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All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West Paperback – March 14, 2016
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“[An] artful combination of nature writing, biography, literary criticism, and cultural history. . . . Gessner’s book sands away the varnish of legend.”
- Nick Romeo, Christian Science Monitor
“[B]ringing [Abbey and Stegner] together . . . was a stroke of genius.”
- Bill Streever, Dallas Morning News
“If Stegner and Abbey are like rivers, then Gessner is the smart, funny, well-informed river guide who can tell a good story and interpret what you’re seeing.”
- Justin Wadland, Los Angeles Review of Books
“A spirited, ecologically minded travelogue…. [Gessner] writers with a vividness that brings the serious ecological issues and the beauty of the land…to sharp relief…urgent and engrossing.”
- Publishers Weekly, Starred review
“Never reduces either man to simplistic categories, but sees in both personalities possible life models, men who loved nature and felt keenly the limits on human liberty.”
- David Mason, Wall Street Journal
“Two extraordinary men and one remarkable book. To understand how we understand the natural world, you need to read this book.”
- Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth
“An excellent study of two difficult men.”
- Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and The Last Kind Words Saloon
“Praise David Gessner for reawakening us, in these climactically challenged times, to the wisdom of our two most venerated literary grandfathers of the American West, to remind us of our wilder longings, to incite in us a fury, that we might act―even now―to defend all the wild that remains.”
- Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness and Contents May Have Shifted
About the Author
David Gessner is the award-winning author of Return of the Osprey, My Green Manifesto, The Tarball Chronicles, and other books. He currently lives and teaches in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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The travelogue is much more urban than wild. Aside from a rafting trip, Gessner doesn’t share wilderness experiences with us. In fact, the longer experiences are the oil boom town of Vernal and some time in Salt Lake City archives. One of my favorite parts was his conversation with other writers of nature – notably Wendell Berry in Fort Royal, Kentucky, Terry Tempest Williams near Moab, Utah, and Doug Peacock in Paradise Valley, Montana.
Indeed, one of the real challenges we face is that too many of us who talk and write about wilderness do so from urban homes. After all, Cactus Ed Abbey wrote Desert Solitaire in Hoboken, New Jersey. Gessner writes from Wilmington, North Carolina. That’s a challenge we all might ponder.
Regardless of place, this is a great book that should be of interest to a wide range of readers. Gessner writes well, and his reflections on these writers are helpful. I know some of all five of these writers’ works, and it was good to learn more about their entire oeuvres. With the other writers, I also gained a renewed sense of place in environmental writing.
Gessner's book of Western Visions has been in preparation for years; based in part on his formative years.
Wallace Stegner articulated the West--it's beauty and environmental challenges--for two generations of North Americans, including myself. The visionary Stegner also ran the prototype writer's school at Stanford, many years before most such programs came into being. Thus Gessner was drawn to do a deep biographic study of his predecessor. The book contrasts "buttoned-down" professor Stegner with Ed Abbey, the free-spirited, free-wheeling, gifted writer who lived and wrote "Desert Solitaire" about his interludes as a ranger at Arches National Park.
Gessner is on their trails; and the biographical stories are told during his own entertaining, salty western road trips.
This is the mature Gessner book we have been waiting for. Given current and perennial Western issues of aridity, fracking, and overdevelopment, it is timely and utterly germane. And VERY entertaining. O the depth is there; and the fun too, on the road with Dave.
A visit to India two years back left me paralyzed about our ability to tackle environmental problems as humans. As someone who grew up there I saw how development has led to incredible degradation, conflict, and a runaway train wreck for arresting climate change. Gessner's book has finally allowed me to find some of my footing again, and fired me up about doing, in however small and imperfect a way possible, what I can do.
Gessner shows us that we need both Abbey-ian anger and action and Stegner-ian reserve and resolve in our actions and our communications. Gessner walks us through his own thought processes on growing up, climate change, parenthood, ecological devastation, beauty, and wildness; and each time he does that, I felt like I was engaging in an internal dialogue with the author and with myself. These dialectics are interspersed with biography that gives perspective as well as inspires.
The book pulses with the beauty of the west, and Gessner's love for it. And re-ignites my own flame for the red-rock and the beautiful blue sky.
The sober account of what has happened, what is going on now and what is to come in the West is sobering. He's done a great job of taking us on a tour, laying it out and asking us to think about it. There's lots to consider about ourselves as well as our country. A great job and a wonderful read.