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Down the River

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,109 ratings  ·  107 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 Books (first published 1982)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  2,109 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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Jack Waters
Jul 01, 2013 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
Jan 11, 2010 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
Kerri Anne
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
Oct 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
2016 review:

So, Abbey. I'd read Down the River before, and I'd read Desert Solitaire, and I'd read Black Sun, and my impression had always been roughly the same: A great deal of shouting, a great deal of telling, and not nearly enough showing. He's an angry man, a sad man, a broken man, and that's what's reflected in his words - not the scenes as much as how he wants you to feel - how he feels - about those scenes.

Kerr very much enjoyed Down the River when she recently read it, regularly reading
Thomas O'Malley
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read this book. Read Desert Solitaire. Read Edward Abbey. It's like coming home. You'll find what you're looking for. I promise. ...more
Eric North
Aug 09, 2013 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
Greg Marcinkowski
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Quintessential Abbey. I think this is my 5th book of his now, and after every one I feel like I need to step away from him and his desert sermons. But then after a break, I am always drawn back to his writing. I appreciate his blunt, condescending, cynical style, and there is no doubt about his love of the west. I smile just thinking about how he would describe our current administration and the state of our public lands.
Aug 18, 2014 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......... ...more
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essay, 2017
"There will always be one more river, not to cross but to follow. The journey goes on forever, and we are fellow voyagers on our little living ship of stone and soil and water and vapor, this delicate planet circling round the sun, which humankind call Earth" ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"How much Wilderness is enough? And what is it good for anyway? Who needs it? As they say in Moab, Utah. We might answer these questions with counter questions. How many cities are enough? How large a human population do we really need? How much Industrial Development must we have to be content? " these questions and more are addressed in a well-written Style about a topic that is dear to my heart and anyone else who is concerned about the environment. After finishing I gave it 5 stars: well wri ...more
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I have read a few Edward Abbey books. Helped me understand more about environmental concerns. He is definately not a fan of the military. He is an environmentalist who made an impact.
Ryan Lawson
Oct 08, 2008 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 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was a little hesitant to read something else by Edward Abbey. I had read his masterpiece, Desert Solitaire, and I consider it perhaps my all-time favorite non-fiction book. Wouldn't anything else by the same author prove to be only a let down? Fortunately, this one was great -- not as good as Desert Solitaire, but certainly not a disappointment.

A collection of essays on travel, adventure, and nature -- with copious spatterings of his personal musings on civilization, politics, and life -- Down
Jul 16, 2012 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
Jun 07, 2011 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
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-southwest
I like Edward Abbey the more I read him. this is only the third book I’ve read of his, but I want more. and more after that. his love of the desert southwest and his disdain for authority and progress at the expense of wild places are sentiments I appreciate and share. I really didn’t have too much interest in the desert before reading Abbey but I’m becoming obsessed, though I’ve never seen these places. his passion for and defense of wild places are incredibly infectious. while I didn’t love ev ...more
Sep 02, 2015 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. ...more
Abbey is a controversial figure, but no one can deny his place in America's canon of writers. His distinctive voice and personality roll off every page. I didn't agree with all his positions, but that doesn't matter - his life and actions and storytelling don't require it. I look forward to reading more of his work. ...more
Geoff Balme
May 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
More from a favorite American, environmental protection curmudgeon and entertaining story-teller. All I want to do now is float downstream with Thoreau and Abbey quotes going through my head. There's something else here, an inspiration for civil disobedience possibly, but certainly plenty of fuel for getting our own spiritual fires burning. ...more
May 03, 2010 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. ...more
Nov 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant - genius - amazing - in other words, typical Abbey.
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: outdoor
Part III: Places and Rivers was the best section of this book. Overall, an enjoyable read. I enjoy Abbey's sarcasm and wit, as well as the descriptions of the west. ...more
Grace Lawrence
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Abbey's plea to protect, enjoy and conserve the wilderness shines throughout every story he writes. His critical analysis of capitalism and the economics of perpetual growth remain ever relevant, as is the loss of the wild waterways.

"But where is home? Surely not the walled-in prisons of the cities, under that low ceiling of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and acid rain - the leaky malaise of an overdeveloped, overcrowded, self-destroying civilization-where most people are compelled to serve
Kasey Lawson
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
“But one exception remains to the iron rule of oligarchy. At least in America one relic of out ancient and rightful liberty has survived. And that is - a walk into the Big Woods; a journey on foot into the uninhabited interior; a voyage down the river of no return. Hunters, fisherman, hikers, climbers, white-water boatmen, red-rock explorers know what I mean. In America at least this kind of experience remains open and available for all, democratic. Little or no training is required, very little ...more
Jun 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not my favorite Abbey book—and actually maybe my least favorite Abbey book so fair. A handful of the essays were very tangentially related to rivers, if related to rivers at all. At times, it felt like Abbey’s editor had a length requirement for the book, so Abbey found more essays to include.

Otherwise, his essays were (and always are) very thought provoking and entertaining. It was especially great to read next to Big Tesuque river in Santa Fe and the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim of Arizona
Jordan Conerty
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fine read for Abbey fans familiar with The Monkey Wrench Gang and Desert Solitaire. The essays jump around in subject matter but remain constant in tone; Abbey's observational snark is unmistakeable and unrelenting. This book will make you want to go on a river trip - and you should before it's too late, says Abbey. Also, stick around for the review of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's a gem. ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
You can not go wrong traveling with Abbey as writes about his adventures and appreciation of Redrock and River experiences in Utah. His vivid descriptions, especially if you share his love of outdoor experience are mesmorizing.
Aug 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I've heard this reading was better than Desert Solitaire, but I don't think that was the case. The essays aren't very united around a common theme, and most of them, while discussing important subjects, seem rushed in their composition. ...more
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Abbey was a racist, a misogynist, a sexist. All the -ists, he was one. Makes you want to punch him in the throat.

But an amazingly brilliant writer.

Bonus: his friend's review of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Worth it just for this!
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Edward Paul Abbey (1927–1989) was an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues, criticism of public land policies, and anarchist political views.

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

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