The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

This book, though fictional in form, is based strictly on historical fact. Everything in it is real or actually happened. And it all began just one year from today.

This unusual epigraph begins Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. And while not entirely true, as monkey wrenching didn’t begin just one year from the date of publication (rather it began a few years later), it certainly launched what is now known as eco-terrorism, as well as the group known as Earth First!. Though it is indeed fiction, it remains one of the most compelling and entertaining works in environmental literature.

George Washington Hayduke, alias Rudolf the Red, has a simple goal: “My job is to save the fucking wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving.”

George is one of four main characters in the novel, each more absurd than the next. A Mormon polygamist, a wealthy doctor, a psychotic Vietnam veteran, and a depressed, finicky twenty something New Yorker (and lone female in the group) make up the gang. I loved it.  The book espouses what is essentially environmental anarchy while condemning violence against people. It’s funny*, radical, with moments of beautiful prose. Abbey loved the desert southwest and describes it with reverence throughout the novel. The same cannot be said for his description of humans.

“One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain’t nothing can beat teamwork.”

(Truer words…)

One of the most disquieting things about the novel is that the plight(s) the characters are fighting against is one we still face.  The moral and ethical questions The Monkey Wrench Gang, which is as much a spaghetti western as it is a pillar of eco-literature, asks are as important today as they were in 1975. Destruction of wilderness, excessive damming, mining, overpopulation, and clear cutting are still relevant and prominent issues. How do you stop it? Can it be stopped? There are still people fighting against environmental destruction, though not entirely in the same way. Thankfully. I say give Abbey a chance. He is well worth your time.

Monkey and Granola

Pair this one with granola. The dark chocolate, sea salt granola from The Nutritious Kitchen looks delicious.

Do you read fiction with a “message”? I don’t typically, I wonder if my easy acceptance of the message/moral of this story is because I agree with it.

*If you don’t find the following funny, this book’s humor is not for you: After a discussion about whether or not it’s raining, George ends the conversation with “Rudolf the Red knows rain, dear.”

Just laugh, it’s good for you…

5 thoughts on “The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

  1. I love good reviews of old books that I’ve missed. This sounds fun! And, to answer your question, I don’t go looking for fiction with a message, but I usually can get one out of just about anything I read. Is that just me?
    Love the quote about saving the universe.


    1. This is such an environmental classic, I’m sad to have missed it (not that I was alive in 1975), but I don’t remember it from my environmental literature classes either. Regardless, I highly recommend it now.


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