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.
Abbey remains best known for Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang, works born of a fiery passion to see America kept wild, even if only in places. He frequently joked that his duty was to “the West: Keep it like it was.” This pointed confusion of tenses was appropriate for a man who was often — and pointedly — confused. Cahalan’s book is quite effective, if not quite thrilling, at (meticulously!) describing the various thread... Read more