Under the Devil's Thumb


"Gessner's essays are on fire. He shows us that we can have delightful, imaginative and creative lives by becoming more rooted and connected to the place where we are . . . Wise and enlivening, provoking us into a higher understanding of both nature and ourselves." —Rocky Mountain News




David Gessner first moved to Colorado in the wake of a bout with cancer. In Under the Devil's Thumb, this young New Englander takes readers on a joyous quest to discover the mysteries of the western landscape and the landscape of the soul as well.

In the West, Gessner began to rewrite his life. Under the Devil's Thumb is a story of rugged determination and sweat, as well as humor, adventure and hope. In and around his new hometown of Boulder, Colorado, Gessner hiked hard and ran alongside flooded creeks. He found that the West was a place of stories stories that grow out of the ground, flow out of the dirt, work their way through one's limbs, and drive people to push their physical limits.

Hiking up scree slopes toward the Devil's Thumb, a massive outcrop of orange rock that attracts climbers, hikers, and contemplaters, Gessner reflects on the illness he has so recently survived. He pushes his physical limits, hoping to outrun death, to outrun dread. He finds momentary transcendence in the joys and self-inflicted pain of mountain biking.

"Nothing but the hardest ride has the power to flush out worry, mind clutter, and dread." In tranquil moments he seeks a chance to recover an animal self that is strong and powerful enough to conquer mountains, but also still and quiet enough to see things human beings ignore.In the mountain West, Gessner finds what Wallace Stegner called "the geography of hope." He finds within himself an interior landscape that is healthy and strong. Combining memoir, nature writing, and travel writing, Under the Devil's Thumb is one man's journey deep into a place of healing.

My Books

“Gessner writes with a vividness that brings the serious ecological issues and the beauty of the land into to sharp relief. This urgent and engrossing work of journalism is sure to raise ecological awareness and steer readers to books by the authors whom it references.”—Publishers’ Weekly. Starred Review
My Descent into the Oily Gulf.
Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism
My story of following the osprey migration from Cape Cod to Cuba and Venezuela and back
"This book is an enormous gift, an act of preservation as important as any chunk of land purchased by The Nature Conservancy. John Hay's stature cannot be overestimated, and David Gessner has done him great justice."—Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home: A Long Walk Through America’s Most Hopeful Landscape
“A classic of American nature writing.”
--The Boston Globe
"Not since the diatribes from Edward Abbey has anyone in this field come out and made such a sacrilege of our holy texts."
--John Hanson Mitchell
“A highly readable, disarmingly self-conscious meditation on nature, ancestry, and mortality."
The Boston Globe
"Gessner's essays are on fire. He shows us that we can have delightful, imaginative and creative lives by becoming more rooted and connected to the place where we are...Wise and enlivening, provoking us into a higher understanding of both nature and ourselves."
--Rocky Mountain News

Quick Links

Find Authors