Category Archives: Adventure
The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
I read this book many years ago during a militant pro-environment, animal rights phase of my life. Much older now I decided to pick it up again and see if I feel the same way about now as I did back then. I can’t say that I do in exactly the same way, but I admit it did stir the desire I think everyone has, to get a hold of some cause and devote to it so totally that almost any action taken on its behalf is seems justified.
The “Money Wrench Gang,” was written by Edward Abbey, a noted militant environmentalist with anarchical leanings, in 1975, and is credited by some as the inspiration for the Earth First movement which gained a foothold in the 1980s. It follows the adventures of four restless, environmentally minded eccentrics; a mildly Libertarian surgeon and his nurse/girlfriend/companion, a Jack Mormon river guide with three wives, and a slovenly, profane former Green Beret and Vietnam veteran with the all time great character name of George Washington Hayduke.
Brought together on a guided river tour, the four bemoan a system that is increasingly destroying the remaining untouched open spaces in the American West. They decide the only way to halt its degradation is by hitting those who profit from it where they hurt – their pocket books.
Dubbing themselves the Monkey Wrench Gang, they embark on a campaign of direct action, destroying the implements used by the system to effect environmental destruction – road construction equipment, power lines, railways etc. All the while they manage to stay a step ahead of some of the cartoonishly funny law enforcement personnel looking to catch them. They eventually escalate their attacks in a way that has profound effects for their future and for their ability to keep up their campaign.
And that is as far as I go so as not to spoil it for folks who have not read it.
Abbey’s writing style is by turns straight forward and insistent, allegorical, and at times, particularly when describing the environment the Monkey Wrench Gang is trying to save, quite lyrical. The book is often humorous and ribald, even as it tries to make a serious point. The characters are colorful, bigger than life ,and boldly drawn by Abbey, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Still, the overall effect is really inspiring. And, it is never boring.
I am older now, and no longer see things as black and white (though the Age of Trump is sorely testing me there), so I don’t think tactics such as these are useful in real life. But damn, sometimes I really wish they were.
I really don’t know the best way to write about this book. As usual I don’t want to give away to many plot details for those that have not yet read it. In addition, it takes place in an environment that is completely foreign to my experience. I will do my best.
A Rage in Harlem takes place as you would expect, in Harlem in the 1950s. It is part mystery, part detective story, part black comedy and part farce. It centers around a character named Jackson who is a bit of a rube, and who despite the nastiness around him and a willingness to bend the law to get what he wants, is generally a decent person with simple motivations. He is an employee of a funeral home, but desiring more money to support his girlfriend, Imabelle who he loves, and about whom he harbors no doubts as to her sincerity in her feelings towards him, Jackson agrees to put his life savings into a scheme to raise ten dollar bills into one-hundred dollar bills. From there things go down hill for him.
After the failure of his counterfeiting scheme Jackson moves from disastrous decision to disastrous decision that only makes his situation worse. He robs his boss, steals a hearse, enlists the help of his junkie twin brother who impersonates a nun to make money, has two cops on his tail with the very cool names of Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones (protagonists in later books by Himes). seeks absolution from a preacher friend, and finds out Imabelle has been involved in a scheme of her own that Jackson was a pawn in.Yet no matter what happens to him, and no matter how far he sinks, Jackson never loses the certainty that Imabelle is in love with him and that somehow everything will work out. The story takes improbable twists and turns, is interspersed with brutal violence, darkly funny observations of life in Harlem and of the types of personalities that live there.
In the end, Jackson and Imabelle…well…I will leave that to you to find out…don’t want to give away any important plot details.
As a story I really quite enjoyed this book. But, as someone raised in a lily white suburb of Minneapolis the culture of 1950s Harlem is completely foreign to me, so different than anything I ever experienced in my own life, that I cannot help but think I am missing a whole subtext to this book that goes deeper than just the plot. I have to believe there is a social message Himes is trying to get across that I just am not able to tease out of the story. I am really afraid I am missing something important here.
It could be about race, but there were very few white characters in the book. One did get the sense from Himes’ descriptions of some of the locales in the story that there was an implicit negative comparison with white neighborhoods, and resentment at the way society had restrained black progress…particularly economic progress. I’m not sure, it is entirely possible this feeling of mine is just latent, liberal white guilt. In any case, I will spend more time trying to understand this aspect of the book as I would like to read his other works, but want to get the most out of them.
Oh well…I have finished the book but still feel like I have work to do to completely understand it. I actually listened to the audio version of this. It was read by Samuel L. Jackson who really made it a pleasure. He is very good at character vocalizations such that each personality was informed, at least a little bit, by his performance. His vocal characterization of a white police detective was particularly funny, only because it was coming from Samuel L. Jackson.
For a reason that I don’t quite understand my agnostic, science loving, computer geek of a father really loved the “Aubrey-Maturin” series of novels. It seemed quite out of character for him. He liked history, but more from a reasoned approach, as a way to understand how past solutions could be applied to modern problems. Reading a rip-roaring historical yarn really just never seemed like his style. Anyway, before he passed away three years ago, knowing of my love of history, he passed along his collection to me. I just finished reading the first of this 20 book series, Master and Commander.
The “Aubrey-Maturin” series is a sequence of twenty novels that take place during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and centers on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the British Royal Navy and his ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin, an Irish born doctor and naturalist. This is the series the excellent Russell Crowe movie, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, is based on. The first book in the series Master and Commander introduces us to the two characters, goes through their initial meeting and how they came to serve aboard Captain Aubrey’s first command the HMS Sophie, and fleshes out their back stories and personalities. And then…high adventure!!
‘Nuff said on the plot…as usual I don’t want to ruin it for anyone that hasn’t read the book.
After getting through about 20% of the book I began to understand what my Dad saw in them. The level of detail is incredible, especially the minutiae of running a naval ship in the early 19th century including extremely detailed descriptions of every part of the ship, its rigging and sails, its configuration and how it propelled itself. My Dad had the kind of mind that could take in this information and retain it which I am sure enhanced his enjoyment of these books. For me however it was kind of tedious. There is no way I can keep up with that much new information without either constantly looking it up to refresh my memory or just letting it flow by assuming the momentum of the story would carry me through. I chose the latter option which worked well in this case, as in the second half of the novel, having gotten through all of the preliminary description of the characters and naval jargon, it finally transformed into the adventure I had anticipated. So, by the end I had really gotten into it.
The reputation of the these novels as literature is quite high, with many comparing the author, Patrick O’Brian, to Jane Austen and C.S. Forrester. I can see why. The writing is superb, character descriptions are very vivid, and the arc of the story really compelling. I will definitely be reading more of these as time goes on!! Highly recommended!
More great beach reading from Nathaniel Philbrick. This time he tackles a now mostly forgotten expedition known as the United States Exploring Expedition (or US. Ex. Ex.) which took place between 1838 and 1842. Led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes the expedition consisted of six ships whose charge was to explore and survey the Pacific Ocean. Consisting of Navy officers and seaman, and a corps of scientists, the expedition was one of the most successful in terms of discovery, in American history. Included among its many accomplishments are the charting of the coastline of Antarctica for the first time, becoming the first expedition to reach and map the Fiji islands, charting the area surrounding the Columbia River in Oregon whose ownership was a matter of dispute between Great Britain and the United States, climbing both the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes in Hawaii, and by providing the first accurate explanations for the formation of the coral atolls that dot the South Pacific. They encountered numerous indigenous peoples throughout their journey, and cataloged and took samples of enough flora and fauna to fill a museum, and indeed it was one of the first collections added to the new Smithsonian Institution. Despite this enviable record of success however the expedition is all but forgotten now.
Philbrick’s purpose for the book is twofold; first to bring the accomplishments of this expedition back into the U.S. canon of human exploration, and second, to provide a narrative that explains why it’s accomplishments have been so overlooked. The expedition itself had adventures worthy of anything one might find in a Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling or Daniel Defoe novel – including angry cannibals. All of this is expertly dealt with by Philbrick whose writing is always clear and compelling. He brings something else to this work though, something that I thought was a bit lacking in his other books, and that is a real talent for illuminating the personalities of those involved in the events he describes. This is fortuitous as it was these personalities that were at the root of the expeditions later obscurity. I’m not going to go further than that because I don’t want to accidentally reveal any spoilers, for while this is primarily a book of history, it reads like a great adventure!
Really excellent beach reading. A story that I had never heard of before, but which was a sensation at the time. It is the story of the Arctic Polar Expedition launched in 1879 aboard the U.S.S. Jeanette commanded by George DeLong (who the DeLong archipelago in the arctic sea is named after). The expedition was launched at a time when theories about what the North Pole contained were varied and usually ill informed. The predominant theory was that the pole was surrounded by a girdle of ice, but itself was open water, and may even be warm…by some theories tropically warm.
Previous attempts at reaching the pole had failed. All had tried to reach it by creeping up the coast of Greenland. Ice inevitably stopped these expeditions. This new attempt would try to reach it via the Bering Strait based on a theory that a warm current of water known as the Kuro-Siwa drove far enough north to weaken the ice pack and provide an open water route to the pole. What happened to the crew of the USS Jeanette is extraordinary – and I am not going to relate it here because I do not want to ruin it.
It reads like a Jack London novel on steroids!
If you are off to the beach this year and looking for something to wile away your time…bring this book. And no doubt, Hollywood will want to get in on the act as I cannot imagine a better story for the big screen!
Yes, yes…this is another instance of not having yet read a book virtually everyone in the English speaking world had read when they were young. Yet it is true…I had never before this past week read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In this case I am glad I hadn’t read it before. Having grown up with the Disney-ification of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer I am convinced had I read this as a youth, it would not have made any more an impression on me than any other book of adventure. Having now read it as an adult I can appreciate the biting social and political commentary contained within the story. Themes of slavery and freedom, gender roles, the role of religious worship, class and regional distinctions, and competing economic systems are all contained in the prose….wrapped within a humorous, and exciting adventure story.
I would absolutely love it if a movie were made of this that was actually true to the book; one that explored all of these themes and didn’t shy away from the ugliness Huck and Jim encounter on their adventure. Coen brothers…are you listening? 🙂
Bucket Source (World Library list of 100 greatest books of all time)
Purchase at Amazon.com Here
Listened to the unabridged version of this using my new audible.com membership.
True story of the incident on which Herman Melville based Moby Dick. The story of the Essex which was rammed and sunk by a Sperm Whale in the south Pacific, and how the survivors attempted to make their way back to civilization. Unbelievable what human beings are capable of in extreme necessity.
I won’t give away the details for those that aren’t familiar with the story.
Philbrick is an excellent writer, and he has done his research here, filling in a lot more detail than a less attentive writer might have.
I understand Ron Howard is making a movie of this which I look forward to now that I have read/listened to the book!
I had mixed feelings about this book.
On one hand it is really well written, flowed really well, didn’t get bogged down in the techno babble that dooms so many other books on space and space exploration, and at times was funny and poignant. It gives a very good behind the scenes look at the Shuttle program, its management, and most importantly the personalities of the astronauts themselves. His recounting of the flights he participated in were particularly good, including exceptionally well written sections on the times he spent simply watching the Earth go by beneath him. Best of all it is a very easy read!
On the other hand, Mullane tries too hard to come off as the typically over-sexed, right wing, hot shot rocket jock everyone assumes test pilots are. It seems contrived. The constant stream of digs at N.O.W., Gloria Steinem, Ted Kennedy and “commies” grew kind of tiresome. And I am convinced he doesn’t actually know what the term “political correctness” means. He seems to think every time someone pushed back on some sexist and/or inappropriate thing he said or did they were being “politically correct.” In actuality they were just pointing out he was being a jerk.
He was also unnecessarily critical of non-astronauts who either flew the shuttle or had some other role astronauts with a military background disapproved of. In what seems like a requirement for test pilots he apparently believed the Shuttle Program was there exclusively so he could fulfill his dream of getting into space. Any accommodation made to non-astronauts that delayed that goal was viewed with disdain.
His criticisms of John Glenn and Christa McAuliffe were notably off base…referring to their role in the shuttle program as immoral. He seems not to have a grasp of the larger purpose for manned space exploration, nor the fact that its funding is dependent on the support of the American people.
In the epilogue he included a moving tribute to the professional astronauts who were killed in the Challenger disaster; omitting part timers Christa McAuliffe and Greg Jarvis from his tribute. An unnecessary and petty omission in my opinion; one that ignores the inspiration McAuliffe has been to younger generations.
These criticisms aside however, I really did enjoy this book. The folks that decide to risk their lives doing this work will always get slack from me.