Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home pageNo. 35, Spring/Summer 1994
The Deserts in Literature

Desert Reading: A List by Peter Wild

Author, Editor, and Professor of English at The University of Arizona


Philippe Diolé. Sahara Adventure, translated by Katherine Woods. New York: Julian Messner, 1956.
Diolé is tough-minded, perceptive, a scientist whose accuracy doesn't stifle his emotions. Rather ironically, this undersea archaeologist has written the best book ever about deserts.
John C. Van Dyke. The Desert. New York: Scribner's, 1901. Reprint, Tucson: The Arizona Historical Society, 1976.
The old scalawag! He faked his trip through the American Southwest and since then has been laughing up his sleeve at generations of adoring desert rhapsodists. But his little volume remains America's best, teaching us how to see deserts as grand paintings, and proving once again that life is one thing, art quite another.
Mary Austin. The Land of Little Rain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903.
She can be precious in treating the people and landscapes of Southern California, but when Austin describes elf owls hunting through the night as "speckled fluffs of greediness" she reveals the talent that wins her the position of America's second greatest desert writer.
Edward Abbey. Desert Solitaire. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Reprint, Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1988.
A rebellious farmboy who studied philosophy, Abbey spent much of his life celebrating Southwestern deserts while lashing their destroyers with his wit. Appeals to the young rebel in us all.
Peter Reyner Banham. Scenes in America Deserta. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, 1982.
Edward Abbey turned inside out, this antiromantic English art critic adores the freeway system of Los Angeles for its aesthetic intricacies and shoots barbs at "desert maniacs of the ecological generation." Banham challenges our assumptions and keeps us honest.

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