Book Review of Terry Tempest Williams' "The Open Space of Democracy"

Book Cover, "The Open Space of Democracy" by Terry Tempest Williams'

The Open Space of Democracy  by Terry Tempest Williams

(published by Wipf & Stock Publishers)

Reviewed by Renee D'Aoust

In The Open Space of Democracy , Terry Tempest Williams focuses poetically on personal engagement that is possible within a democracy, while artist Mary Frank’s images are woven throughout this small, beautiful book. Whether one focuses solely on the land, or on active political engagement, or on both, Williams knows there is a place for each one of us within this country. What hinders us, she argues, are the ways we stop ourselves from listening to each other, particularly how we divide ourselves according to our beliefs along that supposedly great divide of right and left, red and blue, so celebrated by pundits. What connects us is a gathered sense of nature in all its forms and beauty. Williams writes: “I find a feather of a snowy owl, brush my face with its soft white webbing, and leave it on the ground. Where are they?”

According to Williams, “Politics may be a game of power and money to those who have it, but for those of us who don’t, politics is the public vehicle by which we exercise our voices within a democratic society.” Furthermore, Williams argues, “An open democracy inspires wisdom and the dignity of choice. A closed society inspires terror and the tyranny of belief…. When democracy disappears, we are asked to accept the way things are.”

Much of The Open Space of Democracy is a moving meditation on the possibilities for political engagement through ecological engagement, yet the focus is always brought back to the land, which is the reason for that engagement. In a section titled “Ground Truthing,” Williams points out that “Repetition of forms—rock, ice, water, a leaf print that appears as a fossil—creates a devotion of relief, the truth of sequential experience.”

For information about Terry Tempest Williams and her many books and her land trust work, please visit:

[A longer version of this book review was first published in the Idaho Forest Owners Association Newsletter.]