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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bridge shadow
Photo of the Snake River by kitseeborg used under a Creative Commons license.

Ron Carlson, Five Skies (Viking, 2007).
Correspondent Virginia writes:

Set in Idaho’s Rocky Mountains, this third novel by Ron Carlson deals with three men undertaking an improbable summerlong construction project: a ramp for an Evel Knievelesque canyon leap. Each man brings his personal desolation to this harsh and beautiful landscape, finding redemption and connection in the dignity of backbreaking labor. Idaho’s natural wonders come alive on the page with a literary sparseness that matches the landscape.

Susan Salter reviewed it in the LA Times in May 2007. Tom Barbash reviewed it for the New York Times in August 2007, and Allison Glock reviewed it for Esquire. The New Yorker briefly noted it, as is oft their wont. Hear it read by the author at NPR, or listen to this story (with links, too) at Minnesota Public Radio. Ron Carlson applies the Page 69 Test to his own book here. More reviews from Scott Leibs, David Abrams (January), Porch Dog, StarStar, T.K. Dalton (High Country News), Dave, and Dan. Seth Marko says it’s the best book he read in 2007.

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