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Book Review: Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang

By 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev
Edward Abbey The Monkey Wrench Gang

It’s not often that I read fiction. Even less frequently is it something that I can conceivably write about here. However, after finishing Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World by Alan Weisman, I picked up Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. I mention Weisman because Abbey’s “protagonist” George Hayduke envisions a world without man, not without humans as in Weisman’s 2007 book The World Without Us, but rather, a post-industrial world where buildings and machines have largely disappeared. This is not a post-apocalyptic scenario, but one that lies at the heart of the titular gang.

Perhaps the central theme of the book revolves around the question of “Who will defend the earth?” This seems to be the main premise of The Monkey Wrench Gang. In their mind, it is the work of the just that they are undertaking. However, the deeper concerns connect undoubtedly to regulation and profit. The Monkey Wrench Gang are not liberals despite their acts of Eco-liberation. They are anarchists and libertarians. True libertarians, a reflection of Abbey himself no doubt, though he is quoted as saying he was a liberal.

In many ways, The Monkey Wrench Gang is visionary and prophetic. In it, Abbey describes several coming crises. He lays out the tar sands/oil shale boom, over development that led to megacities like San Diego-Los Angeles, stretching for 150 miles along the coast of Southern California, the Army Corps of Engineers’ continued reshaping of natural formations (like that laid out in John McPhee’s Control of Nature), and environmental racism, as seen in the placing of a coal fired power plant on a Navajo reservation.

The numerous escapades of the gang lead to vivid chase scenes that could only have been constructed by someone who knows the arid Southwest like the back of their hand. Abbey paints a picture of desolation and beauty, not unlike his nonfiction piece, Desert Solitaire. Written in 1975, with a Vietnam Vet as the “leader” of the gang, comes from a different era. There is a message though that needs to be heeded: in this era of consumption and growth/development, who will defend the earth? Anarchy isn’t the answer, but neither is business as usual. The west is wide open, but it’s not as open as it used to be. Despite its age, The Monkey Wrench Gang is a wild ride that still captivates. It’s undoubtedly over the top, but that’s Abbey’s point it seems. All the development has happened without any sort of plan, so why not the haphazard plan of Dr. Savris, Abbzug, Seldom Seen, and the grizzly Hayduke?

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