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ALL THE WILD THAT REMAINS: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West

Follow me as I follow Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner on a tour of the American West (and their lives).

W.W. Norton April 2015

“Gessner writes with a vividness that brings the serious ecological issues and the beauty of the land into to sharp relief. This urgent and engrossing work of journalism is sure to raise ecological awareness and steer readers to books by the authors whom it references.”—Publishers’ Weekly. Starred Review.

“Stegner and Abbey ‘are two who have lighted my way,’ nature writer Wendell Berry admitted. They have lighted the way for Gessner, as well, as he conveys in this graceful, insightful homage to their work and to the region they loved.”—Kirkus Review (Starred Review)

“Two extraordinary men, and one remarkable book. To understand how we understand the natural world, you need to read this book.” --Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth

"An excellent study of two difficult men."
— Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and The Last Kind Words Saloon

"A travel book, yes, a literary memoir, yes, and a profound meditation on our myths and shadows. Anyone who loves the American west will be enraptured by this book. It is a wonderful piece of work."
— Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America

"This book rubs Abbey and Stegner’s history in the dust and sand so beloved to them, posing these two late icons among voices, landscapes, and arguments that endure in western wilderness, deftly creating a larger geographic chronicle." — Craig Childs, author of House of Rain and

“Praise David Gessner for reminding us that the words of our two most venerated literary grandfathers of the American West, to remind us of our wilder longings, to incite in us a fury, that we might act--even now--to defend all the wild that remains.” — Pam Houston, author of Cowboys are My Weakness and Contents May Have Shifted

“To understand the truth of the Desert West, read Stegner. To understand one writer’s emotional response to that desert and to our thoughtless destruction of wilderness, read Abbey. To understand the two writers as men of their times—and ours—read Gessner: for his honesty, compassion, humility, scholarship, and sensibility.”---Stephen Trimble, author of Bargaining for Eden

This engaging book provides an intimate look at Edward Abbey (1927–89) and Wallace Stegner (1909–93), two of America's finest authors, both of whom chafed at being pigeonholed as regional writers. Certainly their fond, passionate focus was the American West, but there is much universality in their concerns. Gessner (Return of the Osprey) traveled to places they haunted, read all he could of their writings, and spoke with people who knew them well. His smooth, literate text is enhanced by photographs of Stegner and Abbey as well as chapter notes that read well. Stegner authored 46 works, including 13 novels, and won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Abbey wrote 28 books, was a Fulbright Scholar at Edinburgh University, and may be best known for his book Desert Solitaire, which is often said to be as worthy as Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Stegner, clean cut, traditional, with a PhD, and Abbey, an uncompromising anarchist and atheist with a 1960s-ish appearance and lifestyle, provide rich grist for Gessner's mill, which he fully exploits for the benefit of any reader. Gessner himself has penned nine books. All three authors qualify as important environmentalists and writers. VERDICT Highly recommended for everyone interested in literature, environmentalism, and the American West.—Library Journal Henry T. Armistead

A wild ride down the Charles River with a new sort of environmentalist.

A wild ride....


Last summer I traveled down to the Gulf of Mexico to write about the oil spill and bird migration for the Natural Resources Defense Council. As I stayed in the Gulf the original article grew into a series of blog posts-- --and those posts gradually grew into a book, The Tarball Chronicles. In the end, the writing was not just about the oil spill itself, but about larger connections: connections between how we have chosen to live and the consequences of those choices; between what we are doing now and our future; between our need for fuel and our love of nature; between the need for sacrifice and the love of luxury. (Below please find a short section below that I wrote about northern gannets to give you a sense of what I mean.)

At the same time, I wanted the posts to be blunt, funny, and emotional. I had never defined myself as a journalist before, but the story I was seeing, quite different than the national story, seemed to demand a fast, angry journalistic take. I quickly saw the great discrepancy between the national story, told in broad strokes like something out of Boy’s Life, and the real story on the ground. I sought out locals and explored local places, trying to bring readers along for the strange dark ride as I birdwatched, boated, flew, drank, ate, talked, listened and swam my way through the Gulf. I saw ospreys nesting above a tarball clean-up area and watched beautiful white ibises near Haliburton road. I spent a night in a fish camp on the bayou just a few miles from the encroaching oil, talked my way into a helicopter ride out to the rig with the Cousteau film team, and stared down oiled pelicans—a heartbreaking sight-- in the Fort Jackson re-hab center.

The resulting book is a strange mix: part nature book, part new journalism, part adventure story. Though the darkness is laced with humor there is an overtly moral element to the book. I felt I was going someplace different, and I find myself still there. There is no time for pussyfooting around, no time to follow the literary rules, or any rules that get in the way of the work of the world. Rather it’s time to face directly the way we are living and there’s no place for that like the Gulf.


"A classic of American Nature Writing...“Gessner’s witnessing of an osprey’s dive—a wing-folded plunge of 50 feet or more, talons extended at the last moment to spear a fish and carry it to the surface and then aloft—is the obvious high point of his season observing ospreys in Brewster and Dennis and the nearby waters of Cape Cod. But it is the mark of how fine a nature writer Gessner is that his descriPtion of the more prosaic activity of nest-building is as perfectly realized as the accounts of the thrilling dives. ‘Return of the Osprey’ can, on those grounds alone, claim a place among the classics of American nature writing.…A reader could put “Return of the Osprey” aside at this point and feel the satisfaction that comes at the end of a memorable book. But Gessner has only been waiting for his chance for him, and the ospreys, to dazzle. And when it comes, Gessner puts you right there.” --The Boston Globe