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The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas (Nation Books) Hardcover – March 4, 2004
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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 Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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The writing is average but the book moves along at a good pace. It is a good airplane read but there are more interesting books on Vegas out there.
If you haven't already read Hal Rothman's The Grit Beneath the Glitter and Pete Early's Super Casino, then The Last Honest Place in America is a fun introduction to the behind-the-scenes Las Vegas.
However, there is something about Cooper's book that does stand out, and that is his interview with stripper Andrea Lee Hackett. Not only is Hackett a bit older than the other strippers at 49, but she is a full-time labor organizer as well. Although Vegas strippers aren't unionized (yet), Hackett works with the ACLU and labor organizations to protect her colleagues' rights. She is extremely articulate on labor issues and admits to being a Socialist and a former machinist at Boeing. Oh, and she used to be a man.
It probably won't be long before someone does an in-depth study of unionism in Las Vegas. It is one of the few places in America where, because of unionism (and I am by no means an uncritical fan of unions), a hotel maid or a valet or dishwasher can make a decent living. This phenomenon is worth a book by itelf, and The Last Honest Place in America is worth reading if only for Andrea Lee Hackett's story.
I can't help but compare this book to Hal Rothman's "Neon Metropolis," which covers the same territory. Rothman's book covers a wider variety of topics and focuses more on life away from The Strip than Cooper does. On the other hand, Cooper doesn't seem to have an ideological axe to grind like Rothman, although both writers are politically liberal. Cooper's theme, that Las Vegas is an "honest" place at a time when Americans have lost faith in other institutions, seems like quite a stretch.
Cooper's book feels like it was published too hastily: There's an epilogue with updates on his stories - why not simply revise the main part of the book instead? There are a few factual errors, there's no index, and someone should tell Cooper that the possessive form of "it" is not "it's."