He was a hero to environmentalists and the patron saint of monkeywrenchers, a man in love with desert solitude. A supposed misogynist, ornery and contentious, he nevertheless counted women among his closest friends and admirers. He attracted a cult following, but he was often uncomfortable with it. He was a writer who wandered far from Home without really starting out there. James Cahalan has written a definitive biography of a contemporary literary icon whose life was a web of contradictions. Edward Abbey: A Life sets the record straight on "Cactus Ed," giving readers a fuller, more human Abbey than most have ever known. It separates fact from fiction, showing that much of the myth surrounding Abbey—such as his birth in Home, Pennsylvania, and later residence in Oracle, Arizona—was self-created and self-perpetuated.
It also shows that Abbey cultivated a persona both in his books and as a public speaker that contradicted his true nature: publicly racy and sardonic, he was privately reserved and somber. Cahalan studied all of Abbey's works and private papers and interviewed many people who knew him—including the models for characters in The Brave Cowboy and The Monkey Wrench Gang—to create the most complete picture to date of the writer's life. He examines Abbey's childhood roots in the East and his love affair with the West, his personal relationships and tempestuous marriages, and his myriad jobs in continually shifting locations—including sixteen national parks and forests. He also explores Abbey's writing process, his broad intellectual interests, and the philosophical roots of his politics. For Abbey fans who assume that his "honest novel," The Fool's Progress, was factual or that his public statements were entirely off the cuff, Cahalan's evenhanded treatment will be an eye-opener. More than a biography, Edward Abbey: A Life is a corrective that shows that he was neither simply a countercultural cowboy hero nor an unprincipled troublemaker, but instead a complex and multifaceted person whose legacy has only begun to be appreciated. The book contains 30 photographs, capturing scenes ranging from Abbey's childhood to his burial site.
"[A] beautifully rendered, sensitive and revealing work." —Publishers Weekly
"The best portrait of Abbey we're likely to see." —Men's Journal
"Cahalan meticulously tracks the course of Abbey's often feral yet always creative and resonant life." —Booklist
"The story of Cactus Ed Abbey's life as told by Cahalan will engage and inspire, with as insightful a look at the times as it is of the man. Cahalan tells the whole story, and he tells it exceedingly well." —Robert Redford
"Cahalan recounts the life fully and fairly, trusting readers to make up their own minds about his volatile subject." —Washington Post Book World
"A pleasure to read." —Arizona Republic
"Thoroughly researched . . . Cahalan has unearthed some of Abbey's finest bons mots along the way." —New York Times Book Review
"Truly readable biographies are as rare as listenable Yoko Ono albums, but here is one." —Inside/Outside Southwest
"Meticulously documents Abbey's singular life in all its common American squalor and uncommon glory." —Bloomsbury Review
"This the real thing. This is what we've wanted to know. Abbey in the altogether—a chronicle of the writer we love." —Edward Hoagland
"A lucid, impressive biography. . . Those who love Abbey's books will find much to interest them here." —Larry McMurtry
"Cahalan fills a huge gap in our understanding of Abbey. . .A definitive biography." —Ann H. Zwinger