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The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert


Rating: (Recommended)


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Utopia’s Charisma

Eustace Conway wants all Americans to come join him in getting closer to nature. In her new book, The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert tells us the story of Eustace Conway, and how he’s spent the last twenty years as a pioneer in the wilderness, and a teacher of how to live a natural life. Here’s an excerpt that helps explain the title and what to expect in this interesting book:

“I too had that moment of thinking this was the first truly authentic man I’d ever met, the kind of person I’d traveled to Wyoming as a twenty-two-year-old to find (indeed, to become) – a genuine soul uncontaminated by modern rust. What makes Eustace seem, on first encounter, like the last of some noble species is that there is nothing ‘virtual’ about his reality. This is a guy who lives, quite literally, the life that, for the rest of the country, has largely become a metaphor.
Think of the many articles one can find in the Wall Street Journal describing some entrepreneur or businessman as being a ‘pioneer’ or a ‘maverick’ or a ‘cowboy.’ Think of the many times these ambitious modern men are described as ‘staking their claim’ or boldly pushing themselves ‘beyond the frontier’ or even ‘riding into the sunset.’ We still use this nineteenth-century lexicon to describe our boldest citizens, but it’s really a code now, because these guys aren’t actually pioneers; they are talented computer programmers, biogenetic researchers, politicians, or media moguls making a splash in a fast modern economy.
But when Eustace Conway talks about staking a claim, the guy is literally staking a goddamn claim. Other frontier expressions that the rest of us use as metaphors, Eustace uses literally. He does sit tall in the saddle; he does keep his powder dry; he is carving out a homestead. When he talks about reining in horses or calling off the dogs or mending fences, you can be sure that there are real horses, real gods, or real fences in the picture. And when Eustace goes in for the kill, he’s not talking about a hostile takeover of a rival company; he’s talking about really killing something.”

Eustace Conway comes across as a romantic and complicated, larger-than-life character. It’s clear that he is difficult to work with, mostly because of his high expectations of himself and others. Reading The Last American Man will transport you into a way of living that will make you think about how you are spending your time and living your life. I doubt, though, that many more people will join Eustace in living closer to nature.

Steve Hopkins, July 10, 2002


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2002 issue of Executive Times


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