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The Last American Man Paperback – May 27, 2003
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"Wickedly well-written...Without compromising her obvious admiration, Ms. Gilbert presents a warts-and-all portrait of Mr. Conway and a sophisticated understanding of why those warts are only natural.... A vigorous, engaging book." —The New York Times Book Review
"Gilbert artfully taps into this unique life to create a fascinating, deeply thought-out and anthralling narrative." —Los Angeles Times
"A vivid, nuanced portrait of an endlessly complicated man." —San Francisco Chronicle
"The Last American Man relates the riveting story of Conway's odyssey from a child of affluent parents, to mountain man, to the owner of 1,000 acres of woods and fields in western North Carolina. Gilbert sees in Conway's life a parable for our time, a way of capturing how our culture is sapping us of all that is vital." —Chicago Tribune
"There are so many reasons to read this book. Read it for the portrait of a man who isn't divorced from the land below and the sky above. Read it to watch his youthful ambitions fade into tired gasps. Read it to see how Gilbert gets at her subject without ever stabbing him in the back." —Entertainment Weekly
"Conway is a character almost too goofd to believe...In Gilbert, he may have found the perfect writer to tell his story...from Conway's life, Gilbert takes off on delightful tangents about the nature of manhood, the appeal of utopian communities, the history of the frontier and the lingering myth of the frontiersman. The subject becomes much broader than one man's life. It's about what has been lost with progress, and what can be reclaimed." —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"An important book, and well-wrought to boot...Gilbert just plain catches him: It is hard to imagine a deeper, more insightful portrait...her book is wise and knowing." —Men's Journal
About the Author
- Item Weight : 7 ounces
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780142002834
- ISBN-13 : 978-0142002834
- Product Dimensions : 5.08 x 0.52 x 7.73 inches
- Publisher : Riverhead Books; Reissue Edition (May 27, 2003)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0142002836
- Best Sellers Rank: #48,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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
If you were to ask me to rate this book on story alone, I'd give it at least 4 stars. If you like tall tales, the thrill-seeking adventurist, and nature then this is a really great book. I myself am a slow reader, but I blew through this in a couple of days. Once you get started it is positively gripping. It is like a larger than life wilderness trek that actually happened. Sort of...
That being said, the book fails at what it is intended to be, which is a biography. Many reviews criticize Gilbert's writing as coming off as immature, and I agree, and it is definitely not unbiased. She tries to sell Eustace like a wingman tries to sell his best friend at the bar. This leads to a lot of lawyer talk that makes her stories unbelievable. For example, she spends the majority of the book making Eustace's father seem like the most horrible person on Earth, and yet he still loans his son $80,000? She tells a story about them bonding and then, with no explanation at all, apparently Eustace's father goes back into his shell and starts being mean to Eustace? She talks about how Eustace doesn't use his power and fame over women and yet every single relationship she goes over ends for the same reason- Eustace neglects women and expects them to do his chores while he goes and plays mountain man and then when it goes south, he writes them letters with content most of us would likely turn over to the authorities. Gilbert talks about how patient Eustace is and how he loves to teach, and yet he makes his students sign at least 2 year agreements to stay and work for him and when they don't perform up to his expectations he throws tantrums and kicks them to the curb, forgetting he is trying to teach ancient ways of life that took thousands of years to cultivate, to modern people. I hate to even mention the part in which Gilbert makes reference to one of Eustace's horses feeling as good between his thighs as one of his women. That part was absolutely creepy and a horrible choice of wording, I actually put the book down and thought "WTF" for a moment. I only bring it up because the book is full of these little awkward nuances.
Gilbert tells us we must fall in love with Eustace himself, and not the idea of him, however, this is exactly what she does. Eustace is her hero, but inadvertently she brings out how flawed he really is. And it is ugly. Eustace comes off as abusive- some might even say psychopathic, but the whole time Gilbert makes a half-hearted attempt to place the blame on everyone else. If anything, this book confirmed my suspicions aroused by the Mountain Men show, that Eustace is a real jerk.
If you want to keep the image most of you probably have of Eustace, which is the happy hippy, or you want an honest look into the man, I would avoid this book. If you are looking for an exciting read about some (most likely embellished) outdoor Wildman fun then The Last American Man is definitely worth a read.
Top reviews from other countries
Eustace Conway is one of the most fascinating real-life characters I have read in a non-fiction work in a VERY long time. Although compared to Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone and even a young Roosevelt, he is definitely a unique individual who's charismatic ways pull you in from the first few pages. It's especially interesting to witness an almost 'evolution of man' in the last several hundred years spread out before you in between the covers of the book.
Elizabeth Gilbert has captured his very essence and has told his story brilliantly (at least to this point in his life, as he's only 48 and I doubt his exciting adventuring around the world is over). After reading it I am ready to start planning a summer camp trip to Turtle Island for my youngest 2 sons when they are a bit older. My eldest son (who's 20) was an active member of the Scouts growing up and has pretty good survivalist skills, but having a summer camp like the one Eustace organises would have been invaluable in his education.
If you only read one non-fiction book this year, this should be the one :) 10/10