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Desert Solitaire [Paperback]

Edward Abbey
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 15 1990 0671695886 978-0671695880 Reissue
Hailed by The New York Times as “a passionately felt, deeply poetic book,” the moving autobiographical work of Edward Abbey, considered the Thoreau of the American West, and his passion for the southwestern wilderness.

Desert Solitaire is a collection of vignettes about life in the wilderness and the nature of the desert itself by park ranger and conservationist, Edward Abbey. The book details the unique adventures and conflicts the author faces, from dealing with the damage caused by development of the land or excessive tourism, to discovering a dead body. However Desert Solitaire is not just a collection of one man’s stories, the book is also a philosophical memoir, full of Abbey’s reflections on the desert as a paradox, at once beautiful and liberating, but also isolating and cruel. Often compared to Thoreau’s Walden, Desert Solitaire is a powerful discussion of life’s mysteries set against the stirring backdrop of the American southwestern wilderness.

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Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, the noted author's most enduring nonfiction work, is an account of Abbey's seasons as a ranger at Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. Abbey reflects on the nature of the Colorado Plateau desert, on the condition of our remaining wilderness, and on the future of a civilization that cannot reconcile itself to living in the natural world. He also recounts adventures with scorpions and snakes, obstinate tourists and entrenched bureaucrats, and, most powerful of all, with his own mortality. Abbey's account of getting stranded in a rock pool down a side branch of the Grand Canyon is at once hilarious and terrifying.


The New Yorker An American Masterpiece. A Forceful Encounter with a Man of Character and Courage.

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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Mass Market Paperback
You've got to admire a man known as the quintessential evironmentalist who writes so gleefully about trashing nearly everyplace he goes. This book is above all humorous and that alone makes this book enjoyable. Abbey is also a good story-teller.
The book chronicles a few seasons Abbey spends as a seasonal ranger in Arches National Monument (now a Park). Abbey describes the environs adequately but in no great depth. What is fascinating is how Abbey relates to the environment and how he interacts with it. Also included are a few other excursions like his float trip down Glen Canyon prior to its flooding by the dam.
My favorite parts are the dumb things Abbey does in the environment. Maybe Abbey is saying that is why we need wilderness. We need someplace to lay naked in the sun, burn down, carve initials into trees, or to get away from tourists. My favorite story is when Abbey lights a wildfire in Glen Canyon with his careless bumbling and runs and jumps on his raft just as the flames roar up to the beach. And Abbey seems to enjoy trashing the environment whenever possible doing stunts like rolling old tires into the Grand Canyon (through a mule train) and continually laying naked out in the boondocks somewhere. He also likes carving his initials in various places. His antics with the tourists who seem to bother him in spite of his job being to help them. There is also a humorous account of being a part of a search for a missing (and dead and bloated) tourist.
All in all, an amusing read more for the insight into Abbey than into the places he visited. And let me also throw in a quote from Abbey's intro. "The time passed extremely slowly, as time should pass, with the days lingering and long, spacious and free as the summers of childhood. There was time enough for once to do nothing...". Anyone who can think and write like that deserves to be read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Environmentalism from a better time Nov. 8 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Today, in order to be a true progressive or environmentalist, one has to always be thinking about how whatever one may be doing, it is invariably negatively affecting something else. Abbey takes his season in the desert with less seriousness than most environmentalists can at the grocery store. Abbey's philosophy reflects a time when one did not have to worry about the chemicals or the genetics or the people behind his meal, and reading his book, I cannot help but feel an extreme jealousy.
Abbey's philosophy is far from extreme, making this book perfect for a wide range of people. Once in the book he kills a rabbit for the sake of a personal "experiment," he makes a case for people to carry firearms, and he eats meat and a lot of eggs. Today, any of those actions would make a progressive seem contradictory in their philosophy. When did things get so serious? Abbey has written a great book for the cause of conservative environmentalism. Conservative not in the way of the political spectrum, but rather in the way of taking things slower: He says the rise in industrial tourism will destroy the wilderness, that the automobile, while opening up nature to many more people, has cheapened its effect, and that spending a week in one spot in nature is better and spending a week in a thousand different places. The book is beautiful, and regardless of what one believes outside of the realm of environmentalism, readers will enjoy this book with the lack of seriousness that I think Abbey intended time in the wilderness should be spent.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Rugged Individualism Personified Sept. 17 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book is the author's memoir of the time he was a park ranger at Arches National Monument in Utah. Edward Abbey was a true believer in maintaining the pristine, natural beauty of the desert area under his guardianship. Abbey was extraordinarily hostile to what he called "Industrial Tourism": the construction of a system of roads through this desert wonderland which would brings thousands of tourists, their automobiles, and eventual ruination to the environment. He mentions the many pressure groups who threaten to turn Arches National Monument, and other national parks, into picnic grounds. Abbey admits that he would be happy if no tourists ever visited his park.
Abbey describes desert scenery of great natural beauty and wonder. He often hiked in the desert area on unmarked trails, carrying with him the barest provisions, often risking his life on the possibility he may never get back. Abbey concerned himself with getting to his destination first, then worry about getting back afterwards. Tourists would never even consider taking such journeys. _Desert Solitaire_ is written in a style nearing poetry--blank verse--and was a total joy to read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Torn Between Two Voices July 6 2003
By Daphne
Format:Mass Market Paperback
To begin, I loved parts of _Desert Solataire_. Abbey seemed to be warbling between humility, confusion, and utter, unabashed egotism. This is charming, because it is honest, and one can't fault someone for being honest. Also, the man actually did something about his frustration, which is more than can be said for the lot of us.
Moreover, there were sections of the book that shocked me with their incredible, heartbreaking beauty and insight. For example, the chapter "The Moon-Eyed Horse": the writing in that chapter is utterly original and amazing in the complexity it demonstrates regarding both the narrator and the nature of the horse's character - and what it reveals and changes about Abbey.

Abbey is at his best when he gets out of the way and describes how he sees nature, rather than his own mind. Abbey says at one point that when a person goes into the wilderness he or she is at risk of either seeing merely his or her self in it, or just the opposite, seeing nothing but an opposite image of oneself.
This made me wonder about Abbey's exact philosophical position on his own place in nature; furthermore, the passage - in the chapter entitled "Episodes and Visions" - in which Abbey attempts to wax philosophical about civilization and culture was completely lost on me. Maybe it's because I've read too much Heidegger to think that Abbey really understands Heidegger, or maybe it's because I am confused.
I am confused because it seems as if Abbey upholds civilization as superior to culture, and yet does he not admire the American Indian tribal culture that he encounters in the park? How does he even define "culture"? If the U.K. and the United States are merely examples of cultures, then is civilization merely the mark of individuals that Abbey likes?
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very informative and adventurous.
Published 1 month ago by Doreen Keet
5.0 out of 5 stars desert solitaire
One a the great books,the discretion of the desert,flora,fauna,the loneliness and the happiness of finding yourself with thought, how important it is to preserve, keeping intact... Read more
Published 16 months ago by andre labbee
5.0 out of 5 stars Contrarian re-read.
Read this book again (after many years...30?). Wanted to re-kindle the old spark of love for the wild and untamable after too much time given to "Ratus Urbanus". Read more
Published 18 months ago by GJP
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutly Fantastic
I bought this book purely on the 4.5 star average rating without any real knowledge of its subject or author. I was absolutely blown away by it's narrative. Read more
Published on June 7 2012 by R. Johnstone
5.0 out of 5 stars A flawed man - but nearly a perfect book
5.0 out of 5 stars A flawed man - but nearly a perfect book, October 1, 2010

This review is from: Desert Solitaire (Paperback)
This is at once a hilarious and... Read more
Published on Oct. 11 2010 by Kieran Fox
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but uneven...
Edward Abbey's collection of essays about his work at the then Arches National Monument(which he calls National Moneymint to mock the villains who wish to pave over everything). Read more
Published on July 7 2004 by Peter LaPrade
5.0 out of 5 stars Desert Solitaire
This book is awsome. It is hard to believe that 30 years later some of the same problems exist for the NPS. Abbey definitely was a visionary. Read more
Published on April 15 2004 by J. Bliss
5.0 out of 5 stars An Inspirational Call to Action!
I first read this book while spending a solitary winter in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. I cannot imagine a better companion. Read more
Published on Dec 9 2003 by freeheel
1.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint of heart (or stomach)
I started reading this because it is required reading for a class I am taking. I stopped before I had read the end of the fourth chapter - when the author kills a rabbit! Read more
Published on Oct. 15 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Solitaire...Savage...Unforgiving...Beautiful
I have always wanted to visit the desert southwest. Last year, after 33 years I finally got the chance. Read more
Published on Aug. 21 2003 by "rubbernipplesalesman"
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