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Americans Who Tell the Truth :: Edward Abbey

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Robert Shetterly's portrait of Edward Abbey
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“The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”
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Edward Abbey
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Writer, ‘desert anarchist', (1927—1989)

Edward Abbey left his family home in Home, Pennsylvania at age 17 and headed west across America, on a journey of hitchhiking through the desert from which his heart and mind never recovered. Before long, he had moved to the Southwest, where he earned several degrees from the University of New Mexico. (His Masters thesis discussed “Anarchism and the Morality of Violence.”)

Through the 1950s and 1960s Abbey worked as a seasonal park ranger and fire lookout, and wrote three novels that attracted minor attention. Desert Solitaire (1968), his fourth book, made Abbey's reputation as someone who, as Robert Redford later wrote, “positively influenced many to not only treasure our natural heritage but to fight for its preservation as well.” This non-fiction account of life as a backcountry ranger in Utah, subtitled “A Season in the Wilderness,” is a masterpiece of nature writing and philosophy.

Publishers like the Sierra Club and Time-Life Books were eager for more of Abbey's work, and (along with a fourth novel) he next wrote three non-fiction coffee table books (Appalachian Wilderness, 1970; Slickrock, 1971; Cactus Country, 1973), filled with beautiful photography. His fifth novel, however, soon distanced him from the establishment.

The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), the most famous of Abbey's 20+ books, tells the story of four ecological saboteurs whose dream is to blow up Arizona's Glen Canyon Dam. The author called his book a satire; others saw it as a how-to guide for destroying property. The novel inspired the formation of the militant group Earth First!, and such sabotage in defense of the environment became known as ‘monkey-wrenching.'

Abbey, uncomfortable with his image as a counterculture environmentalist, often angered his antagonists with statements like “Society is like a stew. If you don't keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top,” “Freedom begins between the ears,” and “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” Refusing to be linked with either the left or the right, he enjoyed fighting what he considered the good fight.

“Better a cruel truth,” he said, “than a comfortable delusion.”

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See the full set of Robert Shetterly's portraits at www.americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Tools for Teaching: see the acompanying curriculum materials with suggestions on how to use the portraits and biographies of these American truth-tellers in your classroom.
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BUY THE BOOK AND GREETING CARDS FROM THE YES! STORE:
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Americans Who Tell the Truth ::

Robert Shetterly's series highlights Americans past and present whose dignity, courage, and honesty have shaped this country.

This beautiful coffee-table book is an eloquent collection of portraits and stirring words of these brave citizens from all walks of life.
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Card Sets ::

A special YES! selection of Greeting Cards from the series in sets of 8 (with envelopes).

Sets feature high quality prints of the portraits, complete with quotes and biographies.

Posters also available from the artist.
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