The Monkey Wrench Gang Book Summary, by Edward Abbey

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1-Page Summary of The Monkey Wrench Gang

Overall Summary

A story about a group of environmental activists in the American Southwest. The book was written by Edward Abbey, an author and activist who died in 1989. It takes place at the site of a newly built bridge between Arizona and Utah over Glen Canyon. A man named George Hayduke is planting explosives on it when he triggers it prematurely with his hard hat, which causes the middle to crack open like an eggshell. This character forms a gang along with three others: Dr. A K Sarvis (aka Doc), Bonnie Abbzug, and Joseph “Seldom Seen” Smith to fight against industrialization in their beloved native region—the American Southwest

On a river-rafting trip, three friends complain about the new power lines and how they’ve ruined their rivers. One of them suggests blowing up the dam that has blocked his favorite fishing spot. They talk about it for a while but don’t decide to do anything yet. The next day, however, they start planning what supplies they need to blow up the dam and begin gathering explosives and food in case they get stuck out there for some time. Only one member carries a gun since violence isn’t allowed on this mission.

The gang’s first operation is to tamper with the bulldozers and other vehicles at the site of a new road’s construction. They’ll drain the oil, let the motors run and walk away so that the engines will seize up, damaging the machines. The next morning, Hayduke goes out on his own to pull up survey stakes plotting where this new road will go.

Over the next few weeks, the gang commits more acts of sabotage to destroy the Glen Canyon Dam. They know that this may be impossible but they continue to travel and cause problems for construction sites and vehicles. The gang also attracts suspicion from local vigilante Bishop J. Dudley Love’s “Search and Rescue team” (130). This leads to a series of actions intended to take out two small bridges in Utah State which involves helicopters, dogs, heavy artillery and other men who are searching for them.

The group is starving and dehydrated, so they decide to surrender. Doc gives up first because of his Hippocratic oath, and he helps Bishop Love, who has a heart attack. Bonnie follows him out of loyalty to Doc. Smith and Hayduke continue on until Hayduke slips away while Smith sleeps. Smith tries to make it to Green River but gets caught by park rangers after stealing some packages from the ice chest of some elderly tourists. Hayduke dies in a shootout with authorities during that same pursuit; however, he reunites with his friends before dying.

The Monkey Wrench Gang is a novel that shows the detailed actions of flawed protagonists, as well as their compelling love for the Southwest. The themes in this book are land use and development, activism, anarchy, and land ownership. Abbey’s writing inspired environmentalists throughout America to fight for what they believe in.

Prologue: “The Aftermath”

On a hot day in the desert, people gather to see politicians cut the ribbon on a bridge that connects Utah and Arizona. The bridge is decorated with streamers, banners, and bunting. Police are holding back traffic on both sides of the road as local politicians give speeches over bad sound systems. A group of Native Americans from various tribes (Ute, Paiute, Hopi, Navajo) are standing on a hillside above the highway watching this event.

The bridge spans a gorge that’s seven hundred feet deep and is over the Colorado River. The river has been “domesticated” by Glen Canyon Dam, which was recently built. There are no animals in sight except for a vulture circling overhead. It must be extremely hot at ground level because it’s an immense desert around the bridge.

The Monkey Wrench Gang Book Summary, by Edward Abbey

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