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The Monkey Wrench Gang

When I was writing Wet Desert in 2001, many people asked me if I had read The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. I hadn’t even heard of it. So midway through my story, I bought a copy and read it. Wow!

Abbey wrote the Monkey Wrench Gang in 1975.  It is considered a timeless American classic by many, including myself. The plot centers around four eco-terrorists: Seldom Seen Smith, a polygamist Mormon river guide, George Washington Hayduke III, a Vietnam Vet, Bonnie Abbzug, a feminist, and Doc Sarvis, a retired M.D. and billboard torcher.

These four characters, after finding each other early in the story, join forces to terrorize all industrial development in the desert area of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Their ultimate fantasy is to blow up the Glen Canyon Dam, and they brainstorm relentlessly on how to accomplish it. But, ultimately the dam is beyond them, so they focus instead on western development. They pull survey stakes, they drive bulldozers into rivers, they blow-up train tracks, they wreck construction equipment, etc. By the end of the story, they upset everyone in the area and draw law enforcement in a no-holds-barred manhunt.

Although the plot is incredibly fun, the strength of this book is Abbey’s writing. To say his style is unique is an understatement. It is different than anything you have ever read, but very enjoyable. Note: Whatever your tolerance for reading “F***” bombs, Abbey will exceed it.


Lately, Monkey Wrench Gang fans are celebrating in the streets regarding the announcement at the Sundance Film Festival that after 30 years, the Monkey Wrench Gang will finally be made into a movie scheduled for release in 2008. Click here for movie news.

Wet Desert’s plot of an environmentalist trying to restore the Colorado River, including the ultimate fantasy to blow up the Glen Canyon Dam, tie the two novels together. However, Wet Desert has a very different feel. First, Instead of being told by the environmentalists, Wet Desert is written from the perspective of Grant Stevens, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer trying to stop the bombings, and mitigate the floods.

*While the Monkey Wrench Gang is centered in Utah, Wet Desert moves south along the Colorado River through Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, and the Gulf of California in Mexico.

*The attacks in the Monkey Wrench Gang are spread among many desert targets, the Wet Desert attacks are focused on the dams of the lower Colorado River.

 *The Monkey Wrench Gang takes place over weeks, Wet Desert is a fast paced thriller that covers only three days.

*The Monkey Wrench Gang is an American classic, Wet Desert is new (May 2007) and largely undiscovered.

*The Monkey Wrench Gang is told in Abbey’s unique style, Wet Desert is told in the more conventional style of mainstream fiction.

*Monkey Wrench Gang takes the reader on a tour of natural wonders of southern Utah and northern Arizona, Wet Desert takes you on a tour of all the canyons, dams, and reservoirs of the Lower Colorado, including the dry river delta in Mexico.

*Both books explore the environmental issues in the west, both talk extensively about the controversial Glen Canyon Dam.

*Both books are about environmental terrorists, or eco-terrorists.

Summary:  Both books are fascinating American West reads, where the reader will be entertained, while simultaneously educated on the complex environmental issues at hand.

Gary Hansen


P.S. Edward Abbey wrote another book I consider a classic. It is called Desert Solitaire, a non-fiction book about his experiences in the southern Utah region during the fifties and sixties when he was ranger in Arches National Park (before there was a paved road). He sometimes didn’t see a person for a week. This book includes his account of running the Colorado River through Glen Canyon before it was flooded by the dam.