The University of Wisconsin Press

Biography / Environment / Politics


The Man from Clear Lake
Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson
Bill Christofferson

“His story is an inspiration.”—Al Gore

Winner of the 2007 Elizabeth A. Steinberg Prize awarded by the University of Wisconsin Press for the regional book that has brought the most distinction to the UW Press.

On Earth Day 1970 twenty million Americans displayed their commitment to a clean environment.
It was called the largest demonstration in human history, and it permanently changed the nation’s political agenda. More than one billion people now participate in annual Earth Day activities.

The seemingly simple idea—a day set aside to focus on protecting our natural environment—was the brainchild of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. It accomplished, far beyond his expectations, his lifelong goal of putting the environment onto the nation’s and the world’s political agendas.

The life of Nelson, a small-town boy who learned his values and progressive political principles at an early age, is woven through the political history of the twentieth century. Nelson’s story intersects at times with Fighting Bob La Follette, Joe McCarthy, and Bill Proxmire in Wisconsin, and with George McGovern, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Russell Long, Walter Mondale, John F. Kennedy, and others on the national scene.

“Gaylord Nelson, the creative author of Earth Day, is the leading figure in American environmentalism. His prophetic opposition to the American war in Vietnam makes him a foreign policy statesman of the highest rank. During long years in the U.S. House and Senate I came to know many good men and women—and a few great ones. Gaylord is one of the great ones, as this brilliant, well researched biography makes clear.”—George McGovern

“This beautifully written biography reveals a man of great diligence, who possessed the ability to mobilize citizens, senators and presidents to make a stand for ‘an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all living creatures.’”—E Magazine

"A fun book to read-filled with fascinating stories of politics in the twentieth century. We yearn for more political leaders like Gaylord who always voted his conscience and led with integrity and humor."
—Bill Meadows, president, The Wilderness Society

photo of author Bill Christofferson. He is wearing a dark blue blazer and a blue shirt with no tie.Bill Christofferson, a former journalist and longtime Wisconsin political consultant, now retired, lives in Milwaukee.

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The cover of Christofferson's book

March 2004
LC: 2003020570 E
416 pp.   6 x 9    29 b/w photos

Book icon Cloth $30.00 t
ISBN 978-0-299-19640-0
Book icon Large Print Paperback $24.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-19646-2
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ISBN 978-0-299-19643-1
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Note: The large print paperback is
704 pp.   7 x 10    29 b/w photos

"Gaylord Nelson was one of the great public servants of the post-World War II era. This illuminating book is a priceless account of his life and accomplishments."
—Tom Brokaw

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Updated June 18, 2012

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