Writing a biography of an author can be a challenging task -- how much do you write about the subject's life, how much about the work? -- and reviewing such a biography even more so. That is especially the case when the subject of the biography is Edward Abbey, who wanted to be a novelist but wrote himself into several identities, among them wilderness Jeremiah and curmudgeonly cowboy. Abbey regularly complained that reviewers wrote too much about him and not enough about his books, a criticism that could be aptly applied to James Cahalan's new biography, Edward Abbey: A Life.
"Beauty is so much in demand," A. R. Ammons writes in his magnificent poem, "Garbage," that "it's a wonder natural / selection hasn't thinned out anything not perfectly / beautiful." Nature, he adds, "likes a broad spectrum approaching disorder so / as to maintain the potential of change with / variety and environment."