The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey, having shot out his ""
Edward Abbey, having shot out his "Tee Vee"

Edward Paul Abbey (January 29, 1927 - March 14, 1989) was a respected American author and essayist noted for his strong criticism of public land policies and passionate advocacy of environmental issues.



Abbey was born in the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania and grew up in nearby Home, Pennsylvania . In the summer of 1944 he headed west, and fell in love with the desert country of the Four Corners region. He wrote, "For the first time, I felt I was getting close to the West of my deepest imaginings, the place where the tangible and the mythical became the same." He studied at the University of New Mexico and the University of Edinburgh. In the late 1950s Abbey worked as a seasonal ranger for the United States Park Service at Arches National Monument (now a national park), near the town of Moab, Utah, which was not then known for extreme sports but for its desolation and uranium mines. It was there that he penned the journals that would become one of his most famous works, 1968's Desert Solitaire, which Abbey described "...not [as] a travel guide, but an elegy."

Desert Solitaire is regarded by many as one of the finest nature narratives in American literature. In it, Abbey vividly describes the physical landscape around him, delights in his isolation as a backcountry park ranger, and recounts adventures in the nearby canyon country and mountains. He also attacks what he terms the "industrial tourism" and resulting development in the national parks ("national parking lots"), rails against the Glen Canyon Dam, and comments on various other subjects.

Abbey's abrasiveness and outspoken writings made him the object of much controversy. Conventional environmentalists from mainstream groups disliked his "Keep America Beautiful...Burn a Billboard" style. Based on his writings and statements (and apparently in a few cases, actions), many believe that Abbey did advocate sabotage. The controversy intensified with the publication of Abbey's most famous work of fiction, The Monkey Wrench Gang. The novel centers around a small group of individuals who desire to blow up the Glen Canyon Dam (built in 1962 to impound the waters of the Colorado River) but realize they can't. The gang of eco-warriors instead pray for God to "deliver a precision earthquake" to remove the dam -- which never happens. While the gang waits for God to answer their prayers, they travel the American West attempting to put the brakes on uncontrolled human expansion.

Abbey claimed the novel was written merely to "entertain and amuse," and was intended as symbolic satire. Others saw it as a how-to guide to property destruction (the main characters do not attack people). The novel soon inspired environmentalists frustrated with conventional methods of activism. Earth First! was formed as a result in 1981, advocating eco-sabotage or "monkeywrenching." Abbey never joined the group but became associated with many of its members, and occasionally wrote for the organization.

Sometimes called the "desert anarchist," Abbey was known to anger people of all political stripes (as well as environmentalists) and could be contradictory. He admitted to throwing beer cans out of his car, claiming the highway had already littered the landscape, and was criticized by some for his comments on immigration and women. He differed from the stereotype of the 'environmentalist as politically-correct leftist', by disclaiming the counterculture and the "trendy campus people" and saying he didn't want them as his primary fans, and by supporting some conservative causes such as immigration reduction and the National Rifle Association. He devoted one chapter in his book Hayduke Lives to poking fun at left-green leader Murray Bookchin. But he also attacked the military-industrial complex, "welfare ranchers," energy companies, land developers and "Chambers of Commerce," all of which he believed were harming the West's great landscapes. Abbey refused to be ideologically pigeon-holed by the left or the right; above all he was a staunch advocate for wilderness preservation and ecological protection. Abbey thrived on controversy and his popularity has proven to span generations.

Abbey died in 1989 at the age of 62 at his home near Tucson, Arizona.

Selected quotes

"A patriot must always be ready to defend their country from its government."

"Orthodoxy is a relaxation of the mind accompanied by a stiffening of the heart."

"I come more and more to the conclusion that wilderness, in America or anywhere else, is the only thing left that is worth saving."

"If wilderness is outlawed, only outlaws can save wilderness."

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell."

"One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While itís still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards."

What others have said about Edward Abbey

About The Monkey Wrench Gang, The National Observer wrote, "A sad, hilarious, Exuberant, vulgar fairy tale... It'll make you want to go out and blow up a dam."

The New York Times wrote, "Since the publication of The Monkey Wrench Gang, Mr. Abbey has become an underground cult hero."





  • The Best of Edward Abbey (1984)
  • The Serpents of Paradise : A Reader (1995)

External links

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46