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Down the River

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,489 Ratings  ·  65 Reviews
"Be of good cheer," the war-horse Edward Abbey advises, "the military-industrial state will soon collapse." This sparkling book, which takes us up and down rivers and across mountains and deserts, is the perfect antidote to despair.

Along the way, Abbey makes time for Thoreau while he takes a hard look at the MX missile system, slated for the American West. "For 23 years no
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 30th 1991 by Plume (first published 1982)
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A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo LeopoldWalden by Henry David ThoreauA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonPilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie DillardDesert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Best Nature Books
40th out of 416 books — 359 voters
Desert Solitaire by Edward AbbeyThe Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward AbbeyDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa CatherSkinwalkers by Tony HillermanThe Milagro Beanfield War by John     Nichols
Four Corners Country
18th out of 223 books — 86 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,423)
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Susan Klinke
Edward Abbey was not a politically correct environmentalist. He was known to drive around in his shiny red gas guzzling Cadillac throwing beer cans out the window, justifying it by saying that the roads were the real pollution. He frustrated both conservatives and liberals with his views and actions, but his anarchist spirit, appetite and love of the desert Southwest could not be hemmed in by the rigidities of either party. (Although he once said "It is better to be a knee jerk liberal than a kn ...more
Jack Waters
Jul 16, 2013 Jack Waters rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
“The wilderness needs no defense--only more defenders.” Quite so, Ed. Abbey’s essays survey the wide territory of his loves and hates -- from rafting trips down the river to things being ‘sold down the river’ -- armed with his brashness and wit.

Abbey first delves into the work of renowned naturalist Henry David Thoreau, “he learned to know his world as few ever know any world.”

On West Desert Missile Experiments: “One lunatic armed with a rusty ax can create a respectable amount of terror on any
Kerri Stebbins
This is my first-ever Abbey. Even I find that hard to believe, save for knowing myself well enough to know I typically steer clear of any author (or book/series) that's too overly hyped, and so I was hesitant to dive into Abbey, wondering where he'd fit on my beloved outdoor lit spectrum of Annie (Dillard) to Wendell (Berry). This is one of those books I wish I would have found so many years ago, but the timing, as it seems to be with me and books as of late, is stunningly perfect. First publish ...more
Jul 16, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it
A collection of essays, mostly about rivers and Abbey's experiences with them. Other topics of his essays involve western ghost towns, tribal sponsored foot-races in Hopi land, meeting a bear in the mountains of Arizona. The underlying themes however are all about embracing wildness, rejecting the wholesale development of our wild places for "paper profits" and the true home of the human spirit - wilderness! The human race has been tilling the soil and stacking bricks on top of one another to bu ...more
Ryan Lawson
Oct 08, 2008 Ryan Lawson rated it liked it
I always enjoy reading multiple works by the same author. I think one of the most gratifying things about doing this is being able to see the author mature as well as having the pleasure to bear witness to their improving writing style. There is nothing better than evolution when it comes to writing.

So, in comparison to Desert Solitaire, Down the River is an improvement. I hesitate, though, to say a major improvement.

Abbey's emotions are not as high in this book. He actually uses tact in his a
Jun 07, 2011 Patrick rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book of essays by abbey. I have previously read "The Monkey Wrench Gang" which was a cool fiction about a group of people who become radical environmental activists in the desert southwest and thoroughly enjoyed it. I just got back from a Grand Canyon rafting trip and figured who better than Abbey to read while on the river. It was interesting reading Abbey's non fiction. He writes very well and describes nature quite beautifully. He is fervently anti big business, big ag ...more
Jan 11, 2010 Mike rated it liked it
Number 2 in the river reading series for me. I was expecting this to be better than it was, particularly given how much I enjoyed Desert Solitaire. The book is a collection of essays, most of which have to do with rivers (but not all). It's the kind of compendium that seems like those albums rock stars used to release when they were just trying to run out their record contract: cobble together some b-sides or phone in the performance and then hand the tapes over to the record company to fulfill ...more
Erik Akre
Jul 27, 2015 Erik Akre rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: adventurers; rebellious nature-thinkers
Shelves: essays, america
In his Alaskan river odyssey, his wanders in Utah, his creative critiques of Thoreau, and his suggestions that America runs itself on a basic diet of coffee and gasoline, Abbey brought me through adventures of place, thought, and humor. He amazes me in his ability to thread his ideas through explorations in the physical world. He is a man of the senses; he touches, sees, and experiences things directly. Yet he is a weaver and builder of philosophies and poetries as well. His essays are superb an ...more
Jan 29, 2015 April rated it really liked it
a great read, it's been a while since reading Abbey and he is so great! I can always count on him to make me feel like a hypocrite though, really feeling like I need to step up and take more action for this earth, also I would like to float all those rivers.........
Oct 19, 2012 Matt rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, shorts
Miss the Canyon, would've drank with Abbey... but he's still mostly a crotchety ass.

[2.5 stars for influencing others?]
(Also, yes, I'm over a month behind in logging books. Whatever.]
May 04, 2010 Rachel rated it really liked it
Shelves: wilderness-lit
Bought this from Booked Up in Archer City, Texas, which is owned by Larry McMurtry. It seemed fitting to buy one curmudgeon's book from another.
Jul 08, 2008 Travis rated it it was amazing
The Down the River with Thoreau essay is my favorite piece of nature writing, and one of my favorite essays.

"Yes, indeed, we are a lucky little group. Privileged, no doubt. At ease out here on the edge of nowhere, loafing into the day, enjoying the very best of the luckiest of nations, while around the world billions of other humans are sweating, fighting, striving, procreating, starving. As always, I try hard to feel guilty. Once again I fail."

"The Peace Corps was a lovely idea— for idle and id
May 22, 2008 jeremy rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature, essays
nineteen essays: thoreau, rivers, bears, missiles, rivers, trees, protest, rivers, dams, books, etc. few american writers have commanded prose with a voice as unique (and steadfast) as ed abbey's.

none of the essays in this book requires elucidation, other than to say, as in everything i write, they are meant to serve as antidotes to despair. despair leads to boredom, electronic games, computer hacking, poetry, and other bad habits.
each precious moment entails every other. each sacred place sug
Aug 04, 2011 Brad rated it it was amazing
Lest I commit the ultimate sacrilege and let another year lapse without opening at least one of the sacred scriptures of Abbey, I figured prolly I should nip that sin in the bud – the last thing I need is another sin against me – and return to Down the River. Seeing as how I’ve never reviewed this for Good Reads before and seeing as how I’d likely make a mess of it anyways, the wisest course for me to take would be to let Abbey himself share a thought. From Down the River, here, in every word of ...more
Sep 07, 2015 Brendan rated it it was amazing
While not as breathtakingly awesome as Desert Solitaire, this collection of Abbey's nonfiction writing is just as passionate, readable and enjoyable. With the river running through the book as a main theme, these essays flow easily into one another, turning the entire book into one decent river voyage. As with any of Abbey's nature writing, I would highly recommend giving this a read.
Not one of Abbey's great works but if you're a fan of his DTR is definitely worth reading to live vicariously thru the various river trips in the SW that form the basis of many of these short pieces. Abbey's love for the SW landscape and rivers is there along with his cynical humor (Lake Powell is referred to as "Lake Foul"). No fan of dams and what they've done to the magnificient rivers of the SW, at the time he was writing these pieces the Delores River that runs thru SW Colorado was to slate ...more
May 24, 2012 Jon rated it really liked it

I thought Desert Solitaire was tedious, but I think many people forgive Abbey's tediousness because they like much of his core philosophy and they like the subject matter of the desert southwest. If that is the case, then this much less well-known book embodies those points, but with much more interesting characters and stories. Plus in our modern society we have collectively forgotten the importance of rivers -- not just in the sense of something to view from afar and appreciate for its beauty,
Jan 22, 2015 Jakki rated it really liked it
A great read as are Abbey's books, but a little political in some chapters, which I skipped through. Those chapters weren't what I was looking for in an adventurous read. But overall good read, not as exciting as some of his others.
Joel Allen
Jul 08, 2014 Joel Allen rated it liked it
Like a river, this book has calm contemplative essays that seem uneventful, and then torrents which stir your perceptions of fellow humans and our treatment of land.
Feb 04, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it
It's a pleasant read by Edward Abbey, full of his descriptions of river trips and his spirited views on various environmental issues. Only a portion of the essays were about rivers, but that's fine. This book is not quite as intense and mind-opening as Desert Solitaire, probably because of the meandering layout. His views are ones that I can get behind and shout "Yeah, you tell it! Let's show this planet that some of us DO care. Let's convince more people to care!" Um, if he were around today, h ...more
Patrick Dean
Aug 24, 2014 Patrick Dean rated it really liked it
More great Edward Abbey, though I think I prefer Desert Solitaire. My favorite essay is the first one, with Abbey channeling Thoreau -- what a pair of grumpy iconoclasts!

Jul 24, 2015 John rated it liked it
Essays. Those about adventures awesome. Those without not so but easily skipped.
Aug 01, 2015 Catherine rated it it was amazing
Great prose on rivers, wilderness, and life in the Southwest.
Eric North
Aug 29, 2013 Eric North rated it really liked it
I wrote a long, well-thoughtout review of this book, but pressed the wrong infernal key on my keyboard and switched webpages (curse ye computational device!). Instead of weakly replicating the former paragraphs of prodigious intelligence and eloquence, I'll just put this quote here:

"It seems clear at last that our love for the natural world--Nature--is the only means by which we can requite God's obvious love for it. Else why create Nature? Is God immune to the pangs of unreciprocated love? I do
Nov 17, 2008 Lauren rated it really liked it
I read Abbey for the first time several years ago and had forgotten how much I enjoy his sense of humor, his descriptions of the out of doors and his straightforward style. It was a good reminder to simple pleasures in life, that bring happiness and joy to humans and also why we should care and fight to protect these things. I especially loved the chapter written by his friend, reviewing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Fucking hilarious. Definitely recommend this book.
John Mattson
Jan 13, 2013 John Mattson rated it it was amazing
Abbeys prose are strong, harsh, and often humorous. The title story portrays an early journey down the Colorado river through a splendid canyon that has since been buried by Lake Powell. It is a great adventure, but the story goes far beyond the whitewater and beautiful scenery. The brilliant style portrays a deep love of the natural world and a horror for what is happening to it in the name of greed and stupidity.
May 20, 2009 Peteloaf rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the fourth of Abbey's non-fiction that I have read. I would put it a close second behind Desert Solitaire. The section titled "Politicks and Rivers" gives the reader even further insight to how Abbey really feels about the system which is constant conflict with wilderness.
As always, he blends nature writing with anthropology, politics, history, religion, and of course, humor.
May 17, 2011 Ken rated it really liked it
Not the fiery Ed Abbey of Desert Solitaire and not quite the bawdy author of Monkey Wrench Gang. This collection is more sober, less exuberant, and it honestly kind of bored me when I first read it in the 1980s.

Lately, it's one of my favorite Abbey books. And despite the title, a lot of it is a book about the anti-nuclear and anti-war movements of the 1980s. Very much relevant today.
Boreal Elizabeth
Aug 14, 2008 Boreal Elizabeth rated it really liked it
ecological rabble rousing while floatin a river-not enough river detail for me but probably plenty for most people
sort of sad--is it futile? are we losing the battle?

i preferred desert solitude-abbey seems more at home there and i'm less familiar with that environment so could just take in the details

Apr 25, 2010 Roy rated it really liked it
Abbey is always a remarkable, idiosyncratic journey. Down the River describes the proceedings. The description and commentary mixed richly with Abbey's view of cultural ecology makes this book a study of who and where we are, can be, should be... Quite an interior as well as an 'out there' adventure...
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Abbey attended college in New Mexico, and then worked as a park ranger and fire lookout for the National Park Service in the Southwest. It was during this time that he developed the relationship with the area's environment that influenced his writing. During his service, he was in close proximity to the ruins of ancient Native American cultures and saw the expansion and destruction of modern civil ...more
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“Our culture runs on coffee and gasoline, the first often tasting like the second.” 4 likes
“I might also say, regarding reviews and reviewers, that I have yet to read a review of any of my own books which I could not have written much better myself.” 1 likes
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