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The Last American Man Paperback – May 27, 2003
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Finalist for the National Book Award 2002
In this rousing examination of contemporary American male identity, acclaimed author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert explores the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway. In 1977, at the age of seventeen, Conway left his family's comfortable suburban home to move to the Appalachian Mountains. For more than two decades he has lived there, making fire with sticks, wearing skins from animals he has trapped, and trying to convince Americans to give up their materialistic lifestyles and return with him back to nature. To Gilbert, Conway's mythical character challenges all our assumptions about what it is to be a modern man in America; he is a symbol of much we feel how our men should be, but rarely are.
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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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
I really enjoyed this thoughtful book about the philosophy and life of Eustace Conway. Conway is a reality TV star of Mountain Men.Read more