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on February 9, 2014
If you want to know about how the dam was built, this is NOT the book. Spends more time railing on capitalism and praising unions than anything else. Very disappointed. Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel, Hiltzik treats it as an afterthought.
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on January 20, 2013
As with any good history account, this isn't just about the central subject (Hoover Dam), but uses that as a keystone to explore the history and people of those times. The Wild West-like nature of those days will surprise people. The amount of people who died building the dam will shock you (and the government didn't seem very concerned about it). We don't do many projects on this scale anymore. Our legacy is overpriced stadiums, cars running on ancient technology and slow airplanes. Back during the building of the Colossus, and in the post war era that followed, people envisioned a far different world. We may think we are advanced, but take a look at the World Fairs and futurists of the early 20th Century. Colossus is both a story of success and failure. I wonder if there is a memorial at the dam for the people who died building it? 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). Not so much a focus on the technical aspects as is it is the people, but through the people is the best way to study history. More great history books that will take you back: Boone,Mayflower,The Last Stand,Grey Wolf,Yellow Dirt &Empire of the Summer Moon.
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on September 28, 2012
Interesting book for those who care about water projects, big construction, politics and economics of power and infrastructure projects. Lots of memorable descriptions of scenes from the 1930's. One quibble - referring to sex workers as whores. Just needlessly degrading, especially since sex workers had the legal right to do sex work in Nevada. Sort of like referring to lawyers as shysters or blacks as coloreds or worse. It says not good things about the author to use a disfavored term (disfavored by those being discussed) when a perfectly good and objective alternative term is available. Making intimacy available at remote job sites (like in Jordan or Iraq or Afghanistan) is not a small problem - and sex workers should not be dismissed out of hand by calling them whores. If sex workers were primarily men, then authors would not be so likely to thoughtlessly toss around derogatory "whore" terms. Time to get a bit less misogynistic/moralistic, for the good of the construction industry, and labor forces in general.
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on December 27, 2014
I received this book as a gift from a friend, but I also consider it a gift from the author. Hiltzik’s prose is smooth as the flowing waters of the Colorado River his main character in a story filled with fascinating, key people responsible for developing the west. From the first men who dreamed of tapping the river’s water, Rockwood and Chaffey, to Phil Swing who shepherded the Boulder Canyon Project through Congress, to “Hurry Up” Harry Crowe, who built Hoover Dam two years ahead of schedule, Hiltzik tells a gripping tale. The consortium of Six Companies went on to become some the international construction heavyweights of today: Bechtel and Kaiser Corporations. Great reading for anyone who wants to understand the roots of current water wars over the Colorado River
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on July 20, 2010
The book 'Colossus' by M. Hiltzik is an excellent read. I learned a lot of history from it. I have visited Hoover Dam, but would like to visit it again after having read this book.
My only complaint is that, although the book includes some great photos, I wanted to see more maps and map detail than were provided. The included maps are too small to be useful.
To remedy this, I downloaded maps of the whole Colorado River, the Salton Sink/Sea and the All American Canal from the internet so that I could follow the story more clearly.
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on August 12, 2010
Don't let the heft of this book scare you off. Michael Hiltzik has done a superb job in not only telling the story behind Hoover Dam, but in drawing out the personalities behind the men who had a hand in building this massive project. There's plenty of drama and substantial reliance on eyewitness accounts to give you a feeling almost of being "on site" as the project unfolds. This isn't typical lightweight summer-fare, but it IS a good read with enough going on to keep the reader engaged.
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on July 31, 2010
This is a great read about one of the most ambitious projects the U.S. had ever undertaken to that time. It explores the various personalities involved in the planning for, and execution of the dam itself-- making all come to life. And it explores the massive engineering involved, challenging the competence, energy, political savvy, and will of those personalities.

Highly recommended.
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on June 6, 2011
I'm a big fan of history, and especially enjoy reading histories of some of the biggest projects and/or events of American history. Stephen Ambrose and David McCollough are two of my favorite authors in this genre. Ambrose's accounts of the Lewis and Clarke expedition and the building of the transcontinental railroad, and McCollough's books detailing the Panama Canal and Brooklyn Bridge construction are among the best I've read. Therefore, when I saw this work on the history and construction of the Hoover Dam, one of the greatest feats of engineering in history, I was more than excited to order and read it.

This is a good book. It more than competently covers the details and the personalities behind the Dam, the region and the historical era. When compared with the works cited above, it falls short however. One issue is the paucity of photographs and diagrams contained in the book. In the presence of highly detailed descriptions, simple diagrams or descriptive photographs would have been extremely helpful.

The second problem I encountered was the blatantly obvious political bias held by the author. If Hoover was the smarmy, autocratic, hypocritical blowhard that the author clearly paints him to be, a simple recitation of the facts could allow the reader to come to that conclusion. Instead, the author frequently peppers the facts with "helpful" little adverbs and descriptive phrases to help the reader along.

The Hoover Dam is rightly held up as one of the greatest public works ever undertaken by the U. S. government, at a time when such projects were very difficult to accomplish due to the financing and political restrictions in place before the New Deal and Great Society programs made such mega projects de rigueur. Nevertheless, recognition of the role of government in this case is used by the author as a sledgehammer to denigrate and ridicule the idea that private enterprise can or should have a major role in our society. Time and again, individuals and capitalists of the era are painted as greedy slave drivers, interested only in printing money, to the detriment of quality workmanship or the safety and well being of their workers. The few that were seemingly decent human beings were hopelessly incompetent.

Again, this is not a bad book. It is however, not what it could have been in the hands of Ambrose or McCollough.
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on January 9, 2016
This is a great book that describes the geology, geography, history, project planning, new innovations, personalities, hardships, politics, etc., etc., ect., of the citing, planning, and building of the Hoover Dam. There is something for everyone in this book. If you have any interest in the Hoover Dam, or western dams, this is a wonderful resource.
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on April 28, 2015
More than just about the building of the dam. Very good history of water policy in the west and the rise of some great construction companies.

Also great information about the dangers of construction in that time period and the state of the country during the depression.

Well written, reads well, not dry like some history.
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