Edward Abbey was born in 1927, in Pennsylvania. Abbey's mother, Mildred Postlewaite Abbey, was a teacher and a Woman's Christian Temperance Union veteran. His father, Paul Revere Abbey, was a Socialist, and a "Wobbly" (Industrial Workers of the World) organizer.
In 1943, Abbey hitchhiked to the midwest. He returned home in time to flunk out of journalism class in high school, then started hitchhiking to the west coast.
Abbey was drafted into the US Army, and spent the last year of World War II in Italy, as a motorcycle policeman.
Abbey attended college a variety of places. He got a BA from the University of New Mexico. He attended University of Edinburgh in Scotland on a Fulbright Scholarship, and dropped out of Yale graduate school after two weeks of class.
Abbey lived various places, such as Hoboken NJ, Cullowhee NC, Albuquerque NM and Tucson AZ. He was married five times (divorced 3 times, widowed once), and had five children with three of his wives.
He claimed his political affiliation was "Agrarian Anarchist", and his religion was "Piute."
Abbey died from a circulatory disorder. He had a bit of notice that he was dying, so his friends and family arranged to follow his wishes about his funeral. He was buried in an illegal grave in the desert.
Abbey's friends and reviewers called him "America's crankiest citizen", an "acid pen", "uneven and self-indulgent", "cantankerous and lyrical", "compelling and infuriating", and as "one cranky son of a bitch."
In Abbey's obituary, Charles Bowden said "he was one of the kindest men I have ever known...." and "...he could write better than any other man or woman I have ever known" and "...he wasn't the guy you imagined from reading his books." Others also described Abbey as very gentle, shy, and quiet.
Abbey was a man of strong opinions.