy situation with no clear-cut “bad guy.”[...] In all, The Oyster War is essential reading for anyone interested in a tumultuous chapter in the history of food systems and environmental activism in the U.S." - Civil Eats
"Brennan's prose comes alive while detailing the environmental histories of Point Reyes and Northern California that lead up to the oyster years ... 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 is a natural storyteller who makes a tough tale——which 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." — The San Francisco Chronicle
"A remarkable writer ... 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." —Book Riot
"An absorbing account of the clash between environmentalists and oyster farmers in the coastal towns north of San Francisco... [Brennan] offers a well-crafted narrative exploring every aspect of the controversy... interweav[ing] the stories of oyster pirates, cattle ranchers, Native Americans, scientists, and species ranging from exotic deer to harbor seals ... Well-written and superbly reported." — Kirkus Starred Review
"Summer Brennan's The Oyster War is an exhaustively researched and fascinating book that explores modern environmentalism's intersection with the law." — Largehearted Boy
"Every story is freighted with backstory, with multiple and intersecting histories. The great value of Brennan's book, even if it gets, as she writes, only 'as close to the truth as I could reasonably be expected to come,' is her deeply probing effort to understand and craft as full and complex an account as possible." — Los Angeles Review of Books
"[One of the] seven best books of August ... 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
"Brennan ably documents and contextualizes decades of history behind the drama surrounding the Drakes Bay Oyster Company's fight with the National Park Service." — Publishers Weekly
"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 and Song for the Blue Ocean
"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 makes The Oyster War vital reading for everyone interested in the future of U.S. environmentalism." — Amanda Adams, author of A Mermaid's Tale
"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
"Brennan is a lyrical and lovely writer." - Reason Magazine
"[One of] the books due out this month that we’re most excited about ... 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