THE LAST AMERICAN MAN, by Elizabeth Gilbert, narrated by Patricia Kalember

This is an amazing story, written by an amazing writer. What a great stylist Liz Gilbert is! I LOVED the carefully crafted casualness of her prose style – a gossip at the local cafe with superb editing.

A picture of Eustace Conway, in his late 30s, on the cover of Liz Gilbert’s biography THE LAST AMERICAN MAN

Eustace Conway is about my age, but when he was 17, he didn’t finish his A-Levels and go onto music college like me. Instead, he left home to live in the Appalachian Mountains, with only a knife to help him survive. He made his own clothes out of buckskin. He skinned snakes to eat. He drank fresh water (and somehow managed not to die of dysentery). He lived out in the wild (and avoided being mauled by wolves, coyotes, or mountain cats).

In short, Eustace Conway (born in 1961) is a superb naturalist and outdoorsman, who seemingly can turn his hand to anything. Not only does he have formidable survival skills, but he is naturally brilliant with horses. As author Liz Gilbert points out, he has the kind of knowledge that would not have been uncommon amongst American frontiersmen in 1861, or 1761 or even 1661.

Unfortunately, for Eustace Conway, he was born in the late 20th Century and so his attempts to pass on such skills are cursed by the fact that most everyone in our highly technical age is almost completely clueless about anything to do with the outside world.

One hundred years ago, with the appearance of the automobile, we no longer needed to know anything about the care and feeding of horses, or how to get them to cooperate with us when we needed to do something like drive a cart or ride them into town. So a whole acreage of knowledge about animal communication was lost.

A recreation of an `80s school computer lab with Apple IIe computers and an overhead projector, at the Living Computer Museum in Seattle. Photo 128530802 © Emily743 | Dreamstime.com

Forty years ago, computers began appearing on everyone’s desktops, and now the world has been brought to us by means of our computer screens. If we want to go kayaking, or camping or even fighting with a sword, a lot of that can now be achieved by means of computer games. We are no longer dependent on the outside for a source of food and clothes. We are no longer condemned to short lives of considerable hardship (and near-constant starvation) spending every hour of every day finding food, seeking water, and preventing disaster from happening (such as coyotes attacking our children).

You could say that Eustace Conway is an anachronism, were it not for the fact that the very real disasters caused by climate change make his simple way of life something that we should all try to emulate. We should all try harder to get rid of things we don’t need, create less trash and respect the outside world much more. This is what Eustace Conway has been trying to teach us for the past 44 years. Now, we really need to listen.

Before I end, I would like the commend the superb narration of Patricia Kalember, who did a wonderful job with all of the voices. Not only did she sound like author Liz Gilbert, but she did wonderful imitations of Eustace Conway’s educated southern drawl (he is very well-spoken) as well as the rougher accents of his country neighbors in the Appalachian Mountains. Five stars for a truly superb work.

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