Yvon Chouinard’s latest book, ‘Some Stories,’ tells the tale of a lifelong generalist both in work and play. And it ends with a strong call to action for humankind.
Celebrated climber and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard pushes back against specialization and advocates for a more holistic way of being in his latest book “Some Stories: Lessons From the Edge of Business and Sport.”
More a collection of Chouinard’s lifelong writing and photography habit than a newly written book, “Some Stories” follows the trajectory of Chouinard’s 80 years on the planet. The stories cover everything from backcountry trips to his professional evolution to present-day activism.
We cover the breadth of this big and storied book. It’s one that will likely be around for the long haul.
‘Some Stories: Lessons From the Edge of Business and Sport’
The 456-page, hardcover, coffee-table-quality book is a bit of a behemoth. And its simplistic black-and-white cover is both tasteful and interesting enough to earn its place as a visual in the home.
At 9 x 1.5 x 10 inches, it’s not an airplane read — unless you buy the Kindle version for $12. You can buy the hard copy at Patagonia for $45, but you can also find the same hard copy for under $30 on Amazon.
The setup of the book is a bit different than expected. It’s less a collection of short stories and more a deep anthology of a life lived outside and in business.
Although Chouinard states in the preface that he considers himself more a storyteller than a writer, the book in hand proves him to be both. Chouinard has written for various publications in one way or another since the 1950s, with a bevy of articles included from each decade since. The book also encompasses a wide range of personal writing, including poetry, the high school minutes of a falconry club meeting, and personal letters to friends, family, and politicians.
And, expectedly, the photography content of “Some Stories” is stunning, engaging, and widely inclusive of the visual aspects of Chouinard’s adventures. With dozens of full-page spreads, well-preserved film photography, and both color and black-and-white pictures, the book is a great reminder to print, print, print our pictures and keep them near and dear as tangible proof of our own lives well-lived.
Expanded Identity for an Established Figure
It’s easy for us commoners to stick Chouinard in a labeled box. He was, of course, a renegade climber in the golden era of the sport. And today, he’s indelibly the billionaire founder and CEO of Patagonia. Climbers can certainly claim him as one of their own, as can the big-wig CEOs of modern times.
Yet, “Some Stories” both celebrates and pushes back against those somewhat limiting identities. It expands his depth of knowledge far beyond his surface identity. The totality of “Some Stories” includes kayaking, surfing, fly fishing, telemark skiing, and more.
There is, however, a wealth of writing on his adventures and trials as an alpinist within the tome. And, on a personal level, I’m particularly fond of his origin story as a climber.
Fortunately, this book does his time as a falconer a bit of justice. And 15-year-old Chouinard was a passionate pursuer of the avian sport, as he speaks to in the piece “Southern California Falconry Club.” In order to reach the nests of raptors, climbing was an imperative. These formative years spent on cliffs and witnessing the effects of DDT on peregrine falcon eggs in the mid-1950s set an obvious foundation for Chouinard in both his life’s adventures and work.
Advocacy for wildlife and wild places is a leading thread throughout “Some Stories,” and it’s hard not to connect those themes back to the young man with a hooded goshawk on his glove. And thankfully, due to the efforts of his falconry pals, we’ve banned DDT, and many raptors — like peregrine falcons and bald eagles — have recovered.
A Call to Arms for Our Planet
Beyond the many enticing stories of adventure and friendship that make up this book, that potent thread of advocacy plays itself out over each individual endeavor. When Chouinard laments the permanent loss of ice that he once climbed and the threats currently facing fisheries, when he uses his own visual acuity for global changes over his decades as an outdoorsman, the reader is behooved to pay attention.
And, he’s quick to point to the huge steps he’s carved out for sustainable business practices since the 1980s. Portions of this book are pulled from his best-selling “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.”
Certainly, Patagonia continues to be a leading brand when it comes to the ranks of environmentalism and conservation. He discusses the 2002 beginning of 1% for the Planet, Patagonia’s move to use organic cotton, and the brand’s push to educate the public on sustainable agricultural practices through Patagonia Provisions.
The personal anecdotes lockstep with the professional sense of duty to sustainability. This man has spent 8 decades outside observing, partaking, and leading. We’d do well to listen to his story in its entirety. “Some Stories” as a title is a bit misleading. If you pay ardent attention to the 400-plus pages of the written word presented, you’ll find that, truly, it’s all connected. As it should be.
Final Thoughts on Chouinard’s ‘Some Stories’
Beneath all of this, the sense of urgency lies bare. “We must strive to do no harm,” the company’s mission states. And yet, Chouinard himself acquiesces that “doing no harm” isn’t an option for Patagonia at large.
But isn’t this the honesty we’re looking for in our leaders of business and politics? And shouldn’t the ethic to strive to do no harm be at the top of all of our lists? After all, we occupy an increasingly warming planet, with loss of both species and habitat touching every ecosystem in existence.
The answer, from Chouinard himself, is an unequivocal yes. And the book leads gently yet dynamically to the apex of this conclusion. It’s likely the most important, wide-reaching, and far-seeing apex that Chouinard will ever occupy. That, in itself, is quite a feat.