Archetypal wild man Edward Abbey and proper, dedicated Wallace Stegner left their footprints all over the western landscape. Now, award-winning nature writer David Gessner follows the ghosts of these two remarkable writer-environmentalists from Stegner's birthplace in Saskatchewan to the site of Abbey's pilgrimages to Arches National Park in Utah, braiding their stories and asking how they speak to the lives of all those who care about the West. These two great westerners had very different ideas about what it meant to love the land and try to care for it, and they did so in distinctly different styles.
Boozy, lustful, and irascible, Abbey was best known as the author of the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang (and also of the classic nature memoir Desert Solitaire), famous for spawning the idea of guerrilla actions-known to admirers as "monkeywrenching" and to law enforcement as domestic terrorism-to disrupt commercial exploitation of western lands. By contrast, Stegner, a buttoned-down, disciplined, faithful family man and devoted professor of creative writing, dedicated himself to working through the system to protect western sites such as Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado.
In a region beset by droughts and fires, by fracking and drilling, and by an ever-growing population that seems to be in the process of loving the West to death, Gessner asks: how might these two far-seeing environmental thinkers have responded to the crisis? Gessner takes us on an inspiring, entertaining journey as he renews his own commitment to cultivating a meaningful relationship with the wild, confronting American overconsumption, and fighting environmental injustice-all while reawakening the thrill of the words of his two great heroes.
"Never reduces either man to simplistic categories, but sees in both personalities possible life models, men who loved nature and felt keenly the limits on human liberty."
– David Mason, Wall Street Journal
"[Gessner's] honest voice is full of insight and humor [...] As he explores Abbey and Stegner's lives, he considers his own, as a nature writer who is also negotiating that line between the artist and the activist, and also still learning how to see. This approach not only allows readers into the lives of two great American writers but invites them to reconsider their own."
– Tom Montgomery Fate, Chicago Tribune
"A spirited, ecologically minded travelogue [...] . [Gessner] writers with a vividness that brings the serious ecological issues and the beauty of the land [...] to sharp relief [...] urgent and engrossing."
– Publishers Weekly, Starred review
"Two extraordinary men and one remarkable book. To understand how we understand the natural world, you need to read this book."
– Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth
"An excellent study of two difficult men."
– Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and The Last Kind Words Saloon
"A travel book, yes, a literary memoir, yes, and a profound meditation on our myths and shadows. Anyone who loves the American West will be enraptured by this book. It is a wonderful piece of work."
– Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird's Daughter and Queen of America
"This book rubs Abbey and Stegner's history in the dust and sand so beloved to them, posing these two late icons among voices, landscapes, and arguments that endure in western wilderness, deftly creating a larger geographic chronicle."
– Craig Childs, author of House of Rain and Apocalyptic Planet
"Praise David Gessner for reawakening us, in these climactically challenged times, to the wisdom of our two most venerated literary grandfathers of the American West, to remind us of our wilder longings, to incite in us a fury, that we might act – even now – to defend all the wild that remains."
– Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness and Contents May Have Shifted
"To understand the truth of the Desert West, read Stegner. To understand one writer's emotional response to that desert and to our thoughtless destruction of wilderness, read Abbey. To understand the two writers as men of their times – and ours – read Gessner: for his honesty, compassion, humility, scholarship, and sensibility."
– Stephen Trimble, author of Bargaining for Eden