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The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America Hardcover – April 3, 2001
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"There is no place like it. It is literally a beacon of Civilization.... Only Mecca inspires as many pilgrims." So write Sally Denton and Roger Morris about Las Vegas, Nevada, which emerged in the last years of the 20th century as America's fastest-growing city, and in the process, a family-entertainment and cultural center. But underlying that Las Vegas--and underlying the authors' fine narrative--is an older, decidedly less friendly city, one shaped by an "alliance of gamblers, gangsters, and government" to cater to every kind of human weakness. This Las Vegas, populated by notorious criminals, dangerous eccentrics, and ambitious empire-builders, exercised an extraordinary influence on the nation's politics and economy. Few presidents elected in the last century did not come calling on the desert city to secure funds and favors, even as Las Vegas's thriving economy came under the control of a handful of powerful men.
Full of strange episodes and characters, the history of Las Vegas is too little known. Denton and Morris's revisionist, past-as-prologue look at how Las Vegas came to be is a startling, original work that adds much to our understanding of recent American history. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
This ambitious, jolting investigative history simultaneously explores the "secret history" of Las Vegas malfeasance and the expansion of the city's ethos of greed and artifice into a wholesale American model. Married co-authors Denton (The Bluegrass Conspiracy) and Morris (Partners in Power) offer an expansive, finely detailed, slightly convoluted cultural narrative, beginning with concise biographies of key figures (mobsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, news tycoon Hank Greenspun, anti-crime-crusading Senator Estes Kefauver). Failed 1950s reform movements allowed for the ascendance of organized crime, fortified by huge "skim" profits from casinos. Operation Underworld, a WWII collaboration between government and "Syndicate" forces, forged extensive relationships between federal agencies, corrupted police and gangsters that proved central to Las Vegas's economic boom. The profits radiated corruption outward, evinced in such "blowback" as repeated CIA-Mob assassination attempts on Castro. Formidable researchers, Denton and Morris train gimlet eyes on compromised officials like J. Edgar Hoover, gambling tycoons like Benny Binion and killers-cum-businessmen like Sam Giancana. They look into the growth of more malignant, polyethnic (and, they claim) CIA-supported organized crime facilitated by stereotyping of the Italian Mafia. Although their conflation of glitzy Vegas profligacy with corporate politics and consumerism may seem unwieldy, the book is undeniably disturbing and engrossing. It concludes with the 1999 mayoral election of Oscar Goodman, notorious Syndicate attorney, which was an augury of business as usual in what the authors portray as democracy's spiritual capital. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Mar. 26)Forecast: With the authors' good reputations, the first printing of 75,000 copies, the nine-city tour (including a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette author luncheon), the unending fascination with Las Vegas-style debauchery and the Mafia, and certain media interest, this book can expect a big audience.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
This book provided the basis of The History Channel documentary, Las Vegas: The Money and the Power.
The authors love Vegas and they hate what Vegas represents. They truly love to city to spend five long years researching and writing this book. However, their hatred for the city grates at times. In the opening chapter they write of the Vegas Strip: "Seen from behind, the palatial replicas and resorts are a kind of Potemkin village, screening from view an inner squalor of local politics where wealth and power are in the hands of only a few, a parody of rich and poor. Compared to what it takes, the ruling industry gives back crumbs." They go on: "...it plunders the city, state and nation, poisoning air, disfiguring land, stealing water, ransoming the future for ravenous gain seized by fix and favor."
They lay out their thesis of the entire book just as directly by writing: "Not surprisingly, in a city that exists to take money, the utter force of profit is the commanding, ultimately coercive order of business and society, and of politics and government, where the corruption of institutions at every level is all but functionally complete." And more: "...the corruption is so profound, so inherent in the social and economic order, that most citizens are cynically accepting of it or simply oblivious."
The authors even paint the picture in further dark tones, implying that Vegas itself is a monster whose tentacles extend throughout the United States, to the highest reaches of power and money - Washington, D.C. and Wall Street. Perhaps their massive research of the early syndicate involvement wore them down, but they find a gangster behind every bush. Even the modern "corporate Vegas" is suspect for them, and the Syndicate runs even that. This is hardly a conventional view, and most historians believe most mob influence was flushed from Vegas by the 1980s. For example, they quote only one widely discredited book, to make the case that Steve Wynn, of the new "junk-bond funded Vegas" was under the influence of mobsters.
The writers are brilliant at places in the book when they reflect on how and why Vegas developed the way it did. Given the fact that lawless gamblers themselves drove early development of Nevada, what does this say about the character of Nevadans and Americans in general? This is where this book really breaks ground, as they describe the American Psyche best here: "a people of chance, the irrepressible American penchant to bet, to take a risk, to believe in winning."
This is keen insight; a breakthrough in thinking. Many people emphasize the Asian propensity to gamble, but to them it is only a game, with money. Only Americans, made up of immigrants from all over the world, have the irrational optimism to "put it all on the line." Surely, early settlers to barren Nevada, decades before the Strip existed were degenerate gamblers by the sheer risks they took trying to survive the desert.
In fact, perhaps the eternally optimistic, unrealistic dreamers of Nevada (and America as a whole) were tolerant of the mob figures that took a chance and built the great gambling halls because they admired their pluck. Sure, they bent the rules a bit, but they were the ones that had the guts to shove all their chips in the middle and let it ride. Nevadans love to see someone "beat the house" and the early gangsters did it- they beat the odds. Just like the American political process itself, the result beautiful, as long as we do not have to see the ugly underbelly.
The authors illustrate the tension with the following exchange: "'What's so bad about gambling?' (gangster) Lansky had asked the senator. `You like it yourself. I know you've gambled a lot.' `That's right,' (senator) Kefauver had replied. `But I don't want you people to control it.'" The authors mistakenly believe that Vegas would have still grown just as much, yet been a better place without the random, wild, risk-taking American nature, which flouted the very laws of our society. They write: "If another direction had been taken at any of these turning points, the city might not have continued in the unbroken grip of a criminal and then corporate tyranny, might not have become the staging ground and financial fount of the same forces as they came to dominate national politics."
"The Money & the Power" is a flawed masterpiece. By driving their point home so hard, the authors only sharpen the skepticism of their readers. By siding with the JFK assassination conspiracy theorists, the anti-CIA kooks and those that see the mob behind every dry cleaner, they cast a shred of doubt on their extensive research. However, they never conceal their bias - instead they state: "What a sad, grim reflection Las Vegas gives back to us. America has yet to come to terms with its own hidden history, let alone the city's - a trap from which there was, and has been, no escape."
The authors soar to great heights when they explore Vegas as a touchstone to the American experience: "The city was not only a reflection of culture and values and the near-complete rule of money in American life. From the beginning with the Flamingo in 1947, Las Vegas was the more open reflection of an economic and political corruption that was still furtive though already pervasive in the rest of the nation." In this regard, their work stands alone as the single most comprehensive volume explaining the correlation between the growth of Vegas and the rest of the United States.