Doug Tompkins spent the first half of his life scaling the peaks of capitalism, founding iconic companies including The North Face and Esprit. Then he realized he had climbed the wrong mountain. Moving to a remote cabin in Patagonia without electricity or running water, he launched one of the greatest conservation efforts the world has ever seen. . . .
Expelled from his Connecticut prep school in 1964, Douglas Tompkins headed for freedom in San Francisco, where he opened a ski and outdoor equipment shop he called The North Face. Over the next twenty-five years, Tompkins built his modest shop into one of the world’s most beloved brands. Combined with his Espirit clothing line, Tompkins’ North Face became the envy of retail, upending the way fashion apparel is produced, marketed, and sold. Breaking from traditional corporate methods, Tompkins practiced what he called, “management by absence,” calling into the office four to six months a year from Tibet, the Alps, Costa Rica, and other remote locations where he could kayak, ski, trek across glacier, or climb mountains.
Successfully summiting the peaks of capitalism, Tompkins realized he had climbed the wrong mountain. Determined to make a change, he sold his stake in the company and flew 6,400 miles south to Patagonia to live amid the wild beauty in a shack he dubbed “The Hobbit House.” From there Tompkins launched an unprecedented conservation campaign to create a National Parks system—a 25-million-acre swath of protected land stretching from Patagonia to Tierra del Fuego—and prevent the destruction of the South American ecosystem. But the battle wasn’t easy. Opposed by anti-environmental forces, including the Chilean military and the United States government, Tompkins waged a multi-million-dollar Monkey Wrench-style guerrilla campaign targeting national and international companies devastating the environment for profit. Though Tompkins died in a kayaking accident in 2015, his legacy endures. In addition to his good works, he inspired a new generation of environmentalists and conservationists who continue the fight.
A tale of determination, innovation, and triumph, illustrated with black-and-white photographs throughout, A Wild Idea is a celebration of a complicated and often contradictory man, a stern taskmaster who obsessed over detail yet ignored his own children; a multi-millionaire who preferred to sleep on a couch; an environmentalist who drove a red Ferrari; and a visionary who pursued his dreams, abandoned them, then chased new ones, becoming the most notable conservationist of his time.