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The ‘Last American Man’ Wants to Retire

Have you read Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man? I read it cover to cover once, while in college, entranced by the subject, this last American man, Eustace Conway. The book chronicles the life and philosophy of Conway, a back-to-the-lander, an extreme off-grid kinda guy, who started a preserve/commune/wilderness school in North Carolina, after turning his back on modernity.

In the book, Gilbert at one point wonders if Conway won’t eventually find some kind of fame because of his extreme approach and his charisma, and eventually turn to a life of comfort in a nice house in the woods. Conway, now a veteran of the TV circuit, starring in at least one reality TV series about his life, now lives in a nice house in the woods, with wifi and a smart speaker and everything.

None of that is to take away from Conway’s messaging that to live in harmony with the land, by the sweat of your brow, and the strength of your hands is a better way than to be sucked into the maw of the internet and a fanatical pursuit of stuff. But it’s a little ironic and funny.

Anyway, GQ has a recent article about Conway’s decision to hang up his spurs, to retire from a life of teaching others how to live a more pure, honest way. If you’ve read The Last American Man, it’s an interesting follow-up. If you haven’t, well, it’s still a window into one prophet’s facing that the world didn’t listen to his proselytizing.

From the intro:

“I’m gonna save the world,” Eustace Conway tells me. “I see the light, and I’m gonna point it out.”

Light would be nice. It’s early August, 2020, and dead dark on Eustace’s back porch overlooking Boone, North Carolina. It’s rural, Southern dark: the type that fools me into thinking the bleached lights of Wal-Mart aren’t just down the road, obscuring the stars I don’t know I can’t see. The type that compels me to take notes by candlelight and Leslie, Eustace’s housekeeper, to set a pot of chicken soup directly on my recording equipment. But Eustace refers to light of a different sort: the very light of human salvation, glimpsed by his younger self. He laughs now at his naïveté. “Please.”

Read the article, here.

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– Justin Housman

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