From Publishers Weekly
As Britney Spears recently discovered, Las Vegas has a curiously powerful hold on people. And it has taken hold of Cooper, too; his book practically teems with his own fascination with Sin City. It started when he was a kid, when his parents took him along on their gambling jaunts, and it's that enthrallment that Cooper seeks to explore and explain here. And he does it immediately postâ"September 11, which is on one hand crass, but on the other appropriate: is there a place for such unabashed superficiality in a more fearful and serious world? The answer, Cooper finds, is yes. Vegas has become a fixture of the American landscape, its "symbolic capital" in many ways. Indeed, Vegas presents a special allure to cultural theorists like Neil Postman, to whom this volume is dedicated. The city embraces its kitschy supremacy with its drive-thru chapels and casinos. But it's also undergoing an evolution, about which Cooper is somewhat wistful, away from its early, campy seediness and toward a more fully realized, corporate-run money machine. The book's pace has the feel of travelling along the Vegas strip, with dazzling, glorious details whizzing past that readers don't have much time to ponder. Cooper, a Nation contributing editor, writes well and has an eye for bizarre situations. But by book's end, much like after a Vegas weekend, readers may feel somewhat empty. They've seen a lot of bright, shiny things that don't have much substance, and while overwhelmed by the imagery they may not be quite sure what the point was.
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Cooper, the veteran journalist (and radio-show host), begins with the destruction of the last vestige of the old Las Vegas: the Desert Inn, where the Rat Pack frolicked, demolished in 2001. Now the hotels are operated by corporations, not mobsters; the casinos are as much about entertainment as gambling; and the town is decidedly family friendly. But, as Cooper discovered, some things about the city never change. The casinos are still their own little worlds, cut off from the outside and designed to make the gambler forget that anything exists other than the table at which he is sitting. What makes this profile of Las Vegas fascinating is the way it works on two levels. As Cooper goes about showing us the remade city, he also falls prey to the allure of the old Vegas, the writer sinking so deeply into his story that he becomes a part of it, just another gambler pulled into the seductive world of the city that never sleeps. New Journalism meets the New Vegas. David PittCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved