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Edward Abbey: A Life

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  193 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
“The best biography ever about Ed. Cahalan’s meticulous research and thoughtful interviews have made this book the authoritative source for Abbey scholars and fans alike.” —Doug Peacock, author, environmentalist activist and explorer, and the inspiration for Hayduke in The Monkey Wrench Gang

He was a hero to environmentalists and the patron saint of monkeywrenchers, a man
Paperback, 357 pages
Published April 1st 2003 by University of Arizona Press (first published 2001)
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Dec 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Meet the real Cactus Ed: Alcoholic Ed

It's true that Cahalan never uses the term, and Abbey himself certainly never fesses up to it, but it's clear that's the case, as a careful reading of this great biography shows, especially if you've read the bulk of Abbey's own work as well, as I have.

Clues? The womanizing and multiple marriages, whether or not Abbey was a misogynist. The immature and obstinate behavior (Example A: Abbey rolling a tire off the South Rim of the Grand Canyon). These alone, if
Dec 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Abbey was the consummate Hippie. Just pissed at everyone because they didn't understand wilderness. And indeed as a people, I still think we don't understand wilderness. Sometimes I get the sense that he was just pissed because they were ruining His wilderness. He did say "the perfect country is 40,000 savages and me." Sometimes I feel like he hijacked my motto "Subvert the dominant paradigm." Well, duh, his masters thesis was "Anarchism and the morality of violence"

I've always been an advocate
Aug 29, 2007 rated it liked it
I don’t read many biographies. (In fact, the only other one I can remember reading is one about Ben Franklin.) This book did not whet my appetite for them; I struggled through it. Cactus Ed is one of my favorite and most admired writers, and a fantastic Western character. The Monkeywrench Gang is one of my top 20 books of all time. I loved Edward Abbey: A Life because it revealed the dichotomy that was Ed Abbey by describing how Abbey created a public persona, Cactus Ed —a virtual caricature of ...more
Ari Eris
This a thorough, succinct account of Edward Abbey's life and writing, my favorite kind of biography: I got a complete picture of the man from this one book so I'll never have to read another. This also happens to be the first biography of an author that I've read and, damn, was it dull. Not the prose, I mean. Cahalan's writing is clear and tight, very accessible for the average reader. Its just that, well, writers spend most of their time writing. That is only so interesting up to a point, even ...more
Nov 03, 2008 rated it liked it
The difficulty of writing a biography of Edward Abbey is that he wrote so much about himself, and so much of what he wrote was a half-truth or not even a truth at all. This book becomes bogged down in trying to separate the fact from the fiction.

Because of the book's constant negotiation with Abbey's own mythology, I believe this would be a cumbersome book to get through if you were not very familiar with Abbey's writings. Details that are important to the author are important largely because t
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest In Ed Abbey.
I think Ed Abbey was the only writer I ever bought every single book written by. I was also happy to finally meet Ed at a book signing in Boston in 1989, not long before he unfortunately died at too early an age. He was a wonderful and entertaining guide through the deserts and mountains of the southwestern U.S., as well as other spots around the world, in addition to being a novelist. I think his fantastic sense of humor was always the most underrated thing about him and his writing. He was sim ...more
Though this book was very informative, it didn't "flow." Probably too much information and too many references. I found it somewhat interesting because I loved Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and have spent time the last 5 summers in Moab, Utah, where Abbey is a local hero. The last 2 years we've rented a house just outside of town right across the road from one of Abbey's best buddies, Ken Sleight (Ken used to own this house), and across the road from Abbey's 4th wife out of 5 (she lives on Abbey Roa ...more
Sheppard  Hobgood
Apr 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Was this curmudgeon bipolar? He certainly had a protracted youth. His writing is entertaining, even beautiful. He was the epitomey of the American starving artist with an attitude. James Cahalan was fair, and unrelenting in his pursuit of Abbey's life and the sources are well documented. This will become the definitive work on Abbey, author of The Monkey Wrench Gang and Desert Solitaire. Of course, Abbey's list of writings is very lengthy.
Sep 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Well written and researched (I think). At first I was disheartened that he was not the perfect man (: and the myth of him is revealed as just that in many ways in this book. But, of course we are all imperfect and ultimately this made him more real for me and I still admire his commitment to enviromental issues, his vocabulary, entertaining storytelling style and more. He is still one of my heroes.
Kristofer Petersen-Overton
This is a competent but prosaic biography. At times it reads like a mere record of monthly occurrences. And besides presenting an impressive array of information about Abbey's personal and professional life, the insight Cahalan offers tends to be moralistic in tone -- especially with respect to Abbey's love life, which is invoked constantly. Still, a solid overview of a fascinating, raucously passionate life.
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Scholarly treatment of Ed's bio. It's a little dry, but densely packed with facts about Ed's life. I'm cited as a source on page 289 for information on Seldom Seen Slim of Ballarat/Death Valley fame. Cahalan seems convinced that was where Ed got the character name for Seldom in The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Tom Moose
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was what I wanted it to be: iconoclastic. Other Abbey Biographies could be read more as tributes, but the author of this this really did his research and shows us the real Cactus Ed. It is a bit info heavy at times, so be warned!
Apr 17, 2012 rated it did not like it

Droll and uninteresting. The author's obsession with the fact that Ed took literary license about being from "Home" went on and on. I put the book down without finishing it, which is extremely unusual for me.
Jan 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is a bibliographer's dream! Cahalan is favorable toward his subject, without being reverential or cloying.
Dec 19, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
And what a life it was! This is supposed to be the best combined stud of Abbey's life in conjunction with his writing, that's been done so far. We shall see...
Kirk Astroth
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Superb. Well written and balanced. Glad I read it. A must for any Abbey fans.
Meghan Lithgow
Feb 18, 2008 is currently reading it
this book is really hard to get through...very dry, but it's been 8 mos+ and I'm still trying..
Jan 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
I usually can't handle biographies, but I liked this one quite a bit. After all, if you like Edward Abbey's books there's a good chance you'll enjoy reading about him as well.
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