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The Last American Manby Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert first met Eustace Conway in New York City, on the sidewalk in front of her apartment. He'd traveled from North Carolina, dressed in handmade buckskin clothing and "carrying an impressive knife on his belt."
Gilbert, a regular contributor to GQ, was so fascinated by this modern-day mountain man that she wrote an article about him, titled simply enough, "Eustace Conway is Not Like Any Man You've Ever Met." The profile generated a flood of mail at the magazine, but the author felt she hadn't yet done service to Eustace. He was too big a character, too full of contradictions, to adequately portray in such a small frame.
In The Last American Man, she introduces her subject:
He crossed from Georgia to San Diego in 103 days, setting a speed record in the process.
"But Gilbert is too good a writer to stop there," Heather Hewett commented, reviewing the book in the Christian Science Monitor. "She deftly dispels the fog generated by our Daniel Boone fantasies to show us what others cannot (or will not) see: Eustace Conway is not a simple mountain man leading a peaceful, nature-centered existence. Instead, he is a contradictory, driven individual who finds himself working nonstop in his attempt to single-handedly change the modern American lifestyle."
"I don't think of myself as a journalist," Gilbert explains. "I'm not a beat reporter covering Washington. I only know how to tell a story the way I know how to tell it, which is how I would tell it if we were friends sitting in a bar and I'd just come back from a week with Eustace at Turtle Island."
Synopses & Reviews
In The Last American Man, acclaimed journalist and fiction writer Elizabeth Gilbert offers a fresh cultural examination of contemporary American male identity and the uniquely American desire to return to the wilderness.
Gilbert explores what pushed men to settle the frontier West in the nineteenth century and delves into the history of American utopian communities. But her primary focus is on the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway, who left his comfortable suburban home at the age of seventeen to move into the Appalachian Mountains, where for the last twenty years he has lived off the land.
Conway's romantic character challenges all our assumptions about what it means to be a man today; he is a symbol of much that we feel our men should be, but rarely are. From his example, Gilbert delivers an intriguing exploration into the meaning of American manhood and — from the point of view of a woman — refracts masculine American identity in all its conflicting elements. Like Jon Krakauer's national bestseller Into the Wild, this book will find an enthusiastic audience among women, readers of American history, and those interested in nature and the wild.
"Gilbert, a top-notch journalist and fiction writer, braids keen and provocative observations about the American frontier, the myth of the mountain man, and the peculiar state of contemporary America with its 'profound alienation' from nature into her spirited and canny portrait." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Elizabeth Gilbert has done a marvelous job of profiling Eustace Conway — a modern-day Jim Bridger whose every hour roaming American is laden with mythological magic. The Last American Man is, in fact, the best book of New Journalism to appear since Tom Wolfe published The Right Stuff. A truly delightful, outrageous, unforgettable saga." Douglas Brinkley
?Wickedly well-written... There are two parts to The Last American Man: Conway?s personal story, which is fascinating enough, and the way it entwines with the American preoccupation with robust, can-do masculinity.? James Gorman, The New York Times Book Review (Editors? Choice)
"Gilbert has a jaunty, breathless style, and she paints a complicated portrait of American maleness that is as original as it is surprising." Publishers Weekly
Acclaimed journalist and fiction writer Gilbert focuses on the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway, who left his comfortable suburban home at the age of 17 to move into the Appalachian Mountains, where for the last 20 years he has lived off the land.
Finalist for the National Book Award 2002
In this rousing examination of contemporary American male identity, acclaimed author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert explores the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway. In 1977, at the age of seventeen, Conway left his family's comfortable suburban home to move to the Appalachian Mountains. For more than two decades he has lived there, making fire with sticks, wearing skins from animals he has trapped, and trying to convince Americans to give up their materialistic lifestyles and return with him back to nature. To Gilbert, Conway's mythical character challenges all our assumptions about what it is to be a modern man in America; he is a symbol of much we feel how our men should be, but rarely are.
What does it mean to be a man in modern America? Do men somehow better themselves when they leave civilization and head into the woods? The Last American Man is a cultural examination of contemporary American male identity and the uniquely American desire to return to the wilderness.
From the frontier West to American utopian communities, Elizabeth Gilbert has produced a history of American manhood as it has never been told before.
To illustrate her story, Gilbert uses the rich and fascinating case study of Eustace Conway, a man who has lived in the Appalachian Mountains since the age of 17. Conway has worked tirelessly to try to convince his fellow Americans to give up self-destructive modern lifestyles and return with him to the primal sanctuary of the wilderness. He is a living metaphor that challenges all assumptions about what it is to be a modern man in America.
The Last American Man is at the same time an adventure saga and a thoughtful meditation on the relationship of man to the wilderness. It is also a reflection of masculine American identity in all its conflicting elements--energy, isolation, narcissism, inventiveness, audacity, and destiny.
About the Author
The finest examination of American masculinity and wilderness since Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. (Outside magazine)
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