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Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness…

Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (1968)

by Edward Abbey

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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During the 1950s Edward Abbey spent several summers working as a park ranger in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. At that time relatively few people knew about the area or wanted to vacation there, especially since the roads weren't paved and were sometimes difficult to get through, the campsites were primitive compared to today's standards, and you had to hike several miles to see some of the formations. This book came from the journals Abbey kept during those years and is a reflection about the majesty of the desert and nature in general comparable to Thoreau's Walden. It is also a call for the preservation of the American wilderness at the expense of making national parks more accessible to tourists.

I think Abbey himself sums up the book best in the introduction: "I quite agree that much of the book will seem coarse, rude, bad-tempered, violently prejudiced, unconstructive--even frankly antisocial in its point of view. Serious critics, serious librarians, serious associate professors of English will if they read this work dislike it intensely; at least I hope so. To others I can only say that if the book has virtues they cannot be disentangled from the faults; that there is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right."

The introduction to the book floored me, and I was really excited to start reading the rest of it. I was disappointed with the rest of the book, however, because of Abbey's militant attitude (which he did warn us about, so it really shouldn't have been a surprise). The more I think about it, though, the more I appreciate the book for what it is, faults and all. As Abbey said, sometimes it's necessary to be wrong because it gets the discussion started. I've also realized that when one person has a spiritual experience while communing with nature, like Abbey and Thoreau both did, it's really hard to convey that experience to anyone else because it is so intensely personal. I recommend reading this one. You probably won't love it, but that's not the point. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
While I hated reading Desert Solitaire and absolutely could not stand narrating Abbey, I did enjoy the discussion that the book instigated. Though I am curious about The Monkey Wrench Gang I doubt I will ever read it because I don't think I can stomach any more Abbey. ( )
  Jackie_Sassa | Nov 20, 2015 |
The curmudgeonly conservationist and self-proclaimed "eartheist" writes about degradation of national parks, lyrical and sometimes deadly times in the Utah desert and great descriptions of some of the eccentric desert folk. ( )
2 vote Sandydog1 | Nov 22, 2014 |
This is Edward Abbey's 1968 memoir of his time in America's desert southwest, which he spent working as a park ranger in Utah's Arches National Park (and, occasionally, as a cowboy) and exploring the canyonlands on foot and by river. The book is full of rambling philosophical musings and poetic descriptions of the desert, accounts of his own adventures and of local folklore, and his thoughts -- which are at once snarky, well-considered, and almost painfully idealistic -- on the preservation of the wilderness and the damage wrought by what he calls "Industrial Tourism" and by modern man's unhealthy relationship with the automobile. ("Modern man" being the kind of phrase that Abbey uses because, well, it was 1968.)

I'm left at the end of this feeling distinctly unsure whether I would have liked Abbey the person. He feels, like many of the desert plants he writes about, a little too prickly for comfort. But his writing is lovely, thought-provoking, and evocative, and he clearly loves the desert with a soul-deep yet unsentimental kind of love.

I spent several days in the back country of Utah's canyonlands once, what seems like a lifetime ago, and reading this has left me with a poignant longing to go back. ( )
3 vote bragan | Nov 5, 2014 |
Edward Abbey joins some of the authors I most admire (Annie Dillard, Peter Mathiessen, Loren Eiseley) in one of my favorite groups- superb writers who have discovered that their experience of immersion in the natural world is the source of deep, if always shifting and elusive, meaning – perhaps the only meaning, the only kind of meaning.

I didn’t rush to read the man because an egotistical and misogynistic crank persona outlived him, but that’s little in evidence (maybe it hadn’t been fully developed yet) here. It is true that there’s no inkling of female subjectivity in this book – the perceivers and doers, for good or ill, are all male, and whenever he addresses a larger audience, the receivers are all imagined to be male too. Very old school. But what Auden said about “Kipling and his views” is true of Abbey: “Time…pardons him for writing well.”

Because he writes beautifully, bringing all the tools of the greats: factual knowledge, superb memory, fine storytelling, lyricism, humor, polemic, expert use of detail, appropriation from the classics – to this work, and the full power of the desert as a place unfolds before you.

Maybe he gets a bit more tendentious toward the end, but this is such a long, rich book that’s a very minor quibble. I haven’t felt as completely engrossed in a book in a while. And the chapter about a ten-day drift on a raft through the incomparable, ageless Glen Canyon – just before it was drowned forever by the massive dam that created the bizarre and pointless Lake Powell - was so understatedly idyllic that the final effect was horrifying, literally heart-wrenching, exactly as I’m sure he intended it to be.
( )
1 vote CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edward Abbeyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hirvi, JussiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mailhos, JacquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mannino, GiovannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ochi, MichioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peacock, DougIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Give me silence, water, hope
Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes
for Josh and Aaron
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About ten years ago I took a job as a seasonal park ranger in a place called Arches National Monument near the little town of Moab in southeast Utah.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345326490, Mass Market Paperback)

With language as colorful as a Canyonlands sunset and a perspective as pointed as a prickly pear, Cactus Ed captures the heat, mystery, and surprising bounty of desert life. Desert Solitaire is a meditation on the stark landscapes of the red-rock West, a passionate vote for wilderness, and a howling lament for the commercialization of the American outback.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:59 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

When Desert Solitaire was first published in 1968, it became the focus of a nationwide cult. Rude and sensitive. Thought-provoking and mystical. Angry and loving. Both Abbey and this book are all of these and more. Here, the legendary author of The Monkey Wrench Gang, Abbey's Road and many other critically acclaimed books vividly captures the essence of his life during three seasons as a park ranger in southeastern Utah. This is a rare view of a quest to experience nature in its purest form -- the silence, the struggle, the overwhelming beauty. But this is also the gripping, anguished cry of a man of character who challenges the growing exploitation of the wilderness by oil and mining interests, as well as by the tourist industry. Abbey's observations and challenges remain as relevant now as the day he wrote them. Today, Desert Solitaire asks if any of our incalculable natural treasures can be saved before the bulldozers strike again.… (more)

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