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Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I don't often read nonfiction books that make me laugh out loud, but this one did. Egan is something of a gonzo journalist, taking on the vast subject of the American West and finding in it cause for both wonder and humor. The book is a collection of 14 essays, in which the author travels to places in 11 different states, giving readers plenty of local history, descriptions of dramatic landscapes, and a portrayal of "custom and culture" that reels under colliding visions of what the West should be. At every turn, he has an eye for ironies that both reveal and entertain.
After an introduction that takes place at a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he begins his journey in New Mexico and Arizona, then moves northward, swinging through Colorado, Montana, and the Great Basin states, ending in California. There is much about cowboys, cattlemen, and Native Americans. We also visit London Bridge at Lake Havasu, an ostrich ranch outside Denver, the pit left behind by the Anaconda copper mining company in Butte, the casinos of Las Vegas, and the site of an appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the back of a road sign in Sunnyside, Washington. There are accounts of fishing in the Bitterroots of Idaho, river rafting on the American River above Sacramento, and hunting for Anasazi petroglyphs in the canyons of the Escalante in Utah.
Meanwhile history comes alive from a colorful and sometimes jaundiced perspective in stories of the conquistador Don Juan de Oñate's conquest of the Indians at Acoma in New Mexico, the massacre of a wagon train of settlers by Mormons at Mountain Meadows, Utah, in the 1860s, and the California Gold Rush. There are historical figures who make vivid appearances, including Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Lewis and Clark, and Brigham Young. The most affecting story is the author's retelling of Chief Joseph and the fate of the Nez Perce.
Egan gives us a whirlwind trip across a vast area of the U.S. He touches on themes that are common in books about the west -- the follies and vanities of those who have defied the realities of its arid climate, laid waste to natural resources, decimated its wildlife, and attempted to eradicate its native populations. While there is much to lament in what it reveals of the devastation brought by settlement of the West, it also seeks earnestly for signs that the spirit of the West still survives and can eventually thrive.
I highly recommend this book as an addition to any bookshelf of Western nonfiction. As a companion volume, I also recommend Frank Clifford's "The Backbone of the World," which recounts a similar journey by a journalist across the states that lie along the Continental Divide.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
I am an Australian who has never been to the United States, so I might be coming at this book from a different perspective to many.
I thought the writing was wonderfully evocative, both in the positive descriptions (eg. the Western landscape) and the negative descriptions (eg. the stupidity of cows). I got a real sense of the beauty of the land.
I thought the social and political aspect of the book was also really interesting because it took a view of American history which doesn't assume that you know who Thomas Jefferson was, but still requires some intelligence from the reader. Rather than just rubbishing traditional Western lifestyles, Egan engages with and explores them. He then offers some possible future solutions which are interesting and seem practical.
I found the way Egan combined natural and political and social and demographic history into one whole comprehensible theory fantastic.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a native Californian who has visited most of the places in Egan's book, I can say he got it right. This is one of the best books I've read this year because it cleverly mixes sociology, history, travel book and future-predicting. Between this book and Tony Horwitz' Confederates in the Attic (which is a similarly mixed book about the South) I learned a lot about the South and the West. Now if only someone would take on Northeast and the Midwest...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
After reading 'A Good Rain' a number of years ago, I couldn't wait for Egan's next book. And I was not disappointed. Egan casts aside the romantic visions and fanatasies about the real West, and gives his readers a large dose of reality and fact. As with his previous book, I felt myself both incredibly drawn by his accounts, descriptions and history of his subjects - while at the same time agonizing for the atrocities carried out by my predecessors. Egan's prose perfectly captures the geography of the west in a way few authors have been able to.
'Lasso the Wind' falls under the "must read" category for anyone living, working or studying in the West...regardless of whether they are a 5th generation rancher or a 1st generation Sierra Club volunteer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
In choosing his title, Lasso the Wind, Timothy Egan establishes the ironic metaphor for his collection of essays on the New West. Here is an evasive hydra-headed monster of ranchers and cowboys, Indians and explorers, movie stars and utopian visionaries, poets and painters, politicians and poor folk. The multifarious populations are depicted in an epic struggle for identity and definition, where the frenetic forces of politics and economics have destroyed centuries of culture while laying the precarious ground for new dreams. The underlying unity of the fifteen essays that comprise this book is to be found in the historical narratives of redefinition that have made the West a land of layers and buried stories. In his early musings, Egan observes that the vastness of the land has been the source of an almost delusional sense that the land can be anything that the Newcomer wants it to be. And millions of dollars and whole populations of people would shift and groan in the wake of those impulsive creations. In time, the land itself would pose its restrictions and exert a kind of revenge. As the land became part of the United States of America, it was subject to a dizzying barrage of exploitation: digging, damming, cutting, stomping, muddying, mining, fencing, buying, and selling. Now, as these various exploits are exposed, there is a kind of enlightened potential being explored: We can persist and hold tight to old myths and visions, or embrace the new.

In his summary essay on a raft trip down the American River in California, Egan sees the recent denizens of the West "Radically altering the land, living on phony myths, ignoring the best features or trying to kill them. And it is Western glory in its own fine way: a new society, with a tolerance of fledgling souls, embracing the possible." When enough folks embrace the possible over several hundred years, it's time for a writer like Egan to come around and sort through the pieces. Lasso the Wind is an attempt to do just that, and to offer a perspective from which to understand the current changes that are occurring in the West of today.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Extremely well written, with use of irony, sarcasm, humor to make the reader realize how ridiculous the pioneer, shoot-em-up western image is, when compared to Native American customs. There are some spooky people out west.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Not until after I finished Egan�s Lasso the Wind did I realize how fast the book went. Egan is the rare writer who can easily combine a meaningful and entertaining story. OK then a well-written story explains why the book went fast. Or maybe the fast pace is due the fact that Egan covers some 11 western states in the span of 250 pages. The book�s tempo seems to come from someone who lives in New York, New York. I wonder if Egan has been making too many trips to The New York Times corporate office to pitch stories to his editor. Its probably not a coincidence that the author takes advantage of the �no speed limits� to rocket through a stretch of Montana, only to get the attention of a state trooper. Driving habits aside, Egan manages to get in touch with the heart of issues that are unique to the Western states. I enjoyed really getting to see these special places through his eyes. Throughout the book, Egan sees the West with a candid and objective eye, but always remains hopeful. An excerpt from the end of the book on California really depicts Egan�s thinking of the West:
�But every Westerner should look at California�s story; as it turns out, it is their own history and the fount of most of their follies, a mirror across the Sierra. Radically altering the land, living on phony myths, ignoring the best features or trying to kill them. And it is Western glory in its own fine way: a new society, with a tolerance of fledgling souls, embracing the possible. What is different is that California has done it all faster, with more excess and greater consequence than any other Western state. To believe California is dead, then, is to believe that the West is dead, or soon will be. I cannot.�
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Egan's 14 chapters on various locales of the interior West slowly, but completely, demolish the mythology of perhaps the most mythologized part of the United States -- the West, or more properly, the West that is east of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades.
Those politicians and groups who are out to "save the West" from city dwellers, newcomers and environmentalists will not like this book, but everyone interested in the West will find Egan's description and commentary arresting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
It's taken me a little over one hour of searching on the internet to finally find this title. From what I remember, although not written as 'gonzo' and down-to-Earth as I would've preferred, it was an outstanding book in that it covered the states I was interested in moving to and talked about the past, present and future cultures of those places. I believe that type of thing is called the 'Deep Map' or 'Bio-Regionalism' style of 'travel writing'?

Anyways, love that kind of multi-disciplinary approach and will be buying this book (after renting it from the library a few years ago) ...we'll see if it holds up to my memories of it....the fact that I remembered it and have taken so much of my morning searching it out should say something about how unique it is, at least for me!

:)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
With his mixture of current topical events and delvings into forgotten or buried frontier history (the Mormon massacre of the Arkansas pilgrims was a shocker to me), Egan delivers an excellently written, witty and informative exploration of several towns in the Southwest and Northwest. His reporting on important environmental issues - specifically the abuse of water rights, dam building and river water diversion - are what makes this book one of the more important ones for anyone who cares about the future of American cities and their inhabitants.
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