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The Last Cheater's Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest Paperback – November 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 225 pages
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816521530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816521531
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #531,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Constant exposure to beauty, Ellen Meloy warns, can be a dangerous thing. Which is to say the river runner and natural-history writer found herself not long ago estranged from the rugged red-rock Colorado Plateau country in which she had lived for years. "As if by instinct," she writes, "I had long ago embraced the desert with the full knowledge that neither passion nor beauty comes without risk and that these conditions of being might well burn me right up." To regain her sense of self and place, Meloy embarked on a mission to travel through the cold war Southwest of her youth, its deserts studded with atomic-testing facilities and missile silos, confronting midlife crisis with the strangely comforting thought that Armageddon had once loomed in this dry place and had somehow failed to materialize. Along the way she stops in at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory where the atomic bomb was developed and the Trinity site at which it was first exploded, contrasting the scientific world-view with that of the ancient Anasazi people whose ruins dot the Southwest. Meloy writes with a fine poetic sensibility of the desert's captivating strangeness and of the surreal quality of life at ground zero; her essays touch on biology, physics, literature, spirituality, and psychology in a humane dialogue that readers will find enchanting. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The latest offering by the author of Raven's Exile: A Season on the Green River, winner of a Spur Award, is an eloquent account of the travels she embarked on throughout the 200 square miles surrounding her remote southeastern Utah home on the Colorado Plateau. While an implicit environmentalist argument informs the book, Meloy's tone is more elegiac than polemical, her stance more subjective than political. She felt driven to explore what she calls "a map of the known universe" because of a persistent feeling of alienation from the breathtaking scenery surrounding her. Her explorations took her to Los Alamos and to the Trinity National Historic Landmark in New Mexico, site of the first A-bomb test, where Meloy contrasts the stark beauty of the area with the test's cost to vegetation and animal life. She also meditates on the irony that current wildlife recovery programs are managed by the military at White Sands Missile Range. Meloy's sadness and anger over human predations on the landscape are heartfelt and moving. Musing on the technological and chemical penetration of the desert, she writes: "With consequences we likely underestimate, nature will take these intrusions into its own silent chemistry."
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I try to teach my American lit students the tools of objective analysis - for example, that a book is not necessarily "bad" solely because the reader disagrees with the author's views. I try to push them farther than criticism that serves their own prejudices. Meloy's book is a good example of the rewards of going farther.
Here is a book that keeps people inside natural history where they belong, with all of our gifts and our hubris. In the author's search to understand the role of the Southwest in the nuclear age, she touches a universal humanism beyond the usual confines of nature writing. (What could be more anti-human than an atomic bomb?)
Meloy's tongue-in-cheek phrases, wit and sense of irony may elude the more literal-minded and politically rigid who expect but won't get a polemic. In a few instances this playfulness weakens her serious conclusions about the bomb era in American history (although humor may be used as a catharsis for so horrific a scenario as nuclear war). Best are her fair-handed and lyrical images of the physical world and of places like Los Alamos, the Trinity bomb site in New Mexico, the Utah canyons and her own home acreage, which as a cattle pasture next to town and a graveyard is hardly a wilderness. The weeds and the Pennzoil bottles play starring roles in this funny chapter.
This book inspired me to pay attention, to look harder at our past, present and future. It's well worth reading.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on April 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
I enjoy a book that surprises me, and this one did that. At first glance you expect it to be a book of nature writing about the Southwest deserts. However, the quirky title should be a give away. Meloy's subject is the relationship between the arid regions of the American Southwest and the birth of the nuclear age. Not a duck-and-cover memoir of someone growing up in the 1950s, this book is a thoughtful inquiry into what is for the author a great irony: that nuclear weaponry emerged from uranium deposits mined from near where she lives in southern Utah and then processed and assembled into the first atomic bombs in the deserts of New Mexico.
The contrast between the awesome, quiet beauty of the desert and its use to develop weapons of mass destruction is a supreme contradiction that drives Meloy on a journey that takes her to ground zero at White Sands Missile Range, Los Alamos, and a natural gas field bounded by Navajo, Ute, and Apache reservations. The book closes on a walkabout across the mesas and through canyons near her home in the San Juan River valley, which cuts across the Southwest's Four Corners.
Also a surprise is the ironic humor she brings to the subject. While never forgetting the threat to survival of humanity that nuclear weapons represent, Meloy also marvels at the incongruities in the details of a story that encompasses the worlds of physicists, environmentalists, biologists, geologists, naturalists, anthropologists, Native Americans, tourists, and the ordinary working people and residents of present-day small towns and rural areas. On a parallel course with the story she tells are the incongruities of her own story, which starts with the accidental scalding death of a lizard in a coffee cup and ends on a high bluff in a tumultuous electrical storm.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
What an interesting and very different book The Last Cheater's Waltz was. Ellen Meloy has an artist's vision through an environmentalist's kaleidoscope. Yes, some of her transitions are disconnected as are some of her metaphysical railings against the atom bomb and desert testing in the southwest. However, she also has a deliciously unique sense of humor, which broadens the books appeal. She sufficiently subordinates her environmentalist tree-hugging or in her case, cactus-hugging compassion thereby avoiding preachiness.
She also teases and twits, writing "In town a flying wedge of mountain bikers, dressed in painted-on spandex body gloves mail-ordered from Bulgarian sex manuals, overshot their mecca to the north, and ended up here, spreading the gospel of polymers and finding no converts in a land clearly devoid of granola and decent trails."
Quoting one of her other humorous passages about her Utah desert home, where she lives with her husband, she writes:
"I inhabit a place where there is not much chance of being eaten by large mammals. So far the possibility of a golf course is slim. The popular media are action videos and pulp info-dramas dished out by satellite. Say "Kierkegaard" around here, and some of us might think you are choking on a walnut. In town a mix of cultures, an artistic bent, and an unexpected worldliness breed a loose-jointed tolerance. In the surrounding country, values fall into the category of ultraconservative rural western,underlain with Utah's insular Mormon theocracy. In the county seat the building that houses local government shares its town block with the building that hosts the predominant faith: the distance between church and state is precisely 34.5 feet.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have just finished Ellen Meloy's Last Cheater's Waltz. As a native of the Colorado Plateau and fourth generation "miner's" daughter, I was so pleased to see such a well researched and thought provoking work. It is such a work that will leave a person contemplating about the havoc we have let loose upon this fragile environment of the Four Corners. I have recently been drawing my own map of the Known Universe and ironically it covers much of the same territories. Thank you Ms Meloy, I could hardly put it down.
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