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Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition Paperback – June 1, 1993


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Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition + When the Rivers Run Dry: Water--The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Revised edition (June 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140178244
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140178241
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The definitive history of water resources in the American West, and a very illuminating lesson in the political economy of limited resources anywhere. Highly recommended!

Review

A revealing, absorbing, often amusing, and alarming report. -- The New York Times Book Review

Reisner captures Western water history in Cinemascope and Technicolor. Cadillac Desert is timely and of national importance. Hurry up and read this book. -- The Washington Post

Customer Reviews

Getting friends and family to read this book may do that.
TLR
This book is well researched and well written and for a book with so much technical information, quite easy and enjoyable to read.
William E Jacobs
It is a must read for anyone curious about the water supply of the American West.
Frank Butera

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 131 people found the following review helpful By xaosdog on February 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
I am somewhat ashamed to have read this book only recently. I should have read this one years ago.
Well, better late than never, and I am pleased to report that it deserves its enduring reputation.
...But let me assume that I am writing this "review" for an audience that is neither familiar with Reisner's book nor aware of the role water development has played in every aspect of the history of the American West, particularly of California.
Briefly, the history of water development contains the whole story of the West, from start to present. Early modern irrigation worked miracles and opened to the plow land previously unavailable for agriculture -- land that now feeds the nation and much of the world. If it were not for these early, massive hydro-projects, not one of the great cities of the West would be even conceivable, millions upon millions of people would and could never have considered settling the western half of the continent. Of course, there was a massive cost accompanying all of these benefits, measurable in human as well as environmental terms, but in those days the cost-benefit analysis was easy.
Building upon early irrigation successes, two government agencies -- the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers, may they both live forever in infamy -- garnered unto themselves massive power and independence, which they used to keep on building dam after dam after dam. The problem was not so much (at the time the dams were built) that the environmental costs were higher with every dam, until there now remains no wild river beyond the hundredth meridian of any significance whatsoever, precious little habitat for migratory birds, mass extinctions, etc., etc., tragically etc.
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115 of 123 people found the following review helpful By J. Charles Hansen on December 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
I enthusiastically told friends that I was reading a book about "water development in the West" and they blankly would stare back and ask "Why"? Well, I discovered that the story of moving people and water into the West where humans really have no natural right living is quite entertaining. Reisner is the perfect storyteller and he permeates this real drama of pure will, deceit, graft, engineering prowess and the pork barrel with a subtle sarcastic wit I could read all day. He makes a real effort to keep his personal views out of the picture and rely on interviews and statistics. Even though it seems that he likely sees most large water projects as foolhardy and boondoggles he presents both sides - for example highlighting how one of the massive Comubia River dams had the unexpected value of helping us win WWII through power generation. I read this for a book club and the four of us (all California natives) 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.
There is also an excellent PBS companion 4 video series of the same name which I found available at my library (or sold through Amazon.com packaged with Chinatown) which I would HIGHLY recommend. It adds a lot thorough interviews, footage of a dam failing, and beautiful scenery that lets you appreciate the natural beauty at stake when considering these large water projects.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By N. Cooley on September 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Cadillac Desert" is one of those books that causes a person to seriously question "the system" (no matter your ideological affiliation). The book exposes the blantant contradictions and hypocrisy that have permeated the history of the West (which history is the history of water and it being reigned in). Take my own situation for example: Over the last couple of weeks I found myself agreeing page after page with the authors' points of view. During those same weeks when I was reading the book and agreeing with the author, I was swimming in, showering in, watering my lawn with, and drinking the very water the author condemned. As if that wasn't bad enough I reflected on my former years when I worked every summer on the family farm which was sustained by CAP and reclamation water. Ouch!!!
My reading this book can basically be translated into the author, Marc Reisner, slapping me in the face and chewing me out and me just sitting there unable to defend myself. The book sets forth examples that are virtually impossible to argue against. However, one point Mr. Reisner failed to mention is the importance agriculture plays in our national security and our ability as a nation to sustain ourselves. This point, though, hardly justifies the irrational decisions made buy both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers. I mention it here as a kind a weak punch from the canvas in an attempt to justify my existence after being so brutally beaten down by facts and the exposure of the blatant hypocrisy perpetuated by so-called "ideological purists" (which come from both sides of the aisle). The author said it best by stating that when it comes to water there are no Republicans and Democrats, and there are no liberals or conservatives.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful By William E Jacobs on May 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Cadillac Desert should be required reading for every American. On the surface it tells the story of water development and conservation (or lack thereof) in the American west in particular and the nation in general. Throughout the book however, you are given an understanding of how our government actually works. I always wondered why a company in California will contribute heavily to a congressman from New York. Now I know. I also know why our government will spend so much tax money on seemingly wastful projects. Anyone interested in engineering will be fascinated by the construction of the huge dams. Marc Reisner also relates some of the disasters that resulted from poorly constucted or situated dams. This book is well researched and well written and for a book with so much technical information, quite easy and enjoyable to read. Anyone interested in water conservation, irrigation, American government, American history, engineering feats or development of the American west will love this book
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