miss jenny says this is so not the book I’d ever read!

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

GOODREADS is a web­site de­voted to books and reading them. And, ap­par­ently, sharing books with other mem­bers. I am a member, al­though a very in­ac­tive one. Yes­terday I re­ceived no­tice from the site that a person named Jenny—who I don’t know and who does not use her last name (wisely)—had made me a friend and that I should sug­gest a book to her. I wrote the following:

“Thanks for the friend­ship here. Haven’t a clue what you might like and rather than lead with a science-fiction title, I am sug­gesting Ed­ward Abbey’s mar­velous The Monkey Wrench Gang, a tale of en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious sabo­teurs. Find the 1985 edi­tion with the Robert Crumb art­work, as it in­cludes a pre­vi­ously deleted chapter.”

For those of you un­fa­miliar with Mr. Abbey’s work, he is better known as an es­sayist than a nov­elist. From his work as a park ranger in the ’50s, he com­piled a large col­lec­tion of notes, ob­ser­va­tions, and sketches that were even­tu­ally pub­lished in 1968 as Desert Soli­taire – A Season In The Wilder­ness. It was an im­por­tant book in the de­vel­op­ment of eco-awareness, and be­cause of it Abbey is for­ever as­so­ci­ated with the South­west and en­vi­ron­mental concerns.

“Al­though it ini­tially gar­nered little at­ten­tion, [Desert Soli­taire] would even­tu­ally be rec­og­nized as an iconic work of na­ture writing and a staple of early en­vi­ron­men­talist writing, and brought Abbey crit­ical ac­claim and pop­u­larity as a writer of en­vi­ron­mental, po­lit­ical, and philo­soph­ical is­sues.” (Wikipedia)



This is the first US hard­cover edi­tion (Lip­pin­cott Williams & Wilkins, 1975). You can find clean copies being of­fered for sale on the In­ternet for $100-200.

A call to protect the wilderness

But his most pop­ular work was in fic­tion: The Monkey Wrench Gang was a best-seller in the ’70s (is still a good selling title in the new and used book mar­kets) and in­spired many Amer­i­cans and like-minded Eu­ro­peans to take ac­tion against the de­struc­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment by Big Busi­ness and Big Gov­ern­ment alike. The of­fi­cial GoodReads re­view of the book states:

“Ed Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang a comic ex­trav­a­ganza. Some readers have re­marked that the book is more a comic book than a real novel, and it’s true that reading this in­cen­diary call to pro­tect the Amer­ican wilder­ness re­quires more than a little of the old willing sus­pen­sion of disbelief.

Moving from one im­prob­able sit­u­a­tion to the next, packing more ad­ven­ture into the space of a few weeks than most real people do in a life­time, the motley gang puts fear into the hearts of their en­e­mies, laughing all the while. It’s comic, yes, and re­quired reading for anyone who has come to love the desert.”

The story be­gins with fem­i­nist Bonnie Ab­bzug and her lover-mentor Doc Sarvis car­rying on one of their fa­vorite ac­tiv­i­ties; torching one of the count­less ugly bill­boards that dot the Amer­ican land­scape. Even­tu­ally, we meet the seem­ingly con­ser­v­a­tive and Chris­tianly re­li­gious wilder­ness guide ‘Seldom Seen’ Smith and our even­tual protagonist/hero, George Wash­ington Hay­duke III.

A Vietnam vet when few writers were in­cluding such men in their sto­ries as he­roes, Hay­duke comes home to find his beloved desert canyons and rivers being bull­dozed and ‘de­vel­oped’ by in­dustry and gov­ern­ment agencies.

The four con­nect and the book then pro­ceeds into a se­ries of sit­u­a­tions where they at­tempt to “halt progress” by ever more mil­i­tant mea­sures: from pouring bags of sugar into the fuel tanks of earth-moving ma­chines to even­tu­ally taking on (and taking down) a canyon-spanning bridge. The story can be read as black humor mixed with a call-to-arms, in­spiring count­less readers to act in nature’s defense.



This is the first US pa­per­back edi­tion (Avon Books, 1976). This is the edi­tion that was read by mil­lions of Amer­i­cans (prob­ably mostly hip­pies and stu­dents) in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It is easily found on the used book market, usu­ally well “used.”

George Hayduke lives on

Film­maker ML Lin­coln’s Wrenched is a doc­u­men­tary based on Abbey’s work and in­flu­ence; it has been win­ning awards at film fes­ti­vals since its re­lease in 2014.

“The film Wrenched cap­tures the passing of the monkey-wrench from the pi­o­neers of eco-activism to the new gen­er­a­tion, which will carry Ed­ward Abbey’s legacy into the 21st cen­tury. The fight con­tinues to sus­tain the last bas­tion of the Amer­ican wilderness—the spirit of the West.” (wrenched)

“Ed­ward Abbey was a nov­elist re­ferred to as the Thoreau of the Amer­ican West. In­fa­mous for his views on the en­vi­ron­ment and his crit­i­cism of public land poli­cies, Abbey emerged from the early six­ties con­ser­va­tionist writers with a uniquely sharp wit and sar­donic sense of humor. His sto­ries warn about the con­se­quences of over-development, par­tic­u­larly in the Southwest.

His most ri­otous novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, de­picts a small gang of monkey-wrenchers, non-violent (to people) but not so for­giving to earth-destroying bull­dozers, ma­ni­acal dam builders and to the count­less bill­boards lit­tering the land­scape.” (wrenched)

So, Abbey is con­sid­ered by many to be one of the finest Amer­ican writers of the post-WWII era, a land­mark among the land­scapes of the South­west. TMWG is a classic, taught in lit­er­a­ture and writing classes. What’s not to like, right?



This is the US tenth-anniversary hard­cover edi­tion with cover art and in­te­rior il­lus­tra­tions by R. Crumb (Dream Garden Press, 1985). The art that graces the top of this page is also by Crumb and de­picts Hay­duke sending an earth-defiler to its doom sev­eral thou­sand feet below.

Back to my new friend Jenny

This was Jen­ny’s re­sponse: “REALLY? You have NO idea what I’m about? This is so NOT the book I’d ever read. AWFUL. Kindly never do that again. DO NOT CONTACT ME. DO NOT RECOMMEND BOOKS TO ME. LEAVE ME ALONE, thank you.”

Wowee zowee, baby! Miss Jenny, what hot button of yours did I in­ad­ver­tently push?

Prob­ably fool­ishly, I re­sponded to her mes­sage with a “Why?” and a mild bit of cas­ti­ga­tion for her rude­ness to a “friend.” I ex­pect to hear nothing more from her, nor will she from me. The In­ternet is, among other things, a place the thin-of-skin seem to relish their ability to mis­in­ter­pret the words and/or in­ten­tions of others, and nei­ther re­quest nor re­quire ex­pla­na­tions or clar­i­fi­ca­tion be­fore putting fin­gers to keyboard.

Ba­si­cally, all this boils down to my fragile thin-skinned ego got over Miss Jen­ny’s rude­ness and al­lowed it­self to be in­spired to do a book re­view of sorts. (Sort of a turning-lemons-into-lemonade thing.) So, for those of you who read books and are al­ways on the lookout for good reads, give The Monkey Wrench Gang a look-see . . .


RobertCrumb MonkeyWrenchGang sketch helicopter 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page is a sketch by Robert Crumb of Bonnie Abzug being hunted by the “bad guys” in a he­li­copter. Bonnie is, of course, a member of the Monkey Wrench Gang. I cropped the orig­inal drawing (above) and “bright­ened” it for use as this ar­ti­cle’s fea­tured image.


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This isn’t in my usual wheel­house, but heck, I’d buy that 85 ver­sion for the cover alone. An­other one for the list!

Dear Miss Jenny,

One of my most fa­vorite clichéd re­sponses to your (un­for­tu­nate) in­dig­na­tion: Minds are like para­chutes - they work best when opened.

Live and Learn

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