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Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Bernadette, May 14, 2011

This is my favorite non-fiction book!! I'm stealing part of 2 reviews from a few guys on Better World Books that sums up my thoughts better than I could...and I completely reiterate that the PBS 4-part series (which I got from the local library) is HIGHLY recommended:

Randy from The United States | Aug 31, 2008 : I read this for a book club and the four of us used it as a springboard for literally hours of conversation. This should be required reading for anyone who claims to be an informed citizen living in the American West.

Max from Portland, OR | Mar 4, 2011
In 1986, Marc Reisner published a book called Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water. In it, Reisner fastidiously documents the appropriation of the West’s most valuable resources, water. The book, now 20 years old, prophetically detailed many of the problems of water supply and land degradation that we are now facing today. Water is the lifeblood of humanity and how we care for this resource will determine our fate. Cadillac Desert is scathing critique of American policy on water development, specifically towards the Bureau of Reclamation’s gun-slinging approach towards dam building. This book was the seminal work on water development and it reverberations will continue for however long we live in the Western United States.

In all of Marc Reisner's work, he explores the relation humans have with their environment and how we have put extreme amounts of stress on that relationship. Throughout Cadillac Desert, Reisner describes the extent to which the government has augmented the environment of California, as succinctly described here:

"The whole state thrives, even survives, by moving water from where it is, and presumably isn't needed, to where it isn't, and presumably is needed. No other state has done as much to fructify its deserts, make over its flora and fauna, and rearrange the hydrology God gave it. No other place has put as many people where they probably have no business being. There is no place like it anywhere on earth. Thirty-one million people (more than the population of Canada), an economy richer than all but seven nations' in the world, one third of the table food grown in the United States---and none of it remotely conceivable within the preexisting natural order (333)."

Before Cadillac Desert, people looked at dams and other water developments as an example of human ingenuity and necessary for continued human existence. These leviathan alterations though have left nature severely scarred and Reisner uncompromisingly details the effects uncontrolled water development has had.
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