I cannot say I have much agreement with this book. While Edward Abbey makes some good points about some failures on the establishments part to protect the natural wilderness, it seems that his obsession with “leaving everything as it is” in order to preserve nature has driven him to make a number of erroneous assumptions and statements in an attempt to prove his points, which I believe kind of undermines his assertions.
“There may be some among the readers of this book, like the earnest engineer, who believe without question that any and all forms of construction and development are intrinsic goods, in the national parks as well as anywhere else, who virtually identify quantity with quality and therefore assume that the greater the quantity of traffic, the higher the value received. (58)
We can see an example in the above statement, where he makes a generic sweeping image of the “earnest engineer,” and characterizes this nonexistent person to what he feels he would be like in order to prove his point.
While he shows some good points about survival in the wilderness and getting to see nature (having mice for roommates, snakes for neighbors, that section), he’s also very insistent about “the travesty of human intervention” which he strongly holds to be a problem for nature, unable to break down more than simply seeing the beauty in nature preserved. More to that, he’s pretentious about it, often romanticizing nature with poetic forms and words while contrasting that with his hatred of society, using excessive harsh and negative language which seems to be his only weapon:
My God! I am thinking, what incredible shit we put up with most of our lives – the domestic routine (same old wife every night), the stupid and useless degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and the slimy advertising of the business men, the tedious wars in which we kill our buddies instead of our real enemies back in the capital, the foul diseased and hideous cities and towns we live in, the constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines and telephone! (193)
There’s some basic misunderstanding of nature too: not the pretty rainbows and butterflies type of nature, but the actual nature of the physical universe. In this he doesn’t seem to understand the point of tourist parks, and would rather they never have any roads/buildings/conveniences for them so they will never come: a sort of greed to have it all to himself. This is further carried when he states that he thinks the earth is “the only home we shall ever know,” while humans are on the path to settle other worlds.
Overall I think he may have an actual message worth listening to: the assurance of places where nature Is preserved for its own sake, but that this message is damaged by his sensationalist writing in an attempt to force the mind of a reader he doesn’t respect intellectually to see things his way.