The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey [Review]

Edward Abbey

“The future lies before us, spread-eagled like a coronary upon the dunghill of Destiny.” – Doc Sarvis 

Few writers speak to me at the same level as Edward Abbey. Known for his environmental advocacy, his anarchic views, Abbey was aptly called the “Thoreau of the American West” by Larry McMurtry.

And while I admire all of these things about Abbey, for me, he is first and foremost a writer’s writer – the kind of writer I want to become. His intelligent and insightful thinking are masterfully balanced with his simplistic Iceberg Theory prose and expressive ability for storytelling. In  his writing Abbey can be simultaneously angry and deeply critical of the world he so keenly observes around him, while finding moments of utter comedy, with a spirit for life taken directly from Kerouac and the Beats who traveled this Western countryside before him.

If Desert Solitaire finds Abbey at his most philosophical and serious, Monkey Wrench Gang is his boisterous and (quite literally) explosive masterpiece of fiction.

First Edition - 1975

First Edition – 1975

In a nutshell, the titular gang is a ramshackle group of environmentalists who make it their duty to stop all forms of “progress” that desecrate their beloved southwestern desert. Leading the way is  legendary berserker and Vietnam veteran, George Hayduke, along with jack-Mormon Seldom Seen Smith, “feminist saboteur” Bonnie Abzug, and libertarian moral compass Doc Sarvis, M.D. They start with small acts, like cutting down billboard poles and sabotaging bulldozers, with the ultimate goal of blowing up the symbolically loaded Glen Canyon  Dam.

While reading I couldn’t help think how easily the story could be adapted into a Tarantino film: revenge story, unnecessary violence, infamous characters, and all. While a true environmentalist could never condone such extreme destruction (didn’t stop these guys) this epic tale of waging war against the perpetually consumptive machine called industrial development (formerly known as Manifest Destiny) is guiltily satisfying.

If you’re looking for a good read, The Monkey Wrench Gang is a fast-paced, wildly entertaining story for even most casual reader, and a modern classic to boot.

“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” -Diderot via Abbey

“Resist much, obey little.” -Whitman via Abbey

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