Book Review: The Monkey Wrench Gang

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The Monkey Wrench Gang, originally published in 1975, is Edward Abbey’s seminal book on wilderness preservation and eco-sabotage in the American Southwest. The book follows the lives and exploits of four characters – Doc Sarvis, “Seldom Seen” Smith, Bonnie Abbzug, and George Hayduke.

This unlikely quartet – a surgeon, a Mormon, a woman from the Bronx, and a Vietnam veteran – finds each other on the banks of the Colorado River, and quickly begins to plot the protect wild places that are “…so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” Their ultimate goal is to blow up the (in)famous Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot-tall monstrosity spanning the Colorado River in northern Arizona. The dam created Lake Powell, the second-largest artificial lake in America, which stretches from Arizona into Utah.

In their quest to save the American West from “a planetary industrialism growing like a cancer,” they encounter the Green River of Utah, pipelines, oil rigs, Caterpillar tractors, dynamite, and, ultimately, a incredible chase through the desert, away from the industrialism that they are fighting against.

This book, which inspired a movement, should be read by every person who calls him or herself an environmentalist. The environmental and climate movements must rethink our politics, and what we are willing to fight for and to sacrifice. The Monkey Wrench Gang is about heroism and a reckless, thrilling disregard for politeness and many of the other traps that environmentalists have fallen into. It is refreshing and a true adventure – one that, I hope, this movement can still learn from and even embrace.