Hoover Dam
Photo of the Hoover Dam by ubik14 used under a Creative Commons license.

Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert (Penguin, 1993).
The epic tale of water and the American West. Water is scarce throughout the West, and so its history is one of water rights, irrigation, dams, and lots and lots of politics. Two federal agencies – the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers – have battled for years to control the floodgates. Reisner’s research was comprehensive, and he recounts events over several decades and explains water projects in several states. If this subject matter sounds dry (pun intended) to you, rest assured that it isn’t. This book will change the way you understand half of the country, and should be required reading for anyone living in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones.

Here is a bio of Reisner. Here is his obituary from The New York Times. Outside of term-paper sites, there is less discussion of it on the web than the book deserves, but here are Jerry Keeney, Faith, Marty, Ray Swider, and Branislav L. Slantchev. And Camron Assadi agrees that it’s a must-read.

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Hopi Platter, Butterfly Maiden, c. 1920
Photo of Hopi platter by vlasta2 used under a Creative Commons license.

Edward T. Hall, West of the Thirties: Discoveries among the Navajo and Hopi (Anchor Books, 1995).
Hall arrived on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations at the age of 19 in 1933 to work for the Indian Emergency Conservation Work program, a New Deal program of road repair and other civil engineering. He stayed for four years, during which time he fell in with trader Lorenzo Hubbell, who was an intermediary between the Navajos, Hopis, Anglos, and Hispanics, and to whom the book is dedicated. Hall, who was to become a noted anthropolist, was engaged by the Navajo and Hopi cultures, which had much less contact with the outside world in those days. His account of those four years is readable and engaging.

The book doesn’t have much presence on the interwebs. Here is a 2006 interview with Hall, much more theoretical than the book. Here is a review by Emilie De Brigard in Visual Anthropology Review. And Douglas A. Sylva wrote a short, cranky review in The New York Times.

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