Epitaph for a Desert Anarchist (1994)
By James Bishop, Jr.
Subtitled The Life and Legacy of Edward Abbey
He wrote this book as "my attempt to record the impact
of his work on our times and on his admirers [...]". James
Bishop once shook hands with Edward Abbey but never knew him
At first this seems like a well-researched book until you
come to this paragraph on page 114:
Shortly after receiving his graduate degree he took his
first seasonal job with the National Park Service at Arches
National Monument, then a remote outpost with few visitors.
High above the desert, in a tower with sixty steps, he poured
himself into honing his private journals. These became the
basis for Desert Solitaire, [...]
Read that again, please! Anyone who as ever opened Desert
Solitaire know that Abbey lived in a house-trailer. Yes, he
spent summers in fire-towers as well but not in Arches.
This glaring error made me suspicious of the whole book.. How
much else is wrong? Nevertheless, this book gives some
interesting facts and insight about Ed not found in any other
books but, as always, don't believe everything you read.
Meet Edward Paul Abbey, twentieth-century polemicist and
desert anarchist, a character of elaborate contradictions and
eccentricities whose words either infuriated or delighted his
In a career spanning four decades, he wrote passionately
in defense of the Southwest and its inhabitants, often
mocking the mindless bureaucratic forces hell-bent on
destroying it. "Resist much, obey little," from
Walt Withman, was this warrior's motto.
While he was alive, attempts to label him in conventional
terms nearly always fell short because he was neither
left-wing nor right-wing, nor was he an outlaw. Abbey was a
genuine rebel who simply did not believe in the moderns
industrial way of life. He wrote against the grain, always
choosing the path of the greatest resistance. Beginning in
the 1950s, he depicted the Southwest not as a virgin utopia
peopled by rugged individualists, but as a region under siege
because of government and corporate greed, its people at risk
of being cut off from the primary wellspring of their
spiritual strength - the wild places. He's been dead for a
while now, but the legend keeps in growing.
On inner flap:
Novelist, essayist, naturalist, philosopher, and social
critic, the late Edward Abbey may have been the most popular
writer to take the American Southwest as his subject. In a
career that began in the early 1950s and ended only with his
death in 1989, he published twenty-one books -- among them Desert Solitaire, his account of
his seasons as a park ranger at Utah's Arches National
Monument, and the bestselling novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which
introduced the term ecodefense to the struggle to
protect the environment - and won the praise and admiration
of readers and writers alike. (No less an authority that
Larry McMurtry called Abbey "the Thoreau of the American
West.") Now James Bishop Jr., who has been granted full
access to all of Abbey's papers, has fashioned the first
complete and most revealing portrait of this singular
Born in Appalachian Pennsylvania in time for the Great
Depression, Edward Paul Abbey first saw the arid landscape of
the Colorado Plateau when he was a teenager riding the rails
and seems never to have recovered from that experience.
"I love it so much," he said, "that I find it
hard to talk about it," but talk and write he
did, in defiant celebration and high-spirited defense of
America's last wild Eden, engages as he was in an affair of
the heart that, as Bishop says, "caused him to be
hailed, jailed, and railed against." For if Abbey now
seems like a prophet -- he went after ranching, agricultural,
mining, and timber enterprises feeding off federally
subsidized land, water, and trees three decades ago --
throughout much of his life he was vilified as a crackpot, a
dangerous radical, and worse. And if he was beloved by his
readers and embraced by partisans of various causes, this
deliberately provocative, sardonic, and somewhat shy desert
rat went through five marriages and countless affairs before,
late in life, he began to show any deep tenderness or
understanding toward women. In these areas, as elsewhere,
Bishop does not hesitate to present Abbey in the full
roundness of his contrariness, his passions, his need to put
words to paper.
Finally, of course, it is Abbey's work that matters and
lasts, and here Bishop is not afraid to rank the best of
Abbey with Thoreau's Walden,
with Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway's "Big
Two-Hearted River," Faulkner's "The Bear," and
Moby Dick. In doing so he offers eloquent testimony
and makes a persuasive case for the man and writer he calls
"a potent blend of anti-establishment and Line Ranger,
Samuel Adams and Natty Bumppo," a true American
James Bishop Jr. is a writer, an editor, and a
teacher who has worked for Newsweek and for the White
House on energy policy. In 1993 he was awarded the William
Allen White old medal for best public affairs article. He
lives in Sedona, Arizona.
A review of this book appeared in LOCI,
Barnes & Nobles web-site.
"Bishop's well-researched book, written with a
bravado befitting the man who wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang and
convincingly demonstrates the breadth of Abbey's literary and
political impact: Not only did Cactus Ed inspire a whole
generation of fury-filled environmental writers, but he also
became patron saint of Earth
First!'s brand of fight-back politics. Bishop concludes
that Abbey fundamentally altered the way Americans view the
west; once seen as a safe haven from enroaching development,
it is now often regarded as a land under siege" --
Miles Harvey, Outside
Library of Congress Data
Bishop, James, Jr.
Epitaph for a desert anarchist : the life and legacy of Edward Abbey / James
Bishop, Jr. ; epilogue by Charles Bowden. New York : Atheneum ; Toronto :
Maxwell Macmillan Canada ; New York : Maxwell Macmillan International, c1994.
xv, 254 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
LC CALL NUMBER: PS3551.B2 Z59 1994
Abbey, Edward, 1927-
Abbey, Edward, 1927- --Influence.
Authors, American--20th century--Biography.
Park rangers--United States--Biography.
Nature in literature.
West (U.S.)--In literature.
DEWEY DEC: 813/.54 B dc20
Includes bibliographical references (p. 245-248) and index.
ISBN: 0689121954 : $22.00 ($28.50 Can.)
GEOG. AREA CODE: n-usp--
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