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Rivers in the Desert Paperback – December 1, 1993


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Rivers in the Desert + William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles + Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 268 pages
  • Publisher: e-reads.com (December 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585861375
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585861378
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #943,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

A dramatic saga of ambition, politics, money and betrayal. -- LA Daily News

A fascinating history. -- Newsweek

An arresting biography . . . gripping reading. -- Publisher's Weekly --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

West of the one hundredth meridian, moreover, this process of city-building through water-engineering remains an experiment curiously uncertain, given the millions and millions of Americans who today occupy these aqueduct cities. How long can such cities in the desert last, historians of cities, water, and engineering have begun to ask? And what have been the trade-offs and the costs? The asking of such questions must begin and end with Los Angeles. Hence the importance of the story of how Los Angeles invented itself through water engineering and the role played in that act of willful self actualization by William Mulholland. Beyond any other twentieth-century Los Angeleno, this self-taught engineer deserves the accolade and title Founder of the City. LikeLos Angeles itself, William Mulholland was at once the great and flawed product of his own imagination and will. Through self-study, he brought himself into being as an Engineer, and through engineering he played a pivotal, almost mythical, role in bringing modern Los Angeles into existence. In this splendid biography, Margaret Leslie Davis chronicles the fortunes and misfortunes ofthis titanic figure. As the first comprehensive biography of Mulholland, Rivers in the Desert is a welcomed contribution to the historiography of Los Angeles, to California history, and to the larger history of the nation. Rivers in the Desert also offers a case study of importance not only to Los Angeles, but to all cities in the American West as well that are based upon a vast scheme of water engineering. Ours is a civilization of triumphs and limits. Rivers in the Desert chronicles the light and the dark of city-building and, in so doing, offers valuable insights into the past, present, and possible future of all aqueduct-based cities in the arid, semi-arid, and ever-resistant American West. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mitch Stone on January 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
Readers of this book should be aware that Davis' scholarship is seriously lacking. In particular, her account of the testimony of William Mulholland in the Los Angeles County Coroner's investigation of April, 1928 in connection with the St. Francis Dam disaster, is essentially a fabrication. Even a casual reader would have to be suspicious of the type of detail Davis includes that is unavailable in a court transcript, and cannot be fully trusted in newspaper accounts. More troubling is her penchant for taking the few accurate quotes she offers entirely out of their original context.
I have compared Davis' dramatic account of this event with the actual court reporter's transcript and found numerous egregious misquotes, quotes taken out of order and context, and entire passages that appear to have been woven out of whole cloth. Davis has Mulholland providing verbatim answers to questions he was not asked. The purpose appears to be to cause Mulholland to appear shiftless, defensive, self-pitying, and possibly incompetent.
It is difficult to turn a page in this book without finding similar errors of fact. On page 148, for instance, Davis suggests that Mulholland selected San Francisquito Canyon as the site of the main Los Angeles storage reservoir because it was "located next to Powerhouse Number One... making it cheaper for the reservoir to generate hydroelectric power." In fact, the St. Francis Reservoir never generated any hydroelectric power whatsoever, and it was never designed with this purpose in mind. The powerhouses (in fact there were two) were entirely separate facilities and functionally unrelated to the dam and reservoir. They were co-located only due to their proximity to the Owens Valley Aqueduct.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Roger Vincent on August 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
Every new Los Angeles resident quickly learns the name "Mulholland" because it appears on so many street signs and monuments, but for years people knew little about the man William Mulholland. Margaret Leslie Davis stepped into the breach with what is now the definitive biography of a formidable man. Without Mulholland, Los Angeles as we know it would not exist. The city had already outgrown its water supply in the early 20th century when it was a mere fraction of its current size. Unhindered by environmental impact reports, regional politics and the common decency expected towards one's neighbors today, Mulholland restructured the balance of power in California. He made possible the economic megalopolis of Los Angeles that would overtake San Francisco as a trade and population hub. The days when a single American such as Robert Moses in New York or William Mulholland could transform a region's identity are probably gone. With Rivers in the Desert, though, Davis gives us a window into the past when one charismatic character could get people to literally move mountains. In her words, Mulholland's story moves briskly and in rich detail. I know the author well but I had to share my enthusiasm for her great contribution to Los Angeles history.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Marc Troast on May 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you ever wondered how L.A. blossomed into the mega metropolis that it is today, "Rivers In The Desert" is a fantastic documentary of William Mullholland triumph to bring water to the L.A. basin. Had it not been for the for the talents of Mullholland who was sent on a expedition much to the likes of Lewis and Clark, L.A. might have never been able to tap the Owens Valley. This book is an intriguing look into politics, power and greed. This book also includes many interesting photos provided by the Department of Water and Power.
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Format: Paperback
What a thoroughly fascinating and beautifully written account of how William Mulholland brought water into a desert and in doing so, created the Southern California we know today. Margaret Leslie Davis is one of those rare biographers who can turn a history lesson into a thrilling, stay-up-all-night-to-read-it page turner! It's one of those books you just can't put down, mainly due to the way Ms. Davis brings Mulholland to life with such captivating detail and powerful imagery. This is an entertaining read worthy of the movie capital that Mulholland made possible with his engineering of the Los Angeles water system and a story definitely worthy of retelling in cinematic form. Like HBO's "Deadwood" this book is a reminder of the exciting, often flawed, at times ruthless, but ultimately heroic characters that shaped the American Southwest. Southern California and the country itself owe a debt to William Mulholland as there would be no SoCal as we know it without his engineering marvels. In this time of environmental awareness, the idea of appropriating and redirecting water hundreds of miles away seems to exemplify the greed, selfishness and arrogance that we abhor. The irony is, this self proclaimed tree-hugger would not even have been born if not for Mulholland's vision. My grandparents came out to California after the water was flowing. I am grateful for Mulholland and the Los Angeles I know today, for all of its flaws. And I am very grateful to Ms. Davis for bringing this amazing and true story to life so well.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael Chadwick on June 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
Fans of the movie "Chinatown," Roman Polanski's classic detective melodrama, will love this true account of how desperately needed water was brought hundred of miles to Los Angeles, where growth in the early 20th century was rapidly outracing the city's meager water supply. Like the 1974 movie with John Huston and Jack Nicholson, the real story has villains and heroes worthy of the big screen. Fortunately, according to Hollywood Reporter, the book has been optioned by film writer/director Frank Darabont, who directed "Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile." With any luck it will come to your theater one of these days. Liam Neeson would be perfect as William Mhulholland, the steely self-taught Irish immigrant who concocted a plan to-let's face it-steal an ocean of fresh water from unsuspecting farmers and ranchers in a pastoral valley far north of the thirsty city. "Rivers in the Desert" author Margaret Leslie Davis brings the struggle to build the giant aqueduct back to life with vivid word pictures and smart details . Scheming politicians, manipulative newspaper editors and the hard-drinking roustabouts who made them rich by digging deep channels and laying gigantic pipes under impossible conditions are all part of the story. Davis's crisp writing style carries the reader effortlessly through this saga of betrayal, triumph and finally disaster. This is a masterful description of one of history's greatest engineering feats and the real people who pulled it off. Though Muhlholland's reputation was unjustifiably sullied by the tragic collapse of one of his many dams, his incredible aqueduct is still a critical source of water for Los Angeles. This is one of only a handful of books that should be considered essential to anyone who wants to understand the creation of Southern California and all its attending myths.
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