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The Real Las Vegas: Life Beyond the Strip Hardcover – October 28, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Las Vegas deserves a deeper lookAand this book makes a good start. As Littlejohn, Professor Emeritus of journalism at the UC-Berkeley, points out in his introduction, not only is Las Vegas the fastest growing urban area in the country, it is the number one tourist and convention destination, despite its disturbingly high rates of crime, bankruptcy, divorce and high school dropouts. The shadow behind those statistics, of course, is the gambling industry on the Strip, which Littlejohn's writing team of Berkeley graduate students have kept firmly in mind. A social worker says the "24-hour town" aspect furthers gambling and alcohol problems among the poor, while a family therapist contends that it frays marriages. For the elderly, casino bingo halls have become de facto social centers, while the growth of megachurches seems to mirror the bigger-is-better casino entertainment. Specific chapters focus on black Las Vegas, water policy and the sex trade. Some of the writing is awkward, and the transitions between chapters are not always smooth, but Littlejohn's cautionary conclusion rings true: some trends visible in Las Vegas portend an America of unplanned growth, but the city will remain sui generis. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A mixed bag of essays, mostly good, on America's strangest city. Las Vegas, writes Wall Street Journal correspondent Littlejohn (Architect: The Life and Work of Charles W. Moore, 1984, etc.), is the ultimate company town, a huge and growing city that pretends to economic diversity while drawing most of its revenue from a single industry: casino gambling. Visitors to the city leave behind some $5 billion annually at the gaming tables, to say nothing of billions more at hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers; small wonder, Littlejohn suggests, that so many other American cities and states are plunging headlong into legalized, government-controlled lotteries and casinos. And small wonder, he adds, that so many people are now flocking to Las Vegas to stake a share in the jackpot: between 1990 and 1997 the metropolitan area grew by an astonishing 48 percent, ``a record no other large U.S. county even comes close to matching.'' This growth, in Littlejohn's view, is of itself neither good nor bad; it merely is. His contributors take a similarly morally distanced, reportorial point of view. One, Boston Globe writer Marie Sanchez, travels inside a Las Vegas high school to find widespread drug use, alienation, violence, and a penchantat least among girlsto turn to prostitution for spending money around Christmas; another, freelance journalist Lisa Moskowitz, looks into the surging growth of housing in the Las Vegas Valley, a growth that comes in defiance of all economic senseand of the arid realities of this desert place; still another, magazine editor Lori Leibovich, writes of the seemingly contradictory rise of vast ``megachurches'' that rival the casinos for architectural splendor. Not all the pieces are as good, but the volume adds up to a valuable snapshot of America's fastest-growing city. (For another tour of Las Vegas, see David Thomson, In Nevada, p. 1213.) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195130707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195130706
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,077,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in San Francisco, as were my parents and grandparents. My grandfather's grandfather came to California in 1850, along with a lot of other people. My children and grandchildren still live here. I've come to regard this state as a unique and explosively creative culture of its own, and have crafted my life so as to be able to live, work and write here--as often as not, writing about California.

I went to Berkeley to study architecture (it was nearby, and it was cheap). By my junior year, I discovered that I was a better writer than I was an architect. (I still travel to see and write about as many interesting buildings and cities as I can.) During those years, I also discovered what an exciting, tolerant, worldly place Berkeley was, and vowed to make it my home. I only went east to graduate school in order to get a position on the faculty at Cal--a dream job that I held for 35 years.

The English Department (where I started), and even more the Graduate School of Journalism (where I moved after six years), encouraged me to keep up my own writing. I had begun writing book reviews and articles for national magazines to pay graduate school bills. Back in Berkeley, I expanded my field to writing criticism of all the arts--I love good criticism, as much as I hate bad criticism--which led to ten years of television programs on KQED and the PBS network (268 programs) as their "Critic at Large." At the same time, the university's generous provisions for sabbatical and research leaves enabled me and my family to spend extended periods in England , France and Italy--I can handle French and Italian, and am working on Russian. During these leaves, and the long summer breaks, I was able to write most of my 14 books, eleven of them (including two novels) for commercial publishers, the other three privately printed.

One of the great things about teaching in Berkeley's journalism school was that I was able to combine, as Robert Frost once wrote, my vocation with my avocation. As a writer, I was writing critical reviews, crafting interviews and profiles of artists and art institutions (from jazz clubs to opera companies), and trying to turn my nonfiction reporting into something like literature, in the Dickens-to-Didion tradition. At the same time, I was paid to teach courses in The Critical Review, Reporting on Cultural Events, and Reporting as Literature. Trying to turn good writers into better writers for 35 years was not only a rewarding challenge in itself. It also forced me to be more careful, honest and conscientious as a writer myself. I also learned to love collaboration. My late wife Sheila (who was English) took all the great pictures for our book on English country houses. My last (and best) graduate seminar wrote all of the chapter/essays for our book on Las Vegas: my job was just to whip them along, edit edit edit, and write the bookending intro and afterword. Both these projects ended up as books published by Oxford University Press.

I'm now retired from teaching--35 years was enough, and my physical strength was giving out--but not from writing. I still try to do my more-or-less monthly "reports from California" for the Wall Street Journal (I admire their reporters' industry and integrity, and the arts editor's high standards--if not their editorial-page politics), write articles and introductions when asked by good friends, and have finished two (as yet unpublished) books since my retirement.

For me, writing is like breathing. When you stop it, you die. I broke my neck diving in a lake in the Sierra at 14, and had to walk around the world on crutches after that. Nerves and muscles took another dip later in life, and I've been using a wheelchair for the past ten years. There may be a book in that story also, if I ever achieve sufficient detachment to tell it straight.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Ernest on May 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Real Las Vegas is written by a retired profesor from Berkley who, after loosing two rolls of quarters at a strip casino, is bent on teachinng the rest of us how "evil" Las Vegas really is. Among the more "enlightened" things that we simple minded people would never know about this city are: Seniors like to play BINGO. Some teens growing up in Las Vegas drink and get into trouble - some even have children before they are married! The local police department protect tourists downtown and on the strip! (Can you just imagine that?). Casinos have their own private security force, and money flows free and easy! The education system of this city (and it must be only this city) is over-crowded and under funded, and there are less expensive, and faster growing southwestern cities than Las Vegas! The book is simply not helpful and not interesting given all of the maladies this author cites are around "In spades" if you will, in other cities. I am not sure what is so Real about this book, except that it is clear this man wants his two rolls of quarters back.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Rigas on January 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is primarily written by a handful of contributors, mainly journalists and edited by a seasoned journalist and former journalism professor at the University of California-Berkeley. Because of the number of authors, the quality of the chapters vary, but in general, this was a very noble effort and a well-thought out and implemented project. The idea, according to the editor, was to demystify the resort destination and to look at it as a real, although unique American city.
The introduction by the editor is excellent, as is his epilogue, synthesizing and analyzing the content of the book.
The chapters in between discuss various aspects of the city, the educational system, the plight of the homeless, the large population of hispanic immigrant workers, the casino and sex "industries", the scarce water supply, etc. The book also attempts to discuss such things as the special characteristics of Nevadans.
Many of these chapters are very well written, and are all very easy to read. Some of the authors tend to fall into a pattern that I find particularly troublesome about, in particular, television journalism. The author is looking to make a point (for example, there are a lot of kids in the Clark County School District who use drugs). So, they interview and present the most shocking results from their interviews regarding what a few kids say about their drug use. Never mind the fact that one could have probably obtained similar comments from some kids in any other city. Reading the chapter on the schools, I would think that it is impossible to grow up in Las Vegas and to be a good kid and not drop out and go onto college.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lone Star on February 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Having spent at least 1 week a year in Las Vegas since 1960, the scope and breadth of the "Real Las Vegas" was rewardingly real, and suprisingly interesting and very readible. Staying at the Sands Hotel in the sixties with my family and - the obvious metamorphousis of a few casinos in the desert to what is is today is a marvel and wonder. The 2 reviewers listed seemed to be looking for some explanation or reason for the diversity of L.V.. Answers. Answers - You won't find any here. The stories and straight up, direct, and frank. Real investigative insight into some of the many facets of life in Las Vegas. What I really liked about this book is it's about real people, with real dreams and disapointments. It's about a city that's grown too fast, under the stewardship of gaming, sex and power. It's about the extremes. Las Vegas is a wonderful metephore for the United States society - some are just turned off the the brash and brazen display of human nature Las Vegas encourages. You won't like all the stories, but you will find some very moving people and issues. The introduction is 1 of the best sections in the book. They had to leave out many sories because of space. I hope there's another volumn.
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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Harry Thomas on January 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Every play needs its actors, and someone has to sweep up the hall as well. Littlejohn says that they didn't seek to focus on the negatives, but the result is that while Las Vegas may be the fastest growing city in America, both in jobs and population; it doesn't sound that appealing other than as a place to visit.
Most of the reports are glum, and sometimes downright disheartening. Sure, many cities have these problems, but most of them try to do something about it. In Vegas, if it negatively affects the Industry, then it is either ignored or swept under the carpet. It puts a dull finish on what is otherwise presented as a glittering jewel.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It seems from the reviews that some people were disappointed by this book, but I really enjoyed reading the various essays. The book is a series of journalistic essays from different writers, and each one writes for about 5-7 pages on a specific topic. Some of the topics the book covers are housing/development, water, the sex industry, African Americans in Vegas, crime, growing up in Vegas, etc. Some of the essays were more serious (water) than others (sex industry), but all of them offered a nice insight into the city, especially if you've only been there a few times and have never ventured beyond the strip. I read this book a few months before moving to Henderson, NV., and thought the book was a nice way to get acquainted with the city and what goes on there. This is definitely not a book for tourists or someone planning a trip to Vegas, but more for people who live in the area, people considering moving there, or perhaps people who have visited and developed an interest in the area. It's an easy read, and an enjoyable one.
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