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Bright Light City: Las Vegas in Popular Culture (Culture America)by Larry Gragg
Synopses & Reviews
When Elvis crooned "Bright light city . . . gonna set my soul on fire," he voiced and embraced the siren call of a glittering urban utopia that continues to mesmerize millions. Call it Sin City or Lost Wages, Las Vegas definitely deserves its rapturous "Viva!"
Larry Gragg, however, invites readers to view Las Vegas in an entirely new way. While countless other authors have focused on its history or gaming industry or entertainment ties, Gragg considers how popular culture has depicted the city and its powerful allure over its first century.
Drawing on hundreds of films, television programs, novels, and articles, Gragg identifies changing trends in the city's portraits. Until the 1940s, boosters promoted it as the "last frontier town," a place where prospectors and cowboys enjoyed liquor, women, and wide-open gambling. Then in the early 1950s commentators increasingly characterized Las Vegas as a sophisticated resort city in the desert, and ever since then journalists, filmmakers, and novelists have depicted a city largely built by organized crime and featuring non-stop entertainment, gambling, luxury, and, of course, beautiful—and available—women.
In Gragg's narrative, these images form a kaleidoscope of lights, sounds, characters, and ultimately amazement about this neon oasis. In these pages, readers will meet gangsters like Bugsy Siegel, Tony Spilotro, and Lefty Rosenthal, as well as Las Vegas's most popular entertainers: Elvis Presley, Sinatra's Rat Pack, Liberace, and Wayne Newton, not to mention the Folies Bergere showgirls. And Gragg's skillful interweaving of fictional and journalistic accounts of organized crime shows just how mutually reinforcing they have become over the years.
Vegas will always make people's eyes light up as bright as the Strip, witness the new TV show Vegas or the recent film The Hangover. For everyone entranced by its glitter and glamour, Bright Light City is a must read boasting color photos and bursting with insider details: an eclectic blend of stories, people, sights, and sounds that together make up this desert city's extraordinary appeal.
"With its stories of mobsters, gambling, and showgirls, Las Vegas looms large in American culture. Here, Gragg (John F. Kennedy: A Biography), a history professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, tackles a potentially fascinating question: what draws Americans to Las Vegas and what makes the city so alluring. Each chapter focuses on different thematic portrayals of Las Vegas in journalistic accounts and film, television, and novels: gambling, luxury, entertainment, portrayals of women, and organized crime. Unfortunately, what follows are endless strings of quotes and examples that obscure any analysis Gragg has to offer. His pedestrian prose does little to convey a sense of the manic energy that one has come to expect from Las Vegas. Devotees of the city will no doubt delight in the book's wealth of details, but overall, the work feels more like a compendium of images than a cohesive argument of scholarly value. Gragg is clearly enamored of his subject, but his book might have been better served by more penetrating questioning and historical context. He ultimately comes to the somewhat obvious conclusion that Las Vegas offers affordable escape — both from the humdrum and from the constraints of 'proper' society." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A lively cultural history of Las Vegas, boasting color photos and bursting with insider details. Celebrating the eclectic blend of stories, people, sights, and sounds that together make up Las Vegas's extraordinary appeal, this book considers how popular culture has depicted the city and its powerful allure over its first century.
Table of Contents
1. "Bright Light City": The Introduction to Las Vegas
2. Las Vegas: The Last Frontier Town
3. Bugsy Siegel and the Founding of Las Vegas
5. Images of Gambling in Las Vegas
6. The Entertainment Capital of the World
7. "Beautiful Women Were as Commonplace in Las Vegas as Poker Chips": Images of Las Vegas Women in Popular Culture
8. "So Much Luxury in the Middle of the Desert": Images of Luxury and Amenities in Las Vegas
9. "An Awful Place": The Negative Images of Las Vegas
Conclusion: The Ultimate Attraction of Las Vegas
Afterword: The Intellectuals' Image of Las Vegas
What Our Readers Are Saying
History and Social Science » Americana » Cities and States