RECENT BOOKS: 2015: ALL THE WILD THAT REMAINS 2017: ULTIMATE GLORY
““David Gessner has been a font of creativity ever since the 1980s, when he published provocative political cartoons in that famous campus magazine, the Harvard Crimson. These days he’s a naturalist, a professor and a master of the art of telling humorous and thought-provoking narratives about unusual people in out-of-the way-places."
The San Francisco Chronicle
A New York Times Bestseller
A Kirkus Best Book of 2015 and Best Book about Significant Figures in the Arts and Humanities
A Christian Science Monitor’s Top Ten Nonfiction Book of the Year
A Southwest Book of the Year
A Smithsonian Best History Book
To the Best of Our Knowledge Top Ten Book
An Amazon Best Nonfiction Book of 2015
“If Stegner and Abbey are like rivers, then Gessner is the smart, funny, well-informed river guide who can tell a good story and interpret what you’re seeing,” writes the Los Angeles Review of Books.
As western rivers dry up and western land cracks from aridity, the voices of Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey have never been more important. Those voices can be heard, loud and clear, in All the Wild that Remains. The book takes the long view of the land, and of the importance of having deep conversations with our literary ancestors, and speaks to the crisis of climate and drought that is occurring right now. Stegner and Abbey put what is happening in historical perspective, but they were not detached scholars who sat back in a crisis. They both acted. They understood the land the land they loved, sure, but also fought for it. And of course they also wrote beautifully about it.
“As I was reading “All the Wild That Remains,” I found myself wondering if Gessner too had not written a book that would make people act. And I wondered how this so-called biography could deliver such an emotional punch. I was expecting to be educated, but not inspired, not for the raw spirit of these two men to rise from the language into my consciousness….The loose but artful weave of the two narratives gives the book a rare creative tension. But it is deepened by a third narrative line, that of Gessner himself, the first-person storyteller, whose honest voice is full of insight and humor.”—The Chicago Tribune http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-prj-all-the-wild-that-remains-20150514-story.html
"To his highly original body of work, he brings a sense of awe for the untamed universe and a profound appreciation for the raucous literature of the West. “All the Wild That Remains” ought to be devoured by everyone who cares about the Earth and its future. “For me there is no wild life without a moral life,” Gessner writes with all the force that Henry David Thoreau might have expressed. All the Wild That Remains” offers a contemporary call of the wild that resonates loudly and clearly from one coast to the other ” —The San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/All-the-Wild-That-Remains-by-David-Gessner-6305677.php
“These two men are the contrasting heroes of a profoundly relevant and readable new book by David Gessner: All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West. In this artful combination of nature writing, biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Gessner studies two fascinating characters who fought through prose and politics to defend the fragile ecologies and transcendent beauties of the West.” —The Christian Science Monitor (The CSM picked All the Wild as their number one book of April.)
Gessner’s book serves as an excellent primer to readers new to Abbey and Stegner, and an insightful explanation of their continuing relevance. Gessner, an important nature writer and editor in his own right, also uses the writers’ lives as a template for his exploration of the Western landscape they lived in and wrote about. He visits places that were important to Abbey and Stegner, and draws trenchant conclusions about the current state of affairs in a region still battling over how to best protect and exploit its fragile resources.
Gessner’s reporting, whether profiling Stegner and Abbey’s acolyte Wendell Berry or observing the consequences of Vernal, Utah’s fracking boom, is vivid and personable. In his able hands, Abbey and Stegner’s legacy is refreshed for a new generation of readers. Perhaps now even the Easterners will take notice. The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/westerners-with-sharp-pens/2015/05/21/3b4193e2-e1fe-11e4-b510-962fcfabc310_story.html
“[Gessner] never reduces either man to simplistic categories, but sees in both personalities possible life models.” –David Mason, Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-all-the-wild-that-remains-by-david-gessner-finding-abbey-by-sean-prentiss-1430515926
“They are legends, Abbey and Stegner, and bringing them together in a book like this, in the manner chosen by Gessner, was a stroke of genius. If you know and love the work of these two authors, read All the Wild That Remains and then re-read at least parts of Abbey and Stegner. If not, read Abbey and Stegner first, at least one book by each man, and then read All the Wild That Remains.” Dallas Morning News. http://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/books/20150417-review-all-the-wild-that-remains-edward-abbey-wallace-stegner-and-the-american-west-by-david-gessner.ece
Gessner’s wacky sense of humor and rigorous mind, his delight in, as he calls it, “an antidote to the virtual age,” and, especially, “the lost art of lounging” — have never been more evident than in his beautifully conceived new book, All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West. This timely mash-up of environmental journalism, biography, travel writing, and literary criticism has Gessner hitting the road in search of the real story behind “two of the most effective environmental fighters of the 20th century...What emerges is a joyful adventure in geography and in reading — and in coming to terms with how the domestic and the wild can co-exist over time.
Joy Horowitz The Los Angeles Review of Books http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/wild-literary-geographies-david-gessner
Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession and My Wild Youth. Riverhead. 2017.
“An exploration of the questing desires of the young heart, ‘Ultimate Glory’ should be recommended reading for every college student. A 20-something, unsure whether to listen to the yearnings of the soul, might find answers in Gessner’s chase of a flying plastic disc.”
The Washington Post
“David Gessner spent 20 years of his youth in the game’s thrall, and he revisits them in “Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession, and My Wild Youth,” a joyous memoir that explains how “a 175-gram plastic disc” tempered his character and fate. Along the way we get marijuana, psychotropic mushrooms, sex, angst, friendships, cultural commentary, testicular cancer and lots of beer. The word Frisbee “is a hard one to take seriously,” Mr. Gessner admits. But his book is substantial, bearing comparison to William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning surfing memoir, ‘Barbarian Days’ (2015).
The Wall Street Journal
FROM PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:
Gessner reflects with honesty and humor on his dedication to the sport of Ultimate Frisbee. He describes the sport’s ragtag culture as well as his annual quest for a national championship during his formative 20s in the mid-1980s. Gessner defends Ultimate’s anti-sport ethos but uses traditional sport themes, such as clutch performance, training regimes, and tournament drama. The book could have been tightened to more succinctly describe his musings on the idealistic and conflicting “Spirit of the Game” philosophy and the ambivalent effect of Ultimate on his behavior, relationships, and, most intriguingly, a writing career in desperate need of a jump start. What saves the book is, in Ultimate parlance, Gessner’s ability to “lay out” (to dive while making a catch): he is honest, especially in his observation of how he’s matured since his Frisbee days. He also remains entertainingly unrepentant about a decade spent in the throes of a game that itself was evolving beyond its carefree image. Gessner nicely captures the persistent pursuit of greatness in the face of doubt and failure.
Before he made a name for himself as an acclaimed essayist and nature writer, David Gessner devoted his twenties to a cultish sport called Ultimate Frisbee. Like his teammates and rivals, he trained for countless hours, sacrificing his body and potential career for a chance at fleeting glory without fortune or fame. His only goal: to win Nationals and go down in Ultimate history as one of the greatest athletes no one has ever heard of.
Today Ultimate is played by millions of people around the world, with professional teams in over two-dozen cities. In the 1980s, it was an obscure sport with a (mostly) undeserved stoner reputation. Its early heroes were as scrappy as the sport they loved, driven by fierce competition, intense rivalries, epic parties, and the noble ideals of The Spirit of the Game.
Ultimate Glory is a portrait of the artist as a young ruffian. Driven by ambition, whimsy, love, and vanity, Gessner lives for those moments when he loses himself completely in the game. He shares the field and his seemingly insane obsession with a cast of closely knit, larger-than-life characters. As his sport grows up, so does he, and eventually he gives up chasing flying discs to pursue a career as a writer. But he never forgets his love for this misunderstood sport and the rare sense of purpose he attained as a member of its priesthood.
“In Ultimate Glory, David Gessner lets loose a barbaric yawp, akin to Whitman’s in Song of Myself: “I was the man, I suffered, I was there.” Read it for all the hucks and layouts, for the epic batttles between Hostages and Rude Boys, and for its fascinating history of the sport. But even more, read it to hear one of America's most gifted writers sing an unabashed love song to the glory of being alive."
—Patrick Phillips, author of Blood at the Root
"Even if I watched him play, I wouldn't be able to tell you if David Gessner is any good at Ultimate Frisbee. But the man can write, and this homage to his oddball sport is rich with life's joys, sorrows and universal truths." —Dan Shaughnessy, New York Times bestselling co-author of Francona
ALL THE WILD THAT REMAINS
NOW IN PAPERBACK:
The Christian Science Monitor picks All the Wild as their number one book of April. They write “These two men are the contrasting heroes of a profoundly relevant and readable new book by David Gessner: All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West. In this artful combination of nature writing, biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Gessner studies two fascinating characters who fought through prose and politics to defend the fragile ecologies and transcendent beauties of the West.”
The Dallas Morning News writes: “They are legends, Abbey and Stegner, and bringing them together in a book like this, in the manner chosen by Gessner, was a stroke of genius. If you know and love the work of these two authors, read All the Wild That Remains and then re-read at least parts of Abbey and Stegner. If not, read Abbey and Stegner first, at least one book by each man, and then read All the Wild That Remains.”
Outside chimes in on ATWTR: "These revelations, and Gessner's subtle humor, make for an absorbing read. Abbey's and Stegner's lives, Gessner says, 'are creative possibilities for living a life both good and wild.' That's something that many in the West still seek--and what makes this book such a great read for anyone living there."
In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews writes: "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.'"
“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 McMurty
Coming in April 2015...
David Gessner is the author of ten books, including Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession and My Wild Youth and All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West. His other books include Sick of Nature, My Green Manifesto, and The Tarball Chronicles, which won the 2012 Reed Award for Best Book on the Southern Environment and the Association for Study of Literature and the Environment’s award for best book of creative writing in 2011 and 2012. His Return of the Osprey, which was chosen by the Boston Globe as one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year and the Book-of-the-Month club as one of its top books of the year. The Globe called it a "classic of American Nature Writing."
Gessner has published essays in many magazines, including Outside magazine and the New York Times Magazine, and has won the John Burroughs Award for Best Nature Essay, a Pushcart Prize, and inclusion in Best American Nonrequired Reading. He recently appeared on MSNBC’s The Cycle to offer his take on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Gessner taught Environmental Writing as a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard, and is currently a Professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he founded the award-winning literary journal of place, Ecotone.
In January of 2016 he hosted an episode of National Geographic Explorer series, "The Call of the Wild." He blogs for Bill and Dave's Cocktail Hour, a website he created with the writer Bill Roorbach. He still dreams of winning the national championship in ultimate Frisbee, but knows it will never happen.
The ASLE judges on The Tarball Chronicles:
"David Gessner's The Tarball Chronicles takes the lyrical tradition of nature writing, adds a bit of a badass persona reminiscent of Edward Abbey, and brings both into the blighted Gulf of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Along the way, Gessner cultivates relationships that allow people across cultural, geographic, and political gaps to recognize their common interest in saving what is left in the world. Gessner doesn't hide from the damage, even as he asserts that there is a profound beauty still in nature, and that, if the future may not offer much hope, there's still, as Thoreau might say, a world out there to be lived in. And good lives--both human and not--still being led. This book is edgy, dynamic, darkly humorous, and engaging, with lyrical fireworks, evocatively rendered landscapes, and unflinching but sensitive portrayals of people, places and the damage done, and Gessner's own distinctive and convincing voice rings out from the center of the action."
"A full-strength antidote to the Kryptonite of corporate greed and human ignorance."
Atlanta Journal Constitution on The Tarball Chronicles