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Abbey, Edward Paul (1927 – 1989) American Environmentalist and Writer

Edward Paul Abbey (1927 1989)
American environmentalist and writer

Novelist, essayist, white-water rafter, and self-described "desert rat," Abbey wrote of the wonders and beauty of the American West that was fast disappearing in the name of "development" and "progress." Often angry, frequently funny, and sometimes lyrical, Abbey recreated for his readers a region that was unique in the world. The American West was perhaps the last place where solitary selves could discover and reflect on their connections with wild things and with their fellow human beings.

Abbey was born in Home, Pennsylvania, in 1927. He received his B.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1951. After earning his master's degree in 1956, he joined the National Park Service , where he served as park ranger and fire fighter. He later taught writing at the University of Arizona.

Abbey's books and essays, such as Desert Solitaire (1968) and Down the River (1982), had their angrier fictional counterpartsmost notably, The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) and Hayduke Lives! (1990)in which he gave voice to his outrage over the destruction of deserts and rivers by dam-builders and developers of all sorts. In The Monkey Wrench Gang Abbey weaves a tale of three "ecoteurs" who defend the wild west by destroying the means and machines of developmentdams, bulldozers, logging truckswhich would otherwise reduce forests to lumber and raging rivers to irrigation channels.

This aspect of Abbey's work inspired some radical environmentalists, including Dave Foreman and other members of Earth First! , to practice "monkey-wrenching" or "ecotage" to slow or stop such environmentally destructive practices as strip mining , the clear-cutting of old-growth forests on public land , and the damming of wild rivers for flood control, hydroelectric power, and what Abbey termed "industrial tourism." Although Abbey's description and defense of such tactics has been widely condemned by many mainstream environmental groups, he remains a revered figure among many who believe that gradualist tactics have not succeeded in slowing, much less stopping, the destruction of North American wilderness . Abbey is unique among environmental writers in having an oceangoing ship named after him. One of the vessels in the fleet of the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society , the Edward Abbey, rams and disables whaling and drift-net fishing vessels operating illegally in international waters. Abbey would have welcomed the tribute and, as a white-water rafter and canoeist, would no doubt have enjoyed the irony.

Abbey died on March 14, 1989. He is buried in a desert in the southwestern United States.

[Terence Ball ]



Abbey, E. Desert Solitaire. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

. Down the River. Boston: Little, Brown, 1982.

. Hayduke Lives! Boston: Little, Brown, 1990.

. The Monkey Wrench Gang. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975.

Berry, W. "A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey." In What Are People For? San Francisco: North Point Press, 1991.

Bowden, C. "Goodbye, Old Desert Rat." In The Sonoran Desert. New York: Abrams, 1992.

Manes, C. Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990.

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