The Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey

A “modern day” western parable set in and around a fictionally veiled Albuquerque, The Brave Cowboy is a tale of principle and friendship.  Abbey captures the contrasts between the Old West and the new in a rapidly expanding America during the Eisenhower administration. An incredibly prescient novel, it foreshadows the cultural strife of the coming decade and the Vietnam era.  The author has you cheering for the “anarchist cowboy” the entire time while  masterfully building tension to a full-gallop climax, all of it leading to an ending that will haunt you.

Published in 1956, the novel’s anti-hero theme would later become a staple of 60’s and 70’s cinema that could be seen in Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Kesey’s novel wasn’t published until 1962), and Cool Hand Luke.  There’s even a classic western chase through the mountains very similar to the one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  In fact, The Brave Cowboy was made into a film in 1962 starring Kirk Douglas titled Lonely Are the Brave.  Douglas reportedly considered it one of his favorite films.  So not only does the book predate all of the movies mentioned, but the movie does too.

More info on Edward Abbey and his work can be found at, including biographies, history, quotes and an Amazon affiliate bookstore.

EDIT TO ADD:  Here is a gnarly piece on a Columbia University website detailing the social-political tie-ins of the movie and novel with McCarthyism, anarchism, french existentialism, Beatniks, Sam Peckinpah and, most shockingly, draws parallels with another story that at times is an almost direct adaptation of Brave Cowboy, the 1982 movie First Blood starring Sylvester Stallone; itself adapted from a novel of the same name published in 1972.

When you factor in all of the many different versions of both the screen play and movie that were and were not used for First Blood, the similarities are even more pronounced.  IMDB trivia and Wiki have details — including the fact that Kirk Douglas was originally cast to play Col. Troutman in Rambo, but quit because of, get this, the divergence of the screen play from the original novel.

Doing a little research, the author of First Blood, David Morrell, cites as his influence British author Geoffrey Household’s 1939 novel Rogue Male when he started writing the book in 1968.

um…we’ve got reading to do.


One Response to “The Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey”

  1. I honestly thought this book was written in the 70’s. I was busy drafting up how the story artistically borrowed from all the stories mentioned and to point out the anti-war cultural symbolism in it like Straw Dogs or Five Easy Pieces. It wasn’t until I double checked the publishing date for cross-reference that I had to throw out everything I had written. That’s how visionary it is.

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