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The Last American Man Paperback – May 27, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 250 customer reviews

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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 He is, as Gilbert (Stern Men) implies with her literary and historical references, a cross between Davy Crockett and Henry David Thoreau.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 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (250 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
I rarely read books about people unless it is someone I greatly admire. My brother gave me this book and suggested I read it, with the caveat that he had not read it yet but wanted to - so I gave it a shot.

While reading this book, I had multiple feelings about it. As it started I really like the book - the stories of Conway's youth were interesting, his abilities at a young age to survive outdoors were admirable and I could see him maturing into someone worthy of a book, looking forward to learning of his accomplishments later in life. As I read, it became clear Conway is not deserving of a book. I began to think he had the potential to be someone worthy of a book, but was not there yet. Then as the book went on I grew more and more tired of it - of him. The back of the book starts off by saying "The Last American Man is the story of Eustace Conway, a true American original." Bull. He is not an American Original, there have been Charlatans in America since the beginning, and make no mistake: Eustace Conway is a Charlatan in every sense of the word.

The author is clearly captivated with Conway, and pours praise on him throughout the book; she can quote Conway saying arrogant, hypocritical things and yet frame it with praise. Thankfully she quotes others who do not share her infatuation; others who give us an inkling of who Conway really is. If you only read one part of the whole book, read the conversation between the author and CuChullaine O'Reilly in Ch. 7, it explains Conway very well. It is unclear if O'Reilly has ever personally met Conway, but he is well aware of Conway's feats, and he puts it this way:

"[Conway has] reached a plateau in his life.
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