Festival of Books: Jerry Brown on the pandemic, Trump and ‘politics on steroids’


Former California governor and presidential candidate Jerry Brown is off the grid again, not only in the newest biography written by former Times journalist Jim Newton but also literally.

“I’m 14 miles from the nearest town. I’m off the electric grid on a ranch. My closest neighbor is a mile and a half away, and my next neighbor is four miles away. So I’m definitely removed from the maddening crowd,” Brown says.

During the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books, Brown chatted Wednesday about “Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown” with Newton and Times California columnist Gustavo Arellano. Then Brown stopped by for a video chat after the panel concluded, touching on the 2020 election and how the pandemic has forced him to slow down.


“We got a lot of Zoom calls during the day. But I miss the social interaction, going to restaurants,” says Brown, who lives an hour north of Sacramento. “The reduced social contact is burdensome. That’s a problem. And yet, you don’t want to get that virus.”

Veteran Times journalist Jim Newton’s graceful “Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown” doubles as a history of postwar California.

May 8, 2020

The biography deals with Brown’s career — including two eight-year terms as governor, stints as California attorney general and Oakland mayor— and his story parallels the history of modern California politics. Some have pointed out Brown’s similarities to presidential nominee Joe Biden, though society now seems more abrasive politically than when the governor began his climb. He says the Trump era has spawned “politics on steroids.”

“Trump, because of his outrageous behavior, has definitely politicized society. The active ones, they get very excited. The Trump people are activated,” Brown says.

“Now on the other side, I’ve never seen such interest in the desire to get rid of a president. The Democrats feel that this a life and death moment and not just Democrats.”

Joe Biden is reopening the playbook for a “change-back” campaign that seemed uniquely suited for Jerry Brown when California was in crisis.

Aug. 14, 2020

But we are at the virtual Festival of Books, so what has the former governor been reading lately?

“I knew you were going to ask that question. I have it right here,” he says. “It’s called ‘Half-Earth’ by Edward O. Wilson from Harvard, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, ‘Our Planet’s Fight for Life.’ It’s readable enough, but it’s very important. [It centers on] what we have to do to maintain the diversity of species for which all life, including humans, depends.”


You can also watch the Festival of Books panel, moderated by Arellano and featuring Newton, here: