Paul Abbey was an American author and essayist noted for his criticism
of public land policies and advocacy of environmental issues. His
best-known works include the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which
has been cited as an inspiration by radical environmental groups,
and the non-fiction work Desert Solitaire.
was born in the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania and grew up in nearby
Home, Pennsylvania. In the summer of 1944 he headed west, and
fell in love with the desert country of the Four Corners region.
He wrote, "For the first time, I felt I was getting close
to the West of my deepest imaginings, the place where the tangible
and the mythical became the same." He studied at the University
of New Mexico and the University of Edinburgh.
the late 1950s Abbey worked as a seasonal ranger for the United
States Park Service at Arches National Monument (now a national
park), near the town of Moab, Utah, which was not then known for
extreme sports but for its desolation and uranium mines. It was
there that he penned the journals that would become one of his
most famous works, 1968's Desert Solitaire, which Abbey described
"...not [as] a travel guide, but a eulogy."
Solitaire is regarded by many as one of the finest nature narratives
in American literature. In it, Abbey vividly describes the physical
landscapes of Southern Utah and delights in his isolation as a
backcountry park ranger, recounting adventures in the nearby canyon
country and mountains. He also attacks what he terms the "industrial
tourism" and resulting development in the national parks
("national parking lots"), rails against the Glen Canyon
Dam, and comments on various other subjects.
abrasiveness, misanthropy, and outspoken writings made him the
object of much controversy. Conventional environmentalists from
mainstream groups disliked his more radical "Keep America
Beautiful...Burn a Billboard" style. Based on his writings
and statements (and apparently in a few cases, actions), many
believe that Abbey did advocate ecotage. The controversy intensified
with the publication of Abbey's most famous work of fiction, The
Monkey Wrench Gang.
novel centers around a small group of eco-warriors who travel
the American West attempting to put the brakes on uncontrolled
human expansion by committing acts of sabotage against industrial
development projects. Abbey claimed the novel was written merely
to "entertain and amuse," and was intended as symbolic
satire. Others saw it as a how-to guide to non-violent ecotage--the
main characters do not attack people. The novel inspired environmentalists
frustrated with conventional methods of activism. Earth First!
was formed as a result in 1981, advocating eco-sabotage or "monkeywrenching."
Although Abbey never officially joined the group he became associated
with many of its members, and occasionally wrote for the organization.
called the "desert anarchist," Abbey was known to anger
people of all political stripes (as well as environmentalists).
In his essays the narrator describes throwing beer cans out of
his car, claiming the highway had already littered the landscape.
Abbey has been criticized by some for his comments on immigration
differed from the stereotype of the 'environmentalist as politically-correct
leftist', by disclaiming the counterculture and the "trendy
campus people" and saying he didn't want them as his primary
fans, and by supporting some conservative causes such as immigration
reduction and the National Rifle Association. He devoted one chapter
in his book Hayduke Lives to poking fun at left-green leader Murray
he reserves his harshest criticism for what he calls the military-industrial
complex, "welfare ranchers," energy companies, land
developers and "Chambers of Commerce," all of which
he believed were destroying the West's great landscapes. Abbey
refused to be ideologically pigeon-holed by the left or the right;
above all he was a staunch advocate for wilderness preservation
and ecological protection. Abbey thrived on controversy and his
popularity has proven to span generations.
died in 1989 at the age of 62 at his home near Tucson, Arizona.