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Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the Westby Judith Nies
Synopses & Reviews
An epic struggle over land, water, and power is erupting in the American West and the halls of Washington, DC. It began when a 4,000-square-mile area of Arizona desert called Black Mesa was divided between the Hopi and Navajo tribes. To the outside world, it was a land struggle between two fractious Indian tribes; to political insiders and energy corporations, it was a divide-and-conquer play for the 21 billion tons of coal beneath Black Mesa. Today, that coal powers cheap electricity for Los Angeles, a new water aqueduct into Phoenix, and the neon dazzle of Las Vegas.
Journalist and historian Judith Nies has been tracking this story for nearly four decades. She follows the money and tells us the true story of wealth and water, mendacity, and corruption at the highest levels of business and government. Amid the backdrop of the breathtaking desert landscape, Unreal City shows five cultures colliding—Hopi, Navajo, global energy corporations, Mormons, and US government agencies—resulting in a battle over resources and the future of the West.
Las Vegas may attract 39 million visitors a year, but the tourists mesmerized by the dancing water fountains at the Bellagio dont ask where the water comes from. They dont see a city with the nations highest rates of foreclosure, unemployment, and suicide. They dont see the astonishing drop in the water level of Lake Mead—where Sin City gets 90 percent of its water supply.
Nies shows how the struggle over Black Mesa lands is an example of a global phenomenon in which giant transnational corporations have the power to separate indigenous people from their energy-rich lands with the help of host governments. Unreal City explores how and why resources have been taken from native lands, what it means in an era of climate change, and why, in this city divorced from nature, the only thing more powerful than money is water.
"In this well-researched book, Nies (The Girl I Left Behind: A Narrative History of the Sixties) presents a history of the social, political, and cultural conflicts over land, water, and energy that enabled the 'Sunbelt Boom' and made the West what it is — a region dependent on coal and disappearing water sources , unwilling to discuss conservation 'because it discourage growth.' Nies centers her book on the creation of Las Vegas and presents an expansive history of the area, from indigenous Navajo and Hopi tribes to Mormon settlement and 20th century corporate dealings and federal interventions. The story that appears is one of 'legal theft' of land and rights from the indigenous populations of Black Mesa in northern Arizona to supply power to Las Vegas and other desert cities. The book addresses all the major players and stakeholders, showing how the history and present state of the West are inextricable from Wall Street and Washington. This portrayal contrasts sharply with the popular and politicized vision of the West as individualistic and self-reliant. The presentation is dense and at times difficult to untangle. But in this regard, the reading experience very much reflects the muddled history and complex reality of the current resource struggles in the American West. Agent: Don Fehr, Trident Media Group. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
When award-winning author Judith Nies attended a glamorous movie-star event in Phoenix in 1982, she thought it was a celebration of the ancient culture of the Hopi Indians. Why, she wondered, did the reception include the executives of some of the largest mining, construction, and utility corporations in America?
Ten years earlier, as a young congressional staffer, she had watched Congress divide up between the Hopi and Navajo 4,000 square miles on Black Mesa, Arizona, lands that held the richest untouched coal deposit in the United States. Soon 15,000 Navajo were being relocated, and 21 billion tons of coal was being strip-mined to provide cheap electricity for Los Angeles, pump water into Phoenix, and illuminate the dazzle of Las Vegas Strip. In the intervening years, she followed the money that flowed from Black Mesa and witnessed long-term drought, temperatures up, and water supplies down.
Las Vegas has much to teach us in an era of climate change. The desert city may still attract 39 million visitors a year, but tourists dont see a city with the highest rates of foreclosure, unemployment, or suicide in the nation. They dont see the astonishing drop in the water level of Lake Mead, or follow the route of the new Chinatown,” a multi-billion dollar water-pipeline into a mountain aquifer 200-miles north. The same mining and construction companies operate globally and are spending millions to convince us that climate change isnt happening and coal can be clean.” But for Las Vegas, and for the United States, the mirage of limitless supply and limitless wealth is now dissolving.
About the Author
Judith Nies is the award-winning author of three nonfiction books- The Girl I Left Behind: A Personal History of the 1960s, Nine Women: Portraits from the American Radical Tradition, and Native American History: A Chronology, which won the Phi Alpha Theta prize in international history. Niess journalism, book reviews, and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Boston Globe, Orion, Harvard Review, Womens Review of Books, and American Voice. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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History and Social Science » Americana » Western States