Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planetby Todd Wilkinson
Entrepreneur and media mogul Ted Turner has commanded global attention for his dramatic personality, his founding of CNN, his marriage to Jane Fonda, and his company's merger with Time Warner. But his green resume has gone largely ignored, even while his role as a pioneering eco-capitalist means more to Turner than any other aspect of his legacy. He currently owns
Entrepreneur and media mogul Ted Turner has commanded global attention for his dramatic personality, his founding of CNN, his marriage to Jane Fonda, and his company's merger with Time Warner. But his green resume has gone largely ignored, even while his role as a pioneering eco-capitalist means more to Turner than any other aspect of his legacy. He currently owns more than two million acres of private land (more than any other individual in America), and his bison herd exceeds 50,000 head, the largest in history. He donated $1 billion to help save the UN, and has recorded dozens of other firsts with regard to wildlife conservation, fighting nukes, and assisting the poor. He calls global warming the most dire threat facing humanity, and says that the tycoons of the future will be minted in the development of green, alternative renewable energy. Last Stand goes behind the scenes into Turner's private life, exploring the man's accomplishments and his motivations, showing the world a fascinating and flawed, fully three-dimensional character. From barnstorming the country with T. Boone Pickens on behalf of green energy to a pivotal night when he considered suicide, Turner is not the man the public believes him to be. Through Turner's eyes, the reader is asked to consider another way of thinking about the environment, our obligations to help others in need, and the grave challenges threatening the survival of civilization.
"Last Stand is a great literary portrait of the many parts of a fascinating and important manTed Turner. Ted is on a mission to save the world and the world should be grateful to have an energetic and imaginative friend."Tom Brokaw
"What we need most in these trying times is vision. This book is an example of the clarity of double-vision: Todd Wilkinson as a visionary writer and Ted Turner as his visionary subject. The only thing more powerful than vision is action and that is what this remarkable story of a person in place gives us. Whether it is restoring native habitat for bison or a more expansive agenda for the United Nations, Wilkinson’s compelling portrait of Turner shows us, again and again, how environmental issues are economic issues are issues of social justice. We see how revolutionary actions with revolutionary patience not only have the capacity to change the world, but our consciousness."Terry Tempest Williams, author of When Women Were Birds
"Ted Turner is one of the great originals of American history, an innovator of the first rank, and, as Last Stand shows, a unique human innovation of his own making. Out of his many achievements, the most important may be the proof that capitalism and environmentalism can be joined to major humanitarian effect." Edward O. Wilson, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
"Last Stand is a revelation. Ted Turner is a fascinating manhold on, a wonderful manand Todd Wilkinson has limned him as never before. It’s thrilling to see this crazed and brilliant maverick, Citizen Ted, the conservationist, the bison lover, the wounded son, the beneficent pragmatist, galloping across the landscape of planet Earth. Gives a person a bit of last weird hope." David Quammen: author of Spillover: Animal Infiections and the Next Human Pandemic
- Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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- First Edition
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Read an Excerpt
A Time to RallyForeword by Ted TurnerSome people may view this book, Last Stand, as me pulling back the curtain that has blocked public view of my "other life"the one that has existed all these years parallel to my involvement with media and racing yachts. As a perception, that's probably true.In all honesty, there has never been a master plan. Never a strategy for mapping out how to get rich, and I'm not talking in monetary terms. Never a single enlightening moment when I started buying land and building a bison herd in the Wild West, or getting behind the efforts of the United Nations, or aspiring to eradicate nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth, or accepting the fact that as a so-called "plutocrat" and member of the 1 percent, I feel a moral obligation to give back to society. There are many ways to live a rich life that have nothing to do with the material. The fact is, I never aspired to become a Gilded Age tycoon. I had instincts, sure, but, in large part, I winged the course that brought me here as more information became available. At the end of the day, you have to listen to your heart. I wished that I had done that more often, earlier in my life. What I do know is that I'm listening to it now.Today, as I look back, I can tell you this: Most people don't become "environmentalists" or "humanitarians" or "eco-capitalists" over night and certainly not by accident. Just as becoming "successful" and being good at making money involves an evolution in thinking, so, too, does the compulsion to act on your conscience. Trust me: you don't need to have a fortune to make a difference in leaving the world a little better off. All that's required is a will and a belief that you can. What money can give you, if you're willing to part with it, is an ability to operate at scale.As some of you know, my first passion was in sailing and then in founding TBS and CNN, trying to connect the world through news, but I also owned a professional baseball club, the Atlanta Braves. I learned a lot in our (successful) attempt to win a World Series. I learned to put faith in the collective power of good people both on and off the field, to recognize the intangible rewards that come from true teamwork and selflessness. I learned that amazing positive achievements can happen when you join others in digging down deep and finding a common confidence that enables you to prevailwhen your backs are against the wall and others have sold you short. America and the world loves to cheer for underdogs.One of my biggest discoveries, howeveran insight that guides me today was witnessing the influence that fans can have in changing the momentum of a game. I saw it happen over and over again. When fans believe in the prospect that great things are possible(yes, please apply the same metaphor to citizens and their governments and to employees and their innovative companies)players feel it and breakthroughs can happen. We live in an age when we desperately need miraculous breakthroughs. Allow me, then, to invoke a sports analogy that I hope you'll think about as you begin Todd Wilkinson's book, Last Stand. The world is in peril and it's time for all of us to put our rally caps on. This isn't a Liberal or Conservative issue. Don't believe it when the folks on television try to portray it that way. To set the context, imagine that it's the bottom of the seventh inning and the home teamthat's the side playing for preservation of Mother Earth and civilizationis down by a couple of runs.The opposing team has an imposing lineup. The names on the backs of the jerseys are: Apathy, Cynicism, Greed, Sloth, Violence, Cruelty, Hatred, Intolerance, and Selfishness. All is not lostyetbut in order to win, we as citizens watching from the bleachers need to rise to our feet. It's time that we band together, make some noise, suit up and become heroes, and remind others who are trying to mount a comeback that we're on the same side. We can't commit any more serious errors. Instead of doing dumb things, we need to play smarter because this is the one game we can't afford to lose. If there's anything that Last Stand does, I hope that it will inspire you to consider that, by working togetheras neighbors, as businesspeople, as citizens and inhabitants of the only planet in the cosmos known to contain life we have the capacity to change the trajectory of the world. Of course, we have no other choice. Over many years, I've given probably thousands of interviews. My first impression of Todd Wilkinson when he arrived on my ranch doorstep in Montana, was that he'd probably be just another reporter looking for just another superficial story to tell. I came to discover that's not how he works. He's as tenacious as I am. A good journalist doesn't come at you with just a single smart question. He is prepared to follow up with a great second and third question, and then, fourth, fifth and sixth. As the interviewer, he knows that you have to make your subjects feel uncomfortable sometimes. During our many conversations, he kept after me. He didn't accept pat responses. "Ted, people say that you're unreflective. Are you?" he asked. The questions he presented forced me to think. I'll admit: he made me feel uneasy by pressing me about personal areas of my life that I had held close to the chest, aspects that I still am trying to make sense of, stories that I've never shared in detail with anyone. He wasn't doing it to pry, I came to realize. He wanted me to reflect on decisions I've made, and the reasons why being an environmentalist, eco-capitalist, humanist, father, granddad, and landowner matter to me. He delves into terrain that's never been covered in other books and I consider it to be the most meaningful parts of my life. You'll read about my painful relationship with my Dad, my marriage to Jane Fonda, my mentorship by Jacques Cousteau, and friendships with people like Mikhail Gorbachev. You'll know why I find power in reciting the verse of Thomas Babington Macaulay's epic poem, Horatius At The Bridge which serves as a parable for our time.My first interview with Todd happened back in 1992. I hadn't been in the West all that long. I remember him asking, "What is your vision?" I explained part of it that day. The rest was a work in progress. I was impressed by his knowledge and command of environmental and political topics. He grasped the big picture I was trying to create, of how it all melded together. Somewhere between then and now, I started to trust him in ways that I seldom do with writers or even other people. I granted him unlimited access and I agreed that there would be no preconditions set about what he could write or ask me. I put faith in his instincts as a respected old-school journalist and I became curious, frankly, where those instincts would lead him. I opened myself up and the result is this open book. You'll notice that the subtitle of Last Stand is "Ted Turner's Quest To Save A Troubled Planet". What's before us now is not my quest; it's our shared character-defining test and our opportunity; we're in this together; while the threats are formidable and many, what I like about the subtitle is that it implies there still is hope.We as a civilization have epic challenges before us; our survival isn't at this moment assured. I don't have to tell you that. You feel the dissonance and uncertainty in the air. Given the current path, if it isn't changed, we will be the first that won't deliver our kids and grandkids a better world. Throughout my career as a businessman, I've come to realize that capitalism isn't the problem, but it's how we practice capitalismhow we only approach it as a proposition based only on depleting finite resources. Such thinking is wreaking havoc and is the root cause of lots of misery in the world.Some have described me as a Lefty. I'm pro-business and I'll flaunt my credentials before anybody: I've lectured at some of the nation's top business schools, regularly attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, I've testified before Congress about the need for sensible not overbearing regulation, and I'm a member of Rotary Club, the National Restaurant Association, the National Bison Association, the Montana Stockgrower's Association, and several different chambers of commerce. I also value, equally as much, clean air and water, habitat necessary to sustain wildlife, and open space. I'm a hunter, angler, hiker, horseback rider, mountain biker, military veteran, and sailor. As a bumper sticker on my car says, "I Brake For Butterflies." I'm a tree hugger and proud of it. Those who claim that one can't hug a sheltering tree and simultaneously aspire to have economic prosperity and strive to give all people a decent quality of life are being disingenuous. I've always looked to the future as a realm full of boundless possibility. But I'm worried. Never before has humanity confronted so many epic issuesnuclear proliferation, swelling human population, a vast gulf between haves and have nots, the biodiversity crisis, social tensions, environmental degradation, and climate changeconverging at once. The chances that we might fail in our endeavor to save ourselves are high. The scientific evidence is clear and putting our heads in the sand doesn't change reality. I've had the good fortune of living on this planet for three quarters of a century. For all of us, it's home ground. Henry David Thoreau, one of my favorite American thinkers, once wrote: "None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm." Another man I studied, as my investments in CNN and TBS started paying off, was the Gilded Age tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who warned against hoarding of wealth. He said, "As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. Just watch what they do."I believe in the power of the free enterprise system and the genius of democracy. I believe in freedom and liberty and private property rights. I am a patriot. On so many different levels, the private sector is able to foster innovation and act faster, better, and more cheaply than governments, but governments have a crucial role. And we must remember that, just as humankind is not separate from nature, we are indivisible from government. Nature is us, so too is government. Those around us who claim that plundered environments are a necessary consequence of wealth creation have it wrong, the same as those who insist that government regulation is the bane of business. Again, we need a new model for thinking about capitalism and our obligation as global citizens. On my lands, I have set out to prove that the polemic of environment versus economy is a false dichotomy, that you can be a tree hugger and still have your name appear in Forbes.The noted American actor Orson Welles remarked: "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." Today, in a world surging toward ten billion, one thing is certain about the current narrative being written: we won't and can't consume our way out of the mess we're in. My friend, Tom Brokaw, routinely points to the sense of shared sacrifice, embraced on behalf of country and the world by members of "the Greatest Generation" during World War II. We can choose to rally together or we can sit back, unrustled by the stirrings of our conscience and be remembered by our grandchildren as "the Lamest Generation."Long ago, when I was a young man and reeling from my father's suicide, I embraced the "me-first" ideology of Ayn Rand, who preached that we should worship the self before country and local community. She rejected spirituality and held up greed as a virtue. Rand was wrong, dead wrong, and it is precisely that kind of twisted logic that has sewn division in our world. Our strength as a species resides with our ability to empathizeand in using our good fortune to minimize the pain and suffering of others, including other species. How we treat the Earth is the biggest expression of our success or failure as a society.As a septuagenarian, I believe that responsible grandparents care about what kind of world they are leaving their grandkids. There's no retirement age that lets you off the hook from that. I don't say this to sound melodramatic, but the duty of citizenship never goes away, especially when one becomes an elder. We need to lead by example and young people need to step up to the plate. The search is on for new heroes. It's now the bottom of the seventh and it's our turn to bat.
Meet the Author
Todd Wilkinson has been a professional journalist and author for more than twenty-five years, with assignments that have taken him around the world. He is author of several books, including the critically acclaimed Science under Siege: the Politicians' War on Nature and Truth.
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The Last Stand is an informative biography about Ted Turner. It’s more trustworthy than some, because Turner himself was totally supportive of the book, which was written by a man who had known him for two decades. In fact, Ted granted the author unusual access to his life and memories. For anyone seeking a sensationalistic book, one that would for example “dish” on his former wife Jane, this is not that book. Thankfully, Mr. Turner is the consummate gentleman, when it comes to discussing ex-wives - gracious, appreciative and discreet. But if you are interested in Turner’s contributions to the planet, and want to peek into his passionate heart for the natural world - and get to know the REAL Ted Turner - this is the book for you. Having lived in Atlanta for the last three decades, I had read, heard about and observed (via the news media) Ted on many occasions, but I still learned a lot from this book. I already appreciated all the ways he had literally “made the world a better place” (to quote the Apple folks) in the areas of satelltie television, sports and news - but I appreciated this in-depth biography of Ted, especially in his role environmentalist, and lover of birds. I found the book both informative and very moving, and am thankful to have found it.
I had no idea of Ted Turner's involvement, not only in environmental affairs, but world affairs as well. I was impressed with his humility in not wanting to broadcast to the world what all he has done and the money he has given to help make this world a better place in which to live. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone! Jo Ann Everett
This book is easily 100 pages too long and begins to drag toward the end; however, having said that, I am very glad to have read it and to have learned much more about Turner and his commitment to the "greater good" of the world. Amazing diversity of philanthropic interests. Helps offset his other persona, which is so often not positively portrayed. As a non-profit professional myself, I am grateful that he has been so generous with the level of his sustainable giving to the organizations he supports.