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The Last American Man Paperback – May 27, 2003
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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 He is, as Gilbert (Stern Men) implies with her literary and historical references, a cross between Davy Crockett and Henry David Thoreau.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.
*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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It’s the story of a survivalist with such a strange and outrageous lifestyle that, in my opinion, his mental balance comes into question. I appreciate Conway’s passion for uncomplicated living and return-to-nature enthusiasm. But his intent to convert all wasteful and thoughtless humans into his own image while using tyranny, selfishness, and one-sided logic does not make him an admirable figure; especially as he leaves in his wake a history of family turmoil, broken friendships, and disillusioned women. A lengthy succession of brilliant women, initially enthralled with his charisma, has abandoned him because of his unreasonable dominating nature. I was highly offended by his actions and expectations of other people.
Eustace Conroy IV is a product of his father’s brutal nurturing and agonizes over it, yet he displays the same sort of cruel demeanor. He believes that obedience, discipline, and order is the way people should endure life and he doesn’t like to have his convictions or his demands on how to achieve such a life be questioned. If folks desire to be trained in the rigorous procedure of returning to nature at his service farm community at Turtle Rock in North Carolina, all demands for compliance with his techniques must be met. Over the years, however, he has found that very few employees or campers share his enthusiasm for backbreaking work, meager rations, and unpleasant living conditions. They leave in droves with unpleasant memories.
I am uneasy with Gilbert’s apparent fascination with Conway. She does disparage him a bit for his self-centered behavior and agonizes over his failure to make corrections in the way he treats people, but I detect a sprinkling
of admiration in some of her observations of his deportment. In my opinion he doesn’t rate even a drizzle and I would not have expected this based on other Gilbert writing or her personal convictions.
But my faith in this author and her talent has not diminished. I still stand in admiration for her research, her writing clarity, and her ability to capture the reader’s interest. In spite of my misgivings about the man, I found “Last American” to be very illuminating. I urge you to read this book because my displeasure might be misguided and there might be other merits I’m overlooking. You shouldn’t miss the chance for some thought-provoking musing and the opportunity to tell me that I’m full of crap.
Schuyler T Wallace
Author of TIN LIZARD TALES
It's clear that Gilbert worked hard on research and interviews. She tried to present the reader with a fair, well rounded bio of Eustace Conway. The book reminded me how we set ourselves up for disappointment when we put people on a pedestal and proclaim them Hero. If someone wants to learn about primitive living skills then this may not be book for you. This book is more about a man overcoming adversity, achieving his personal goals, having mental toughness, and relationship challenges. I would have liked more detail about his learning curve with backcountry skills and less about his love life. Calling Eustace Conway "the last American man" is a stretch.
The positive and uplifting spirit of Eustice Conway is well represented here and the reader will leave with a good feeling.
I will read other works by this author.
I really enjoyed this thoughtful book about the philosophy and life of Eustace Conway. Conway is a reality TV star of Mountain Men. It seems the famous author knew him ,and his family for
years. Many reviews are critical and denounce Conway for his relationships with women and staff. Clearly, the emotional abuse by his father has had an everlasting effect. Author Gilbert tells his story so cleverly, with much insight. An excellent read.