Has the Heat Gone to His Head? Desert Solitaire Review

September 10, 2013

Desert Solitaire has some valid points, but I feel the book is very disjointed.  I am unsure at times why he did not organize the book better.  The author, Edward Abbey, has very good diction when describing the land around him and the love of his job.  I can’t help but feel as if I am there, but at the same time his rants about the stupidity of people, the government etc. really does sour the book.  I do agree with his point of view of leaving the wilderness of the national parks alone, but at the same time he does not acknowledge the fact that humanity has touched everywhere.  This includes the areas that we think are protected.  Pollution of all types and even our ancestors have left tangible and figurative footprints on earth.  It is almost like anything we do is in fact is like leaving a footprint on the moon.

I can give Desert Solitaire some slack since the book is 45+ years past the times.   We have come along way in protecting the environment, but our efforts are still not enough.   The human population continues to grow at an exponential rate.  People have become more wealthy and can go visit the national parks.  While, it contributes to the industrial tourist, the author talks about, more people are able to go to places to learn to appreciate the wonders of the United States.  It is in this that we can teach the next generations about preserving the Earth.  We are privileged to have the national parks and the governmental agencies that own them.   I do agree with Abbey that the government may not do the best, but for the time that the national parks have been around, they have endured and expanded.  I don’t think I have met someone who is against the idea of national parks.

National parks are national treasures and are places that could not exist unless they were set aside.  While they are national treasures, they are also national resources.  As natural resources, they are a source of revenue for the United States and away to attract people from around the world.  There are areas that are very popular in national parks that people visit in troves every year, but there are still areas that are dangerous and inaccessible to people.  The roads may bring the people, but the average person is not a hardcore hiker or adventurer.   Abbey does point out how dangerous Arches National Park is and the canyons that lay within its boarders.  He does not seem to understand that people cannot be prevented from going to these places.  The government owns the land and can there for do what they please with it.

Abbey is not happy with the fact that the government chose to make national parks more accessible.  He wants to limit human interaction.  It seems to me that he wants to limit people all together, except those who have the skill to go. Those people he describes the most are the Native Americans and the now dead traditional cowboy culture. These people are reliant on themselves, but even Abbey explains that the Native Americans are subjected to civilization as everyone else it.  They, at the time, the book was written, were poor and subclass.   The youth want to be more integrated in society while the elders try to preserve their culture.   As a white man writing an opinion on this matter, I feel that Abby has no reason to write on such matters.  He does not know what it is like to be them.  He is merely an outsider looking in.  Even when he studies the cowboys, he can’t even seem to understand the disappointment of the last cowboys as they watch their way of life fade into the environment which they sprang from.


Exploitation of the wilderness and the people living in the area is evident (rocks, waterway damming, mineral mining etc.).  Yet, I feel that Abbey just complains about everything that is wrong in his book and does not try to do something about it.  There is no way a modern person can live in the world like that today.  He just works his seasonal job a lot, too hot and thirsty, letting his mind wonder.  Overall, I find his book nothing but a man detailing the pretty desert then randomly complaining about societies current situations.

Interesting Quotes:

  • “The word “shrub” presents a challenge, a least to such verse as this;but poetry is nothing if not exact.  The poets lie too much” (28).
  • In reference to uranium: “The miner would disregard this danger, so vague, theoretical and intangible (to him)” (80)
  • “The horned owl may be the natural enemy of the rabbit but surely the rabbit is the natural friend of the horned owl” (123).
  • “There is no indication that the men who carved and painted the figures made any attempt to compose them into coherent murals; endless variety of style, subject, and scale suggests the work of many individuals from different times and places who for one reason or another came by, stopped, camped for days or weeks and left a sign of their passing on the rock” (126).
  • “Bureau of Indian Affairs…like most government agencies always meddling” (250).