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Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 1, 2010


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Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century + Hoover Dam: An American Adventure
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416532161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416532163
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

Fittingly, noted the San Francisco Chronicle, the history of Hoover Dam is "just as roiling and dirty as the silt-laden Colorado." Critics felt that what could have been a dry, technical story of the creation of the dam became, in Hiltzik's hands, a fascinating social, political, and labor history. Although Hiltzik spares readers few engineering details, he also looks closely at key political compromises and issues and captures the colorful personalities of the main players. He also offers new insight into the tragic worker deaths. A few reviewers commented that the book doesn't live up to the promise of its subtitle; that quibble notwithstanding, Hoover Dam is a standout popular history.

From Booklist

For his history of a famous piece of infrastructure, Hiltzik selects one without compare. Decked out in art deco, the Hoover Dam is a beautiful immensity that awes throngs of visitors, and it boasts a construction epic reflecting Depression-era America: the first to impound the Colorado River, the dam is both product and symbol of the politics of water rights in the American West. It is the 1920s iteration of the latter on which Hiltzik, a business writer for the Los Angeles Times, embarks in his fascinating account of the genesis of the Boulder Canyon Project, as the enabling congressional act called the yet-unnamed dam. Starting the story at the torrid desert job site, Hiltzik recounts the rigorous organization of the project by the contract-winning consortium and its engineering chief, Frank Crowe. If Crowe's solutions to technical problems were audaciously titanic, the labor practices of his bosses were pitiless. Strikes were crushed; slack safety resulted in numerous deaths; and a whites-only hiring policy prevailed. Astutely conveying the characters of its creators, Hiltzik marvelously captures the times of the Hoover Dam. --Gilbert Taylor

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Customer Reviews

He was fascinating and I found his book the same.
Tandem
As some have mentioned, the book could have used more illustrations (the author, afterall, writes about the famous photo chronicling of the building of the dam).
OtherWorlds&Wisdom
The author did a wonderful job explaining the huge engineering efforts of building Hoover Dam.
Ward Carpenter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Lester Reingold on June 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In a review titled "Cheapskate," David Rogers gives this book one star because he says it has "absolutely no photos to accompany the text." In fact, "Colossus" has 34 photos and other graphics, presented in a 16-page illustrations section that appears on glossy stock between pages 306 and 307. Rogers claims the book is printed on "cheap newsprint." No, newsprint is what newspapers are printed on. "Colossus" is printed on standard book-quality paper. And Rogers cites the book's "untrimmed pages" as further indication that it is "an extraordinarily low quality product." Again, untrue. That single patterned edge is a binding style used with many fine editions. In point of fact, "Colossus" is produced well, with first-rate cover, typeface, etc. But what is far more important is the book's content. Michael Hiltzik has written a fascinating account of a landmark of the American West. As the Washington Post review puts it, he "approaches Hoover Dam as historian, investigative reporter and social critic." Hiltzik manages to excel in all three roles, and the result is a truly compelling narrative.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jim on September 2, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a great read, though it is long and not what I would call a summer read.The book days a excellent job on the construction of Hoover/Boulder Dam, describing in great detail of the tough conditions the workers had to face, not only from the construction but also that of mother nature and the depression of the 30's.
A good amount of the book also goes into the history of the Colorado River as the U.S. spread westward. Also on the politics and egos of the men involved with the wonder of the Modern World.
Just like the title says, Hoover Dam is a Colossus and was instrumental in making the U.S. what it become in the 20Th century.
I highly recommend this book

Jim
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Raphael Sagalyn on June 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
For Rogers to admire the book but fault the lack of photographs and high production is a disservice to this Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Well done, Michael Hiltzik. For those who want pics of Hoover Dam, look online; but, if you want a great narrative history about this epic public works project, read this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Alan Fishman on June 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This a great story of one of the most significant engineering and human achievements in American history. While this story has been told before Mr. Hiltzik brings a new perspective that makes the story fresh for anyone familiar with the history of the dam. For those unfamiliar with the story of Hoover Dam this is a must read history. Mr. Hitzik does an excellent job covering the legal and political obstacles that had to be overcome to get the dam built as well as the hardships of the workers laboring in horrific conditions. Still, for me the book was a reminder of the great things we accomplish do as a nation with clear goals and strong leadership. A current reminder of that is the new bridge spanning the gorge just below the dam. It is as breathtaking as the dam itself. I recommend this book highly.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Steve G. on August 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is very well-written story of the political, social, corporate, and labor history of the Hoover Dam. But I wanted to learn about the design, engineering, and construction of the dam in detail. Yes, the engineering and construction are discussed, but not as the primary story, as shown by the fact that there is only one engineering graphic showing the overall design of the dam. I'll have to check some of the references that Hitzik cites in his end notes to find what I want.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By R. C Sheehy on July 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Michael Hiltzik manages to do something very unusual, he takes the story of one of the great engineering feats of all time and turns it into a low grade political thriller. The Hoover Dam is a feat of engineering that has few contemporaries in world history. Sadly, this book spends a lot of time detailing the various fights between the egos of the senior level managers running the show.

The book is at its best when it goes deep into how the dam was built and when it explains how much was lost in lives during its building. Sadly, Hiltzik does this in a spare and disorganized fashion. I will give him due for telling the story of various structural problems that have plagued the dam since it opened. Overall this is a decent read, I just wish more of the dynamism of the project was conveyed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By CJA VINE VOICE on November 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Hiltzik tells the history of the social, economic, and political fervent of the 1920s and 1930s through the story of the Hoover Dam. This approach works because of the size, complexity, and long time frame of the project -- and because of Hiltzik's skill and diligence as a historian.

Not that Hiltzik neglects the very important engineering story to be told: he does give the reader a good feel for the technical challenges of the dam presented by the warming of concrete as it cures, the choice between a gravity dam and an arch dam (in which the geometry of the arch and the water force behind it secure the dam to its sides), the choice to massively overbuild the dam, the problem of "uplift" in the form of water seepage under the dam that can destroy the structure, and the hellacious task of blasting river diversion tunnels through solid rock.

But I find the larger issues presented by the dam to be far more interesting. The dam is a massive public works project which also threatened to displace the business of privately owned public utitlies with the enormous electrical generating capacity that would be operated by a public agency. This offended Hoover and the Republicans greatly, given their suspicions of creeping socialism. But it was the Republicans who did this deal, not the Democrats. FDR and the Democrats only inherited the dam midway through construction (and then temporarily renamed it). This is a testament to the strong tradition in American history of public works. Hoover Dam is the natural descendant of Henry Clay's "American System", the transcontinental railroad, and of the crediblility earned by the federal government in its successful prosecution of World War I.
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