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.
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