- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (June 18, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195078063
- ISBN-13: 978-0195078060
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.1 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #323,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West Reprint Edition
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"Extremely wonderful and well-written."--Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young University
"Worster is an eloquent, often passionate historian....This important book, sure to be furiously debated, is a history of the West in terms of its most essential resource, water....It examines how manipulation of water has combined with frontier myths, expectations, and illusions, some of them carefully cultivated by interested parties, to create the ambiguous modern West."--Wallace Stegner
"Worster is capable of making the most prosaic facts come alive through his mastery of the language, his imagery, and his ability to weave his ideas with events and personalities into a fascinating historical record."--The Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Many readers will disagree with [Worster's] conclusions, but they are so forcefully presented that they cannot be dismissed, and will likely shape the discussions for years to come....A language of exceptional poetry and power....He takes his place in a tradition of awed affectionate writing about the West that includes John Muir and Edward Abbey, Bernard De Voto and Wallace Stegner. That is distinguished company indeed, and Donald Worster stands tall in it."--The New York Times Book Review
"A brilliant book, clear in its argument, exceptional in its literary qualities."--The Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Impassioned and lyrical."--The New York Times Book Review
"An excellent choice for courses that include readings from the New Western History interpretations."--Thomas L. Charlton, Baylor University
About the Author
Donald Worster, who won the Bancroft Prize for his book Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s, is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas. He is also the author of The Ends of the Earth, Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas, and the forthcoming Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West.
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In an effort sure to stir controversy with its Marxist views, "Rivers" begins, unexpectedly, with a discussion of Karl Wittfogel, a German student of the Frankfurt School, who believed that those who controlled water controlled society. Worster moves on to some of the individuals who characterized the first stage, most prominent among these were the Mormons, whose control over water became the basis of their society. The state of California becomes the leading agricultural producer in the nation due to its control over irrigation. The major question during this period became who would control the water?
The answer to this question, opposing river explorer John Wesley Powell, was the federal government. It comes in 1902 with the passing of the National Reclamation Act. An act Worster claims is "the most important single piece of legislation in the history of the West." Coming out of this act, Elwood Mead, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation from 1924-1936, directs the agency through the building of Hoover Dam. Although an impressive engineering feat, Worster believes it to be an example of the "power elite" turning nature into something profitable.
In a section of the book called "The Grapes of Wealth," a play on words from the John Steinbeck novel, "The Grapes of Wrath," Worster feels free to trash one of America's greatest novels because it does not address "advanced water engineering." He calls Steinbeck's conclusion "unconvincing and half-hearted."
In his conclusion, Worster waxes nostalgia for the past, speaking of deer in the river canyons who would shelter there for the winter. He believes that the enthusiasm for the domination of nature is waning. He sees the "water-control apparatus" as a "necessary evil" in the history of the West. In the future, the West "cannot have life both ways -- cannot maximize wealth and empire and maximize democracy and freedom too." Will the West continue on this path of authority over water or take a new direction, one towards the past with an emphasis on cooperation with nature rather than control? Agree or disagree, Worster makes his point well, maybe he who controls the water does control society.