marathongirl, December 1, 2012 (view all comments by marathongirl)
I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert's writing style; her writing appeals to me because it feels as if she is talking directly to me. Due to the fact that I'm a fan of Ms. Gilbert's, and always interested in the idea of living close to nature, I chose to read her biography about Eustace Conway. He's a complex and visionary man that believes that in order for Americans to be at their greatest they must return to nature and live as the American Indians or earliest American settlers once did. We can therefore be Real rather than products of our commercial, industrial and consumer driven culture. I enjoyed this book because it is a well written account of a unique and driven individual that some may view as a prophet and others may view as a somewhat backward social misfit. I encourage you to read this book and decide for yourself who Eustace Conway is and what he may, or may not, bring to our society.
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eminson, December 3, 2010 (view all comments by eminson)
It you enjoyed Susan Orlean's portrayal of John Laroche in "The Orchid Thief," you need to read this riveting story of the intensely unconventional individual who is Eustace Conway. The true account of this driven, self-made man will leave you questioning the decisions we all make every day as we struggle to find our place in the fast-paced modern culture of today's America.
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terry weide, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by terry weide)
One of the most entertaining and in-depth biographies of the last decade. It would be hard to invent a character as colorful as outdoorsman Eustace Conway. Elizabeth Gilbert does an excellent job of showing the many facets of this complex man, of bringing his strengths and quirks to life. That Conway is real only serves to fire the enjoyment of the reader. The book reminds us of our frontier spirit and of the skills we could cultivate if we chose to do so. A work that should be on everyone's must read list.
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Marie Angell, July 15, 2007 (view all comments by Marie Angell)
Be careful what you wish for. The Last American Man, so termed, is not necessarily what he appears to be, and Elizabeth Gilbert has done a fine job of peeking beneath our fantasies of American masculinity to find the depth and troubled spirit of Eustace Conway. He may seem to live the stuff of myth, but does he really?
Although Gilbert uses a familiar tone that veers close to being flippant, she does a nice job of tying together the past, present and possibility future Conway in a very readable style with surprising depth.
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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:
By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree. By the time he was ten, he could hit a running squirrel at fifty feet with a bow and arrow. When he turned twelve, he went out into the woods, alone and empty-handed, built himself a shelter, and survived off the land for a week. When he turned seventeen, he moved out of his family's home altogether and headed into the mountains, where he lived in a teepee of his own design, made fire by rubbing two sticks together, bathed in icy streams, and dressed in the skins of the animals he had hunted and eaten?
But his coolest adventure was probably in 1995, when Eustace got the notion to ride his horse across America.
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."
by Donna Seaman, Booklist,
"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."
by Douglas Brinkley,
"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."
by James Gorman, The New York Times Book Review (Editors? Choice),
?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.?
by Publishers Weekly,
"Gilbert has a jaunty, breathless style, and she paints a complicated portrait of American maleness that is as original as it is surprising."
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.
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