The most recommended Edward Abbey books

Who picked these books? Meet our 17 experts.

17 authors created a book list connected to Edward Abbey, and here are their favorite Edward Abbey books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader

Guy McPherson Author Of Killing the Natives: A Retrospective Analysis

From Guy's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Professor Teacher Adventurer Traveler Researcher

Guy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Guy McPherson Why did Guy love this book?

Edward Abbey is among my favorite writers. The Serpents of Paradise represents an editorial masterpiece by John MacRae that is clearly different from any other book by Abbey.

An editorial masterpiece, it includes essays, travel pieces, and extracts from Abbey’s fiction and non-fiction books. Although I read this book when it was first published more than 25 years ago, it was worth re-reading. In this book, MacRae arranges incidents in Abbey’s life chronologically, rather than by date of publication.

A short note introduces each of the four parts of the book to explain the lifelong journey of Cactus Ed from his childhood as “Ned” in Pennsylvania until his death in Tucson, Arizona at the age of 62 years.

By Edward Abbey, John Macrae (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Serpents of Paradise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is different from any other Edward Abbey book. It includes essays, travel pieces and fictions to reveal Ed's life directly, in his own words.

The selections gathered here are arranged chronologically by incident, not by date of publication, to offer Edward Abbey's life from the time he was the boy called Ned in Home, Pennsylvania, until his death in Tucson at age 62. A short note introduces each of the four parts of the book and attempts to identify what's happening in the author's life at the time. When relevant, some details of publishing history are provided.


Book cover of Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness

Tim Hauserman Author Of Going It Alone: Ramblings and Reflections from the Trail

From my list on Americans going out to discover themselves.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been writing about my explorations in the wilderness for over 20 years starting with the first edition of my Tahoe Rim Trail guidebook. I’ve always been fascinated by writers who embark on solo journeys into nature, or just traveling in general, and in so doing discover themselves and what they really want from their lives. While I’ve read my share (and written a few) stories about super feats of human endurance, I find the most satisfaction from reading about ordinary people experiencing life at a scale that makes sense to all of us. 

Tim's book list on Americans going out to discover themselves

Tim Hauserman Why did Tim love this book?

Published 50 years after Desert Solitaire, seventh-generation Utah resident Amy Irvine talks about her respect for Abbey’s impact on her life and writing, while also not holding back on lambasting Abbey for his behavior and hypocrisy. Irvine told Orion magazine, “My goal was not to take Abbey down, but rather to make space for other voices and relationships to the natural world.” While Abbey might be the context for the book, Irvine goes on to deliver a fascinating exploration into her own take on the wonders of wilderness. She can be as hard on herself as she is on Abbey. This book is a great contemporary look at a key question for those of us who explore the wilds: How do we keep from loving it to death? 

By Amy Irvine,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Desert Cabal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A grief–stricken, heart–hopeful, soul song to the American Desert."

—PAM HOUSTON, author of Deep Creek

As Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness turns fifty, its iconic author, who has inspired generations of rebel–rousing advocacy on behalf of the American West, is due for a tribute as well as a talking to. In Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness, Amy Irvine admires the man who influenced her life and work while challenging all that is dated—offensive, even—between the covers of Abbey's environmental classic. Irvine names and questions the "lone male" narrative—white and privileged as it is—that…


Book cover of The Journey Home: Some Words in the Defense of the American West

Guy McPherson Author Of Killing the Natives: A Retrospective Analysis

From my list on the beauty and power of the American West.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent most of my life in the western United States. Born and raised in northern Idaho, a professorial position attracted me to Tucson, Arizona, the long-time home of Edward Abbey. Cactus Ed said it best: “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders. Remaining silent about the destruction of nature is an endorsement of that destruction.” Upon reading books by Abbey and others writing about the American West, I became a defender of the idea of wilderness.

Guy's book list on the beauty and power of the American West

Guy McPherson Why did Guy love this book?

The Journey Home is a fitting sequel to Desert Solitaire in which Abbey makes a compelling case for saving what remains of the western United States. A long-time “desert rat,” Abbey lives his message of anarchism with a profound sense of humor. My exposure to Abbey’s writings while I was in college contributed to my love of the American West, where I grew up, and also contributed to my desire to pursue anarchism.

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Journey Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Journey Home ranges from the surreal cityscapes of Hoboken and Manhattan to the solitary splendor of the deserts and mountains of the Southwest. It is alive with ranchers, dam builders, kissing bugs, and mountain lions. In a voice edged with chagrin, Edward Abbey offers a portrait of the American West that we'll not soon forget, offering us the observations of a man who left the urban world behind to think about the natural world and the myths buried therein.

Abbey, our foremost "ecological philosopher," has a voice like no other. He can be wildly funny, ferociously acerbic, and unexpectedly…


Book cover of Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951-1989

Sean Prentiss Author Of Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave

From my list on reads by or about to Edward Abbey.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been passionate about Edward Abbey since I read Desert Solitaire in 1994. By 2010, I decided to write a biography on Abbey, Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, which allowed me to research and explore Abbey. I interviewed his great friends, including Jack Loeffler, Doug Peacock, Ken Sleight, and David Petersen. I visited Abbey’s special collections library and read his master’s thesis on anarchism and an unpublished novel. I visited his first home in Pennsylvania and many of his Desert Southwest homes. Along the way, I found the spirit of Abbey and the American Southwest. Finding Abbey won the National Outdoor Book Award.

Sean's book list on reads by or about to Edward Abbey

Sean Prentiss Why did Sean love this book?

Confessions of a Barbarian is an edited collection of Abbey’s private journals.

Across these pages, we get so many of the stories that never made it into an Ed Abbey novel or memoir. Instead, we see Abbey in all his glory and failures. We see Abbey at his emotional best and at his neediest. We see Abbey wrestling over anarchism, philosophy, and environmentalism. We see the complexity of a great writer and thinker.

Abbey’s “scribblings” offer some of the most complex and beautiful writing by Abbey and act, more or less, as his autobiography. 

By Edward Abbey, David Petersen (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Confessions of a Barbarian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of excerpts from the private journals of an eccentric environmentalist features his notes, philosophies, and character sketches, chronicling his lifelong struggle to preserve the Southwestern wilderness. 20,000 first printing.


Book cover of Desert Solitaire

Maya Silver Author Of Moon Zion & Bryce: With Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante & Moab

From my list on featuring the American Southwest desert.

Why am I passionate about this?

Even though I’m from humid DC, I’ve been drawn to the desert since I first set foot there as a kid on a family road trip. Now, I’m lucky enough to live in Utah, home to some of the world’s most legendary desert landscapes. One reason I love the desert is the otherworldly scenery: uncanny arches, bizarre hoodoos, and sand dunes you could disappear into. Before your eyes, layers of geologic time unfold in epochs. The desert is a great place for contemplating the past and future—and for great adventures, with endless sandstone walls to climb, slick rock to bike, and sagebrush-lined trails to hike.

Maya's book list on featuring the American Southwest desert

Maya Silver Why did Maya love this book?

The late Edward Abbey might be a controversial figure, but you can’t write about desert literature without mentioning this iconic book.

In this book, Abbey captures his experience as a winter caretaker of Arches National Park (before it was a national park and before the road in was paved). In 18 chapters that read like short stories, he chronicles long days on horseback, jaw-dropping tales of flash floods, journeys up remote canyons, and more adventures that do an uncanny job of conveying the spirit of the desert and what it was like to explore it mid-century.

Abbey’s writing is blunt, colorful, and engaging, and this book is a romp of a read. 

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Desert Solitaire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'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 rapt, poetic prose the landscape of the desert; a world of terracotta earth, empty skies, arching rock formations, cliffrose, juniper, pinyon pine and sand sage. His summers become spirit quests, taking him in search of wild horses and Ancient Puebloan petroglyphs, up mountains and across tribal lands, and down the…


Book cover of The Fool's Progress: An Honest Novel

Sean Prentiss Author Of Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave

From my list on reads by or about to Edward Abbey.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been passionate about Edward Abbey since I read Desert Solitaire in 1994. By 2010, I decided to write a biography on Abbey, Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, which allowed me to research and explore Abbey. I interviewed his great friends, including Jack Loeffler, Doug Peacock, Ken Sleight, and David Petersen. I visited Abbey’s special collections library and read his master’s thesis on anarchism and an unpublished novel. I visited his first home in Pennsylvania and many of his Desert Southwest homes. Along the way, I found the spirit of Abbey and the American Southwest. Finding Abbey won the National Outdoor Book Award.

Sean's book list on reads by or about to Edward Abbey

Sean Prentiss Why did Sean love this book?

Abbey wrote twenty-one books. While others considered him a “nature writer,” he roiled at that idea.

Instead, he considered himself a novelist, and he spent his entire career trying to write “the great American novel.” Published in 1988, a year before his death, Abbey called The Fool’s Progress his “fat masterpiece.” And I agree.

This might be his most intimate and emotional book. To me, this book aches with heart. This semi-autobiographical novel is about Henry Holyoak Lightcap’s journey home from the Desert Southwest to die in West Virginia.

The book is filled with reflection on death, which was what Abbey was experiencing in his own life.

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fool's Progress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Henry Lightcap, a man facing a terminal illness, sets out on a trip across America accompanied only by his dog, Solstice, and discovers the beauty and majesty of the Southwest


Book cover of Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey

Sean Prentiss Author Of Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave

From my list on reads by or about to Edward Abbey.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been passionate about Edward Abbey since I read Desert Solitaire in 1994. By 2010, I decided to write a biography on Abbey, Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, which allowed me to research and explore Abbey. I interviewed his great friends, including Jack Loeffler, Doug Peacock, Ken Sleight, and David Petersen. I visited Abbey’s special collections library and read his master’s thesis on anarchism and an unpublished novel. I visited his first home in Pennsylvania and many of his Desert Southwest homes. Along the way, I found the spirit of Abbey and the American Southwest. Finding Abbey won the National Outdoor Book Award.

Sean's book list on reads by or about to Edward Abbey

Sean Prentiss Why did Sean love this book?

For decades, Jack Loeffler and Ed Abbey were best friends. Nearly fifteen years after Abbey’s death, Loeffler wrote about their friendship and their time exploring the Desert Southwest in this beautiful biographical memoir.

Loeffler takes us on some of the countless backpacking trips the two men went on while also revealing the many complexities of Abbey. This beautiful book lets us lean in and listen to Loeffler and Abbey talking about anarchism and environmentalism around so many campfires. I had the pleasure of interviewing Loeffler, and this book sounds so authentic to him.

It is smart, passionate, and kind, just like Loeffler is. 

By Jack Loeffler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Adventures with Ed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No writer has had a greater influence on the American West than Edward Abbey (1927-1989), author of twenty-one books of fiction and non-fiction. This long-awaited biographical memoir by one of Abbey's closest friends is a tribute to the anarchist who popularised environmental activism in his novel 'The Monkey Wrench Gang' and articulated the spirit of the arid West in Desert Solitaire and scores of other essays and articles. His 1956 novel 'The Brave Cowboy' launched his literary career, and by the 1970s he was recognised as an important, uniquely American voice. Abbey used his talents to protest against the mining…


Book cover of Switchbacks: True Stories from the Canadian Rockies

Andrew Vietze Author Of This Wild Land: Two Decades of Adventure as a Park Ranger in the Shadow of Katahdin

From my list on park rangers and the wild places they protect.

Why am I passionate about this?

Andrew Vietze was five years old when he told his older sister that one day, he would be a park ranger. Twenty-eight years later, he put on his badge for the first time as a seasonal ranger in one of the premier wilderness areas in the East, Maine’s Baxter State Park. Home of Katahdin and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, “Forever Wild” Baxter has no pavement, no electricity, no stores, no cell service. As a boy, Vietze imagined a life flying around in helicopters, rescuing hikers off mountaintops, fighting forest fires, chasing wilderness despoilers, and plucking people out of raging rivers. And he's spent the past twenty years doing just that.

Andrew's book list on park rangers and the wild places they protect

Andrew Vietze Why did Andrew love this book?

Like Edward Abbey, Sid Marty is from the old guard and it’s one of his greatest strengths – he was one of the last park ranger cowboys, literally spending part of his career working for Parks Canada as a mounted, backcountry patrolman alone deep in the bush. That’s when he wasn’t climbing. Switchbacks is a paean to high places, a love song to the Canadian Rockies. In it, Marty notes that his faithful rucksack has been dragged up cliff faces with climbing rope, fallen down couloirs, banged around in helicopters, and washed down rivers. Just like he has. Just the kind of life I wanted.

By Sid Marty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Switchbacks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Switchbacks, Sid Marty draws on his own memories and those of friends and former colleagues in relating a series of true mountain tales. Among his subjects are: the old guide who built a staircase up a cliff; the stranded snowshoer who was rescued between rounds of beer in a Banff tavern; the man who catered to hungry grizzlies; an opinionated packrat with a gift for larceny; and a horse named Candy whose heart was as big as a stove.

Along the way, Marty tries to answer the kind of questions that all of us must face some day. Do…


Book cover of The Monkey Wrench Gang

Sean Prentiss Author Of Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave

From my list on reads by or about to Edward Abbey.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been passionate about Edward Abbey since I read Desert Solitaire in 1994. By 2010, I decided to write a biography on Abbey, Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, which allowed me to research and explore Abbey. I interviewed his great friends, including Jack Loeffler, Doug Peacock, Ken Sleight, and David Petersen. I visited Abbey’s special collections library and read his master’s thesis on anarchism and an unpublished novel. I visited his first home in Pennsylvania and many of his Desert Southwest homes. Along the way, I found the spirit of Abbey and the American Southwest. Finding Abbey won the National Outdoor Book Award.

Sean's book list on reads by or about to Edward Abbey

Sean Prentiss Why did Sean love this book?

If Desert Solitaire is an American classic, The Monkey Wrench Gang is the blockbuster that everyone knows and loves for its humor, and sex, all wrapped up in an environmental action thriller.

While this book might not be quite as literary as Desert Solitaire, it changed environmentalism in America. This book blended anarchism and environmentalism. It also helped inspire the environmental organization, Earth First. And it created the term “to monkey wrench.

Read the book because it changed American environmentalism. Love it for its action and thrills in the Desert Southwest. I know I did.

And while I always wanted to be like the brash main character, George Washington Hayduke, in all truth I was and am more like Seldom Seen.

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Monkey Wrench Gang as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Revolutionary ... An extravagant, finely written tale of ecological sabotage' The New York Times

Audacious, controversial and hilarious, The Monkey Wrench Gang is Edward Abbey's masterpiece - a big, boisterous and unforgettable novel about freedom and commitment that ignited the flames of environmental activism.

Throughout the vast American West, nature is being vicitimized by a Big Government / Big Business conspiracy of bridges, dams and concrete. But a motley gang of individuals has decided that enough is enough. A burnt-out veteran, a mad doctor and a polygamist join forces in a noble cause: to dismantle the machinery of progress through…