Scott's Reviews > Desert Solitaire

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
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Jul 11, 08

bookshelves: walks, rivers, nature, 1960s
Recommended to Scott by: Ted Kaczynski
Read in July, 2008

Part Walden, part Mein Kampf ... Desert Solitaire (1968) is to a certain extent sand-mad Edward Abbey's homage to the beauty of the American Southwest and to the necessity of wilderness ... but mostly, the book is an autobiographical paean to the sheer wonder of Abbey himself. Like the pioneers, prospectors, and developers who preceded him, Abbey lays claim to all the canyonlands and Four Corners region of southern Utah and northern Arizona: "Abbey's Country" he calls it, and he seeks to fill every twisting canyon and windswept plateau of his private playground with his own immense, misanthropic ego. His collected jottings form a notebook of random, often paranoid observations cast in anemic prose. He throws in everything that crosses his mind: a wearisome narrative of his float down the Colorado with a laconic traveling companion; bare, boring lists of plant names; a violent short story about prospecting; a dishonoring and disgusting story about finding the body of a lost tourist; jejune meditations on death and mortality; all of it crusted over with inane metaphysical babbling, insulting rants, and absurd polemics directed against technology, development, Native Americans, tourists, religion, the Park Service, the aged, the young, the government, and anyone or anything that is not Ed.

Yes, there are a few colorful descriptions of the scenery, but they are obscured by beer-swigging, cigar-chomping, beefsteak-chewing, bacon-burping, Bull-Durham big-mouth Ed's constant grab for attention. Abbey needs solitude about as much as a jackass needs a flush toilet. Ed's like your 10-year-old brother who torments you by jumping in front of your camera while you're trying to take a picture of a sunset or like a blathering guide who can't stem his prattle long enough to let you listen to the wind blowing through the canyons. All too often I found myself thinking, "Ed, shut up already and let me look around!" But he won't because he's got to tell me how he's crushed a rabbit's skull with a rock (it was an "experiment"), or how in a lovelorn moment he carved his name in an aspen -- graffiti that will be twice as big in fifty years, or how he tore up dirt roads in his government-owned Chevvy pickup, or how he insulted some tourist or some tourist insulted him, or how he burned everything in sight with his paraffin-coated matches.

Desert Solitaire is gonzo environmentalism, and it's showing its age. The immense majesty and haunting beauty of southern Utah's canyons deserves a far better panegyrist.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Jamie Deal The best review I've read.


message 2: by Kate (new)

Kate I agree.


message 3: by Cactus (last edited Jan 15, 2010 12:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cactus If it was a "paean to to the sheer wonder of Abbey himself" he wouldn't have included the part about getting himself "ledged up" above the Havasu river. That's a tourist's mistake. It probably wouldn't have included him killing the rabbit, hiking without enough water and being too chicken to go down the rope first (into the Maze). If you took out "the sheer wonder of" it would read more accurately.

It might have been wearisome to you but to me Abbey's description of Glen Canyon before the dam was the closest thing to being there of any account i've read. I could visualize the mouth of the Escalante and the long since drowned canyon he hiked up.

Gonzo environmentalism? Maybe you're thinking of the Monkey Wrench Gang? There's no gonzo environmentalism in Desert Solitaire. I mean.... c'mon he rolled a tire into a canyon in chapter 1 (I think). BTW- interesting use of the word gonzo, nonsensical but interesting nonetheless, and you owe the estate of Hunter S. Thompson 13 cents.

There's no doubt that Abbey was a self righteous, self-important, hypocritical blowhard. Self aggrandizing he wasn't. All his books are semi-autobiographical (almost), if you don't like that writing style why read them? Why'd you finish this one?


Bruce Thanks for sparing me the trouble of writing a review, which would have been identical in substance (but less eloquent) than yours.


Waven I have to ask, Scott ... did you actually read this book?


Nick Mirro I think you let your review get away from you. "Abbey needs solitude about as much as a jackass needs a flush toilet." You are trying to look down your nose at the work of this magnificent writer? Consider that you might be reacting so emotionally at his having stomped all over what you consider to be your territory. Maybe he said things you wished you'd said, though with his subtle and vibrant slant and not your likely colorlessly-crafted world view. Could you be the person with the ego problem? The author speaks beautifully and ultimately, optimistically. That is the undertone. He profoundly appreciates and advocates for this place, and we (those who can take the writing in context) love that! His style is firt-rate! Most of us can look past the '60s world view and see the book for what it is. I can't stand that he kills things, but he rolled up his sleeves and became one of them - and he is their true-blue advocate. He did this at a time when a world population of 10 billion was nearly unimaginable. Maybe no sense then and there that we really need to stop killing wild animals and upsetting balance - in a hurry! He only did the former, apparently without conscience. It is a matter of fact that many of us "humans" have such wild predispositions. A valid criticsm of the work for sure, iff the world would be better off with only empathetic humans. Who knows?


message 7: by A (new)

A Chavez I enjoyed this book and was swept away by the philosophical mental meandering of Abbey but I agree with the review too. Abbey's sense of 'holier than thou' and preachy attitude are part of what makes the reading interesting. We've all known those types; interesting to listen to and sensitive but clouded by his inflated ego.


message 8: by Mp (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mp I found myself skipping philosophy whenever I could. There are some good stories, no doubt, but there is also a lot of unneeded philosophizing.


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