Books and Movies Reviews

Monkey Wrench Gang

Audacious, controversial and hilarious, The Monkey Wrench Gang is Edward Abbey’s masterpiece – a big, boisterous and unforgettable novel about freedom and commitment that ignited the flames of environmental activism. Throughout the vast American West, nature is being vicitimized by a Big Government / Big Business conspiracy of bridges, dams and concrete. But a motley gang of individuals has decided that enough is enough, A burnt-out veteran, a mad doctor and a polygamist join forces in a noble cause: to dismantle the machinery of progress through peaceful means, or otherwise.

Ed Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang, his 1975 novel, a “comic extravaganza.” Some readers have remarked that the book is more a comic book than a real novel, and it’s true that reading this incendiary call to protect the American wilderness requires more than a little of the old willing suspension of disbelief. The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners. As they do, his characters voice Abbey’s concerns about wilderness preservation (“Hell of a place to lose a cow,” Smith thinks to himself while roaming through the canyonlands of southern Utah. “Hell of a place to lose your heart. Hell of a place… to lose. Period”). Moving from one improbable situation to the next, packing more adventure into the space of a few weeks than most real people do in a lifetime, the motley gang puts fear into the hearts of their enemies, laughing all the while. It’s comic, yes, and required reading for anyone who has come to love the desert. –Gregory McNamee

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