The Monkey Wrench Gang is a rollicking adventure novel with a serious political message. It covers the adventures of four disparate characters who band together to disable power plants and their supporting equipment, which they believe despoil the landscape of the desert. The book is credited with having inspired the formation of the ecological protest group Earth First! A prologue is followed by four chapters introducing the four monkey-wrenchers, then twenty-six chapters detailing their adventures, and finally an epilogue.
In “Prolog: The Aftermath,” a little-noticed figure sets a charge that destroys a bridge between Arizona and Utah as it is being dedicated. The next target, a safety officer asserts, is Glen Canyon Dam. Chapter 1 introduces Doc Sarvis and Bonnie Abzug as they travel along the desert highways of New Mexico, destroying billboards that they consider to have socially irresponsible messages. Doc and Bonnie meet up with Seldom Seen Smith and George Washington Hayduke, who is working for Smith, on a river-rafting trip. After Bonnie and Smith’s other two female clients retire to their sleeping bags for the night, the three men stay up drinking heavily and discover a shared antipathy toward the power plants and river-choking dams that are covering the desert.
Bonnie and the men soon embark on a daring and well-planned series of raids, destroying bridges and disabling bulldozers and other heavy equipment, backed by Sarvis’s money, Hayduke’s skills in guerrilla tactics from his days in Vietnam, and...
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Erisman, Fred, and Richard W. Etulain, eds. Fifty Western Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982. The chapter on Abbey includes a brief biography, a discussion of his major themes, a brief survey of criticism of his work, a bibliography of his works, and a listing of other sources of information.
Hepworth, James, and Gregory McNamee, eds. Resist Much, Obey Little: Some Notes on Edward Abbey. Salt Lake City: Dream Garden Press, 1985. A slim volume that discusses Abbey’s politics and vision, presents previously published interviews with the author, and offers personal reflections on Abbey as a person and a writer.
McClintock, James L. “Edward Abbey’s Antidotes to Despair’.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction (Fall, 1989): 41-54. A scholarly discussion of Abbey’s work, particularly in comparison to the works of Jack London, Robinson Jeffers, and B. Traven.
Ronald, Ann. The New West of Edward Abbey. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982. An analysis of Abbey’s writings up to 1980. Chapter 9 discusses The Monkey Wrench Gang.
The Western Literature Association, sponsors. A Literary History of the American West. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987. This comprehensive survey of Western literature from the oral tradition to the 1980’s includes a brief chapter about Abbey as well as references to his work in several other sections.