Edward Abbey

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Edward Abbey (1927-1989) was an author and essayist known for his radical environmental and anarchist tendencies as well as many witty quotes decrying pollution, urban expansion and the bullshit of American politics. His most famous work, Desert Solitaire, details his work as a park ranger at Arches National Monument in Utah and is regarded as a modern-day Walden. Hard greens love his books but mainly because of his hard-line anti-development stance and his fictional depiction of environmentalist sabotage, or "ecotage", in The Monkey Wrench Gang; he was often too politically incorrect for their tastes otherwise and he had an excellent bullshit detector.

He was from western Pennsylvania and wound up in New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona, where he worked as a seasonal ranger, fire lookout, wildlife preserve steward and other odd jobs mostly to support his writing habit. Brief attempts at taking jobs on the East Coast didn't work out and he was always drawn back to his beloved Southwest. He is buried somewhere in the Arizona desert, but we bet you can't find his grave.

Notable books[edit]

  • Jonathan Troy - 1954 - The only of his novels set in Indiana, Pennsylvania, the small town of Abbey's upbringing. Abbey disowned it and refused to allow it to be reprinted, so rare copies go for big bucks on the collectors market. It's apparently tedious reading and not very good...
  • The Brave Cowboy - 1956 - Novel about a migratory ranch hand, Jack Burns, who refuses to carry ID or a draft card, accept the fencing in and modernization of the American West, or conform to modern society. He gets himself arrested in order to try and break his friend Paul Bondi out of jail. The novel is in part a contrast between the two: Burns a working class societal drop-out whose anarchism is one of action rather than intellect, Bondi an intellectual self-described 'Jeffersonian anarchist' who goes to jail as an act of civil disobedience against the draft and refuses to let Burns break him out. Later made into the 1962 film Lonely are the Brave, which omitted the anarchist content but otherwise stayed true to the character.
  • Fire on the Mountain - 1962 - Novel about New Mexico rancher John Vogelin and his grandson fighting off efforts by the United States Air Force to take away his ranch so they can expand their military base. This one was also made into a film in 1981.
  • Desert Solitaire - 1968 - Abbey's most notable work and his first notable non-fiction. About his time working as a seasonal park ranger at Arches National Monument (now a National Park), where he decried the Park Service's bureaucracy and its tendency to develop formerly wild places with visitors centers, paved entrance roads, parking lots etc. ("Industrial tourism", he called it.) Includes vignettes of river running, search and rescue and other things of that sort. Immensely influential, it was all but ignored by the literary gatekeepers on the East Coast.
  • Black Sun - 1971 - Semi-autobiographical novel. A middle aged fire lookout at the Grand Canyon falls in love with a girl half his age, pissing off the geeky Air Force cadet she was engaged to. After she mysteriously disappears, he is falsely blamed for her disappearance and heads into the Canyon trying to find her.
  • The Monkey Wrench Gang - 1975 - Four "desert rats" - a jack Mormon river outfitter from Utah, an alienated Vietnam War vet from Tucson, a geodesic dome dwelling hippie chick originally from the Bronx, and a middle-aged Albuquerque doctor active in environmental causes - create havoc all around the Four Corners region sabotaging developers, uranium prospectors, and a coal-fired power plant. Many survey stakes are pulled and many dozers are disabled. Their real goal is to blow up Glen Canyon Dam, which they never quite get around to.
  • The Journey Home - 1977 - Collection of non-fiction essays. The original cover depicts a badly crumbling Glen Canyon Dam. Inside, Abbey tells of how and why he first discovered the Southwest.
  • Abbey's Road - 1979 - Collection of non-fiction essays. Essays on his pro-gun rights stance and one entitled "In Defense of the Redneck" can be found here.
  • Good News - 1980 - sci-fi novel about a future collapse of the government and the consumer economy. Another of his explicitly anarchist novels, the protagonists live freely and happily while a cabal of would-be fascists tries restoring government in the form of a military dictatorship. This novel essentially inverted Lucifer's Hammer; in the Niven/Pournelle novel, a group led by a former U.S. senator who set up a particularly hard-line form of government are the good guys, trying to keep at bay the roaming bands of hippies, black nationalists and cannibals.
  • Down the River - 1982 - Collection of non-fiction essays, including river running, John Wesley Powell, and opposition to deployment of the MX missle.
  • One Life at a Time, Please - 1988 - Collection of non-fiction essays. This may be the most interesting, if haphazard, of his essay collections. He has an essay originally written for Earth First! defending anarchism, one opposing any further immigration into the United States, one justifying ecotage on the grounds that "representative government has broken down", and one punching all kinds of holes in the American cowboy myth and opposing cattle ranching. A good example of literary trolling, he seems to have saved his most inflammatory essays for this book just to see how many readers he could lose.
  • The Fool's Progress - 1988 - Ssemi-autobiographical novel. This recounts Abbey's life under the barely-disguised nom de plume of Henry Lightcap, slightly changing the names and places; it has the protagonist coming from West Virginia rather than Pennsylvania.
  • Hayduke Lives - 1989 - Novel, published posthumously. George Hayduke, last seen in The Monkey Wrench Gang as a fugitive, and Jack Burns, the anarcho-cowboy from The Brave Cowboy, have teamed up and re-emerge from hiding in the Southwestern deserts to pull off the ultimate act of sabotage, which unfortunately doesn't involve Glen Canyon Dam...yet. Murray Bookchin and the woo at Earth First!'s 1987 rendezvous are both spoofed.

Relevant quotes[edit]

How [the Indians] could have made such a discovery without poisoning themselves to death nobody knows; but then nobody knows how so-called primitive man made his many other discoveries. We must concede that science is nothing new, that research, empirical logic, the courage to experiment are as old as humanity.
Desert Solitaire, talking about datura and its psychedelic properties
The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chain saws.

External links[edit]

  • Abbey's Web, which contains a "quote generator" with some of his famous one-liners: some humorous, some poignant.