EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown


Writing an autobiography means asking a lot of questions. Who am I? What have I done? Who were the people and what were the circumstances that shaped my evolution as a person? How did I get where I am? Why am I even writing this book?

To start with the last question, the idea of doing an autobiography was initially suggested by the late Iva Ashner at W. W. Norton & Company perhaps 20 years ago. More recently, Amy Cherry of Norton again raised the question. I was skeptical. It was not at all obvious to me how the world would be better off if I wrote about my life.

Then over dinner one night in the fall of 2010, a longtime friend, syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, brought the issue up. “You should write an autobiography,” she said. “It will help people to better understand not only what you think but also why you think as you do.” That dinner discussion was the tipping point. When I brought up the question at our annual board meeting in December 2011 and everyone heartily endorsed the idea, that nailed it.

Writing an autobiography is an exercise in self-psychoanalysis. And it is a tricky business because we rely heavily on memory to reconstruct our past. But as the New York Times’ Joseph Lelyveld noted, after some autobiographical writing of his own, “We reshape our memories all the time, constantly editing them for our own psychic comfort.”

And so we do. In looking at the book in final draft, I realize it is, with one notable exception, about successes. Is this because it is psychically comforting or because my life actually has been largely a string of successes? Lelyveld would probably say that this book reflects my psychic comfort. And he is probably right.

Nonetheless I have tried to capture the essence of a life that began in the midst of the Great Depression and coincided with a period of change unprecedented in human history. It is also a life that has taken me to the earth’s far corners, letting me see the world as few have been able to do. It has enabled me both to live in villages on the far side of the planet and to dine with heads of state. The purpose of writing this book is to share these experiences with you.

Lester R. Brown
October 2013