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The Last American Man Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 27, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree." Such behavior might qualify Eustace as a potential Columbine-style triggerman, but in Gilbert's startling and fascinating account of his life, he becomes a great American countercultural hero. At 17, Conway "headed into the mountains... and dressed in the skins of animals he had hunted and eaten." By his late 30s, Eustace owned "a thousand acres of pristine wilderness" and lived in a teepee in the woods full-time. He is, as Gilbert (Stern Men) implies with her literary and historical references, a cross between Davy Crockett and Henry David Thoreau. Gilbert, who is friends with Conway and interviewed his family, evidences enormous enthusiasm for her subject, whether discussing Conway's need for alcohol to calm down; his relationship with a physically and emotionally abusive father; or his horrific hand-to-antler fight with a deer buck he was trying to kill yet she always keeps her reporter's distance. At times, Conway's story can be wonderfully moving (as when he buries kindergartners in a shallow trench with their faces turned skyward to help them understand that the forest floor is "alive") or disconcerting (as when, in 1995, he's uncertain about Bill Clinton's identity). Gilbert has a jaunty, breathless style, and she paints a complicated portrait of American maleness that is as original as it is surprising.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Eustace Conway discovered nature's wonders as a boy growing up in South Carolina during the 1960s. Miserable at home, a born perfectionist and fanatic, he took to the woods and developed wilderness skills unknown to most modern Americans. By the time he finished high school and moved into a teepee (his abode for 17 years), he was convinced that only encounters with "the high art and godliness of nature" could help save American society from its catastrophically wasteful habits and soul-deadening trivial pursuits. Conway is not alone in his beliefs, but he is unique in his maniacal drive to proselytize, and, ironically enough, he's taken his teaching mission to such extremes by attempting to create an Appalachian wilderness utopia that it's impossible for him to live the very life he champions. Tough, shrewd, gifted, vigorous, and contradictory, Conway, who set a world record crossing the continent on horseback in 103 days, both enlightens and confounds all who know him. Gilbert, a top-notch journalist and fiction writer, braids keen and provocative observations about the American frontier, the myth of the mountain man, and the peculiar state of contemporary America with its "profound alienation" from nature into her spirited and canny portrait, ultimately concluding that Conway's magnetism is due in part to his embodying society's most urgent conundrums. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reissue edition (May 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142002836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142002834
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elizabeth Gilbert is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the short story collection, Pilgrims--a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award-nominated journalist, she works as writer-at-large for GQ. Her journalism has been published in Harper's Bazaar, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine, and her stories have appeared in Esquire, Story, and the Paris Review.

Customer Reviews

I enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend someone read it.
He really comes across like a jerk, and seems to have some serious personality issues.
James Dylan
Elizabeth Gilberts writing is superb and Eustace Conway is fascinating.
David T McNall

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

418 of 463 people found the following review helpful By reader on November 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
While Gilbert's book is well written and she doesn't appear to pull her punches in criticizing Eustace Conway's flaws, the truth is that she has still left out important facts which show Conway's incredible hypocrisy. Anyone who has actually worked for the man (as I have) can tell you that the man seen by guests and the man seen by employees are totally different. The man does not practice what he preaches, and Gilbert's description of his interns' disillusionment hardly scratches the surface.

Eustace Conway is largely a fraud. While he may have practiced a low-impact, back-to-nature way of life as a teen (although when he drinks, Eustace admits many things that contradict this), Turtle Island today reflects very little of that. It is a non-productive "farm" covered by half-built cabins and strewn with rusty old cars and trailers (all exposed to the weather and leaking oil, coolant, etc. onto the soil). On any given day, you are more likely to hear the din of heavy deisel trucks and tractors, gas generators, electric power tools, chainsaws, and motorcycles than you are the natural sounds of the forest.

Here are some things Gilbert neglects to tell the reader:

--Livestock routinely die from neglect at TI. I watched one goat and her kid die from a bacterial infection, despite the intern's repeated warnings to Eustace of its condition. A former volunteer told me that he saw 3 other goats die in a similar manner during the previous months.

--Turtle Island DOES NOT produce most of its food. The majority comes from the neighbors' donations and farmer's markets. His vegetable gardens are usually so overgrown and neglected that it is difficult to tell what is food and what is not.
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97 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Geoff Pietsch on June 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Some years ago I read a magazine article about Eustace Conway and found his story captivating. Thus I was eager to read this book when I learned of its publication. I won't summarize his life - the Reviews above do so sufficiently to capture almost anyone's interest - but let me urge others who post reviews to remember you are reviewing the book, not Eustace Conway. I'd give him 5 stars - or 10 - for many qualties, but surely not for his troubled personal relationships. But Elizabeth Gilbert has done a wonderful - definitely 5 star - job in telling his story. She knows him very well (and clearly likes him), has talked at length with a great many of his friends and with his parents and siblings, and she loves the lifestyle ideal he seeks to propagate. She also writes in a wonderfully engaging, personal style. I can't imagine anyone who reads the first couple of pages not being totally hooked.
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82 of 91 people found the following review helpful By August North on December 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
If Eustace Conway were the last American man, then fare thee well.

The man described by Ms Gilbert does not actually live primitively. Nor does he treat his animals (or wildlife) with respect. Nor does he show any compassion for his 'apprentices'. Even his primary expectation of his women is that they be beautiful.

Ms Gilbert writes that Conway lives 'mindfully', suggesting some Zen-like awareness on his part. Yet every novice zazen practitioner realizes the connection between true mindfulness and compassion. Ms Gilbert draws a portrait of a man without compassion.

Rather, he is pictured as a man of uncommon cruelty to both humans and others, a self-serving, self-promoting, self-described 'tortured' soul (lacking in paternal love). Oh, poor little unloved Eustace. He treats women with no respect and whines when they leave him. He experiences the AT by running across it as quickly as possible, leaving even his 'love' to catch him at camp late in the evenings. He runs horses to extremes for his own fun and because "that's what they are made for."

The first challenge in reading this book is to look past Ms Gilbert's own infatuation with her subject, and to ignore her comparisons of Conway to actual American pioneers like Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett. While she correctly recognizes the self-promotions of those men, she overlooks the thousands of others who moved west, pioneering, living 'primitively' because that's what it took, thousands who actually subsisted on their work's rewards, without self-promotion, without abusive relationships, without whining about daddy-love.

The ancestors of many of us, ancestors who struggled on the edges of a migrating population and diminishing wilderness, would not recognize Eustace Conway as one of their own.
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63 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin T. Dewolfe on October 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
I am from NC and had a chance to meet Eustace at Merlefest, the bluegrass festival that he attends every year (In his teepee). He seemed very laid back, appreciative and polite in person. At the time, I had only heard of him through a few friends that read this book, but I had not read the book myself. I was extremely curious about his life and views after meeting him and read the book about him, "The Last American Man".

This is a great book, because it is the type of book that will stay with you a long time (I read it three months ago and I still think about it frequently). Eustace is a fascinating person, with views on materialism and nature that could only be considered eccentric in today's culture. He believes that most of us would be happier if we release ourselves from our materialism and live in nature, surving off our knowledge of the wilderness. He is amazing in that he starts his own camp, Turtle Island in which he teaches kids and adults who want to work with him about the art of surviving in the wilderness. His knowledge of hunting and farming is astounding. He often studied Native American cultures growing up (In Gaston County) and used this knowledge from very early on. He adopts many values and skills of the Native Americans and applies it. He also faces challenges that most of us just dream about (Hiking the entire AT, and riding a horse from coast to coast with his brother).

The book is not only a riveting story about Eustace's wanting to start a movement to Native American values, but also captures character flaws which often leave Eustace isolated and feeling unfufilled. He has difficulty having relationships with women, and getting along with those that work with him.
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