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In Nevada: The Land, the People, God, and Chance Hardcover – September 28, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

That one of the first acts of the territorial government was to construct a prison reveals much about the early American inhabitants of Nevada. Originally composed mainly of restless prospectors, explorers, and outlaws, the populace resented the efforts of federal authorities to impose uniform law and order, as well as statehood, on a region it deemed its own. Though the feds ultimately won out, the sentiment stuck, and Nevada continues to operate by its own set of cultural and political standards. This compromise, explains David Thomson, makes the state essential to the rest of the nation:

Nevada is on the edge, on the wire, off to one side, in the empty quarter, or even in the rest of the country's head as an idea, a possibility, an alternative. It is an experiment, or a kind of theater.... for America has used Nevada as a testing ground, and not just for weapons and their destructiveness but also for new social ideas, and their explosiveness. What happens if you allow divorce, prostitution, gambling? Can there be community and purpose if you encourage things deep in human nature yet supposedly alien to order and togetherness? Don't we need to find out?
Much of the union's most rapidly growing state remains a mystery. Area 51, for instance, just 50 miles northwest of the Las Vegas neon, is a chunk of desert larger than Connecticut, forbidden to anyone without official government clearance. Such desolation defines much of the state, whether or not off-limits. Indeed, "it is the deep and ultimate vacancy of the place that stimulates storytelling," says Thomson, and to prove his point, he covers topics as varied as the Burning Man Festival, Frank Sinatra, pugilism, conspiracy theories, alleged UFO storage facilities, nuclear waste, and gambling, to name precious few.

Thomson's meandering style is well suited to the subject. Moving easily from the floor of a frenetic casino to the loneliest stretch of highway, his compelling stories and observations convey "the power of Nevada as a place and as an idea." The result is an absorbing and amusing tour rife with surprises. "I hope I may leave you wanting to go there, to be there, to see and feel it for yourself," he writes. In Nevada undoubtedly succeeds. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

It may come as a shock to learn that there's more to Nevada than Reno and Las Vegas. As Thomson's compulsive meanderings through the Sagebrush State make clear, there's a whole other Nevada out thereAeven if it's mostly just empty space. Not unlike the dense historiography of John McPhee, this impressionistic series of sketches gives readers the feeling of having a well-informed sidekick riding shotgun through sage-strewn stretches of Highway 376. Thomson augments his observations with judicious bits of local history, showing how the desolate region has paradoxically become the most rapidly growing state in the union. Drawing gamblers, real estate barons and UFO enthusiasts by the busload, Nevada boasts a long history of rough-edged prospector types looking to strike it rich. A concurrent tradition of off-handed violence has lingered ever since the newborn Nevada Territory built a prison as one of its first official acts. Thomson (Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles) clearly has an appetite for the gritty stage machinery behind the glossy showmanship. Thumbnail sketches abound of Steve Wynn, Frank Sinatra and lesser-known impresarios, alongside historical riffs on such places as Reno, the self-proclaimed "Biggest Little City in the World." To the crowded gaming tables and the stark mountains that surround them, Thomson brings an appealingly philosophical frame of mind, an ability to throw sophisticated musingsAabout transience, history, placeAout into the landscape as if waiting to see if they will take root. Photos. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (September 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679454861
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679454861
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,416,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By John Duncan on July 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
David Thomson's "In Nevada: The Land, The People, God, and Chance" was a disappointing read, owing only in part to its misleading title. The book consists primarily of parallel descriptions of the development of gambling & entertainment in Las Vegas and of nuclear-weapons testing at the Test Site. These are important topics, but their predominance is not suggested by the book's title. Substantial discussions of Lake Tahoe, Area 51/UFO-mania, and the Burning Man festival have very little to do with Nevada. Tahoe is geographically and culturally much more California than Nevada, and the Burning Man silliness and UFO-obsession have their origins outside of the state. Reno ("really the only city in Nevada," in Thomson's words) receives a scant 12 of the book's 320 pages. The treatment of the state's mining and political history is spotty and shallow. The author's sources are apparently restricted to a few standard references. There is no evidence of detailed research or thoughtful insight.
But the most disappointing aspects of this book are Thomson's descriptions (or lack thereof) of Nevada's rural interior (that 80% of the state that is neither part of a military reservation nor within 50 miles of the California line). He claims that this vast, sparsely populated region is his first love in Nevada, but if this is true, it is a strangely distant, sterile, and uncomprehending love. He provides vague and general descriptions of the landscapes, with mountain elevations seemingly taken from a road map. The only rural Nevadans that he describes in any detail are a young couple that he observed in a cafe in Fallon.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Great book. It sinks into self-indulgence several times but it's well worth putting up with those moments. Wonderful writing style, superb anecdotes, pithy history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Duncan on July 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
David Thomson's "In Nevada: The Land, The People, God, and Chance" was a disappointing read, owing only in part to its misleading title. The book consists primarily of parallel descriptions of the development of gambling & entertainment in Las Vegas and of nuclear-weapons testing at the Test Site. These are important topics, but their predominance is not suggested by the book's title. Substantial discussions of Lake Tahoe, Area 51/UFO-mania, and the Burning Man festival have very little to do with Nevada. Tahoe is geographically and culturally much more California than Nevada, and the Burning Man silliness and UFO-obsession have their origins outside of the state. Reno ("really the only city in Nevada," in Thomson's words) receives a scant 12 of the book's 320 pages. The treatment of the state's mining and political history is spotty and shallow. The author's sources are apparently restricted to a few standard references. There is no evidence of detailed research or thoughtful insight.
But the most disappointing aspects of this book are Thomson's descriptions (or lack thereof) of Nevada's rural interior (that 80% of the state that is neither part of a military reservation nor within 50 miles of the California line). He claims that this vast, sparsely populated region is his first love in Nevada, but if this is true, it is a strangely distant, sterile, and uncomprehending love. He provides vague and general descriptions of the landscapes, with mountain elevations seemingly taken from a road map. The only rural Nevadans that he describes in any detail are a young couple that he observed in a cafe in Fallon.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By saskatoonguy on June 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
While Thomson does give reasonable coverage to the history of Las Vegas, most of his book is about the rest of the state - places like Reno, Carson City, the not-so-secret "Area 51," and the sparsely-populated northwest corner of the state. Thomson's book is part history and part travelogue, although it is arranged in neither chronological order nor in any particular geographical sequence. If there is a theme to this book, it's the effect of atomic bomb testing and nuclear waste disposal on the state, a topic to which Thomson returns repeatedly. The book includes one map and about thirty photos. The book's drawback is that the author seems to be stretching for material to fill the pages. It's as though a student has to write a 5,000-word essay but has only 1,000 words of material. Thomson frequently lapses into empty rhetoric as though to meet some requirement regarding number of pages. Most travel writers interview local people to give their books a human tone, but Thomson seems to have talked to surprisingly few actual Nevadans. This is unfortunate, because Nevada is one of the more interesting states, and there should be no shortage of interesting characters and places to discover.
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