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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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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. ( )
1 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. ( )
2 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.
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1 vote CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
What starts out as a grumpy guy out west telling about his love of the desert turns quickly into a reclusive narcissist that hates people yearning to die alone in the desert, which by then the reader is glad to let him do. Even with the narration of bitterness, he can create a connection to the wild. My favorite parts were his description of death by dehydration, escaping quicksand, and his encounter with a legendary horse. ( )
1 vote revslick | Feb 20, 2014 |
This is a nonfiction memoir about Abbey’s time as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah. Abbey is a bit of a curmudgeon, ranting about the destruction tourists cause in the park. That’s the strange paradox of wilderness; the more people want to visit it the more likely it is to be tainted by their presence. The wild aspects of nature are destroyed as roads are built for the public to reach them.

It reminded me so much of Thoreau’s Walden. Both men live on their own, apart from society for the majority of each day. They write about their reflections of both the nature that surrounds them and the structure of the world in which they live. It’s hard not to sound a bit pious when you’re in that position, but some of his descriptions are beautiful.

BOTTOM LINE: A good travel memoir and reflection on society, but I have a feeling I would have enjoyed this one much more if I’d been traveling in the West or even planning a trip there. It’s hard to appreciate the incredible nature of the west when you’re just reading about it. ( )
2 vote bookworm12 | Dec 6, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edward Abbeyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:54 -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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