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Desert Solitaire Paperback – January 15, 1990
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The New York Times Book Review Like a ride on a bucking bronco...rough, tough, combative. The author is a rebel and an eloquent loner. His is a passionately felt, deeply poetic book...set down in a lean, racing prose, in a close-knit style of power and beauty.
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Abbey uses this book as a platform not only to make observations about the geography, fauna and flora of Utah, but as a place to vent his spleen at the destruction of the natural world, and the dehumanizing nature of our society. The book is also filled with humor, pathos, and great sensitivity. His prose is elastic, conversational at some points, poetic and profound at others.
Desert Solitaire is a master piece of non-fiction. Abbey moves from topic to topic with ease. Each piece stands alone, but they are interconnected. In a relatively short amount of space, he writes strongly and convincingly about a host of topics. For this skill, we can forgive him his obvious misanthropy. He hates everyone.
I am a huge annotator of books, and love to highlight and mark comments next to passages in all my books that I want to return to. The whole book is like that for me. Every sentence shows the rare, sublime mystery of shadows, lights, passing moments of a living and breathing planet that accepts and watches all who travel through, inviting them to delve into the secrets and profound truths that only the wilderness can teach us. Now more than ever, we need to remember why America is so unutterably fragile, beautiful and worth protecting.
But I never looked forward to it and had to force myself to finish. The author himself kept getting in the way of his own stories. I'm not even talking about his political rants (which I expected and were interesting to consider, even if I didn't always agree). I felt like I was listening to a teenager trying to impress me with how he's so rough and rugged, that he can hike 40 miles in 2 days fueled only by a can of beans and a blade of grass and half a bottle of water. I strained my eyes from rolling them too many times.
Top international reviews
The book is Abbey's account of his time as a park ranger in Arches in the 50s, some time before paved access roads were built. At this time access to Arches was only for the hardy and determined, its majesty unspoilt by motor vehicles, RVs and tourists. Abbey rails against the future plans to increase access, and worries that the magic of the park will be lost. Of course those plans were executed, and now millions visit Arches every year. Has the park been ruined as a result? I'm sure Abbey would have hated the current situation, but I don't think the outcome is quite as bad as he feared. True, many tourists just breaze through in their cars and don't really engage with the park. Some areas, like delicate Arch, have become like a Disney theme park, but I think the impact is limited. 90% plus of the area of these great parks remains pretty unspoilt IMO.
Abbey's curmudgeonly account of his time in Arches is a fascinating and highly entertaining read. If you love the desert landscape and Utah, this book is for you. Expect to feel pangs of guilt as you read it, as I'm sure, like me, you're guilty of being one of the motorised tourists Abbey so hates! In my defence I truly do love these parks, have ditched the car and hiked deep in to them, full of wonder, awe and respect. Perhaps Abbey wouldn't have completely hated me!
Still, not a bad book
The author warns the reader in the introduction, that some of the book will seem "coarse, rude, bad-tempered, violently prejudiced, unconstructive, antisocial...", but for me it is one man's honest view. Even if I don't agree to all, I really appreciate honesty above all. His reflection on humanity and mankind, while drifting down a river with a friend for many days, is deep and significant. And his distinction between civilisation and culture is just superb.
Living myself in the desert for many years I greatly enjoyed this book. Abbeys description of his feelings in the desert gave names to many of my own feelings, never put into words yet - only into photos.
Specifically, there are just many insightful quotes found within the book that I found I could tie to my everyday life. As an environmentalist I often find it hard to put into words the reasons for why I love nature and Abbey does that fantastically.
I have already given away my copy to a friend who enjoyed it just as much as me and with any luck, she will pass it to somebody else.
Edward Abbey écrit beau, puissant, émouvant. Il est de ceux qui ont perçu la beauté démesurée, la spiritualité de ces lieux et qui savent leur rendre hommage. Il est de ceux qui peuvent y vivre, seuls, nourris par l'intensité qui rend saint et/ou qui rend fou. C'est un géant apte à survivre sur une terre de géants.
Ce sont les terres où est née cette prière:
With beauty may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty below me may I walk
With beauty all around me may I walk