Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of Desert Solitaire

Book description

'My favourite book about the wilderness' Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

In this shimmering masterpiece of American nature writing, Edward Abbey ventures alone into the canyonlands of Moab, Utah, to work as a seasonal ranger for the United States National Park Service.

Living out of a trailer, Abbey captures in…

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Why read it?

10 authors picked Desert Solitaire as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Edward Abbey was the dean of ranger writing, the ranger’s ranger, a man who inspired countless others to join the ranks of the “pine pigs” and dedicate their lives to protecting what’s left of the nation’s wilderness. Published in 1968, Desert Solitaire chronicles his single season with the National Park Service in Utah’s Arches National Park. Despite his short career, “Cactus Ed” managed to glean profound insight into the workings of the NPS, how Americans used their national parks, and how endangered were the country’s wild places – even a half-century ago. He documented it all in his trademark curmudgeonly…

Edward Abbey’s deep exploration of the wilderness of the desert Southwest is on one hand inspiring and enlightening, and on the other disturbing, as Abbey can come across as a total jerk. Go to any site with reviews of this book and you will find everything from one star diatribes to five star reviews that talk about how his descriptions of nature and his own analysis of self are spot on and have changed their lives. I invite you to check it out and see what you think. For me I agree with both sides, but the good parts are…

I first fell in love with the Utah desert on a spring break camping trip while in college. Of course, we had to visit “the Maze” district of Canyonlands, where we spent a glorious week chasing the ghost of Edward Abbey. Few people have captured the wild spirit of this region as well as Abbey, the curmudgeonly ranger who valued wildness over just about anything else. Desert Solitaire is Abbey’s love story to the canyon country of Utah and a damning indictment of industrial tourism. This book should be on the reading list of anyone who wants to learn more…

When I sit down to write and the words won’t come, I often seek inspiration by sinking into Desert Solitaire’s rarified expositions of nature. An easterner who went west and fell in love with the Great American Desert, Edward Abbey became a fervent voice for a wonderland that most others maligned as a wasteland. Writing principally about the environment of Arches National Park, where he worked as a seasonal ranger, Abbey was overtly hostile toward modern America’s habitual destruction of wilderness, the “only paradise we need.” While illuminating the true essence of the desert, his essays convey for readers…

From Jack's list on placed-based nature writing.

You either love or hate Ed Abbey. His fierce love of wilderness made him a passionate, angry man. A former park ranger become an environmental activist and monkey-wrencher, he won the Pulitzer Prize for this collection of essays. The chapter on floating the Glen Canyon before the dam was completed is worth the price of the book. He points up the need for cutting through sappy and romantic thinking about wilderness. Wild places teach us resistance and irreverence in the face of mindless commercialism.

From Belden's list on spirituality and wilderness.

Abbey is one of two authors who make me want to put down the book and take a hike. I am an avid reader, and the ability of Abbey to make me want to take a hike instead of reading further is impressive. Desert Solitaire, Abbey’s account of serving as a park ranger in Arches National Monument, pays homage to wildlands everywhere. Abbey’s breakout book is a testimonial to his writing and, more importantly, to his critical thinking.

The book struck a chord because I worked in a remote national park (Kluane National Park and Reserve, along the Yukon/Alaskan border) early in my career as Abbey did. Like him, I was incensed by the push to exploit wilderness more for the enjoyment of people than for the plants and animals that dwell there. What makes this book stand out is that it is lyrical as well as angry. It makes you laugh and want to do something to right the wrongs that have been done to nature.

From Edward's list on nature and the environment.

Abbey was an exuberant, high-spirited nature lover, slightly nuts, who worked as a park ranger in the early 1960s at Arches National Monument. This book is a brilliant evocation of the desert landscape, and an explanation of why he wanted the area not to be developed for motorized tourists.  Abbey also wrote fantasies about sabotaging road-building and mining projects, which made him an inspirational figure to the protest movement EarthFirst! His writing is always thought-provoking, even when, as often happened, he was wrong.

Like Henry Beston, Edward Abbey brought fresh, penetrating eyes to an epic, seductive landscape that inspired him to his greatest art. In Desert Solitaire, Abbey weaves his two years as an itinerant park ranger in Arches National Monument in southeast Utah, and his various forays into the surrounding canyon country, into one year’s tale of revelation. Abbey’s rebellious, anti-establishment musings and biting commentary are what have made him an icon of the environmental movement. But it is his talent for so palpably conveying this magical land of naked rock and cathedral canyon and brilliant sky that keeps us fellow…

From William's list on nature by naturalists.

Anarchist and eco-activist Edward Abbey spent a season working as a park ranger in Arches National Monument, Utah, in the 1950s. His account of solitary life in the desert has become a classic of nature writing, a passionate, and often angry, defence of the wilderness he sees vanishing from the American West as civilisation encroaches on every side. One memorable chapter describes a boat journey down the pristine river of Glen Canyon months before it is destroyed by the Glen Canyon Dam, now one of the largest reservoirs in the United States.

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