Friday, April 11, 2008

In Nevada: A Book Review and Update

Here is a review of a book I posted on Shelfari. Normally I post here first, and then post my review there, but I had to write something about this book when I put in on my shelf. I now have over a thousand books posted there—I haven’t been feeling inspired to write much lately (except for what I have to write and I don't feel like doing it, but I get paid for it.). I have, however, have been doing a lot of catalog work! Check out my book shelf, it’s located in my sidebar.

Hopefully I’ll have some time this weekend to get around to everyone’s blogs and to finish up a story I’ve been trying to get down for a week. Also, as some of you will remember, last October I asked for prayers for a son of friends of mine who was wounded in Afghanistan. There was an article in the
New York Times Magazine about his unit and their mission there. I’m not going to mention his name, but he is mentioned in the story as well as shown in the pictures. It is interesting reading. He’s doing well, but still hasn’t fully recovered.

David Thomson, In Nevada: The Land, the People, God, and Chance (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1999), 331 pages.

As one who has devoted much time and effort into understanding the social life and especially the role religion played in the 19th century mining camps of Nevada, I was excited when this book came out. It was an enjoyable read, but it doesn’t live up to the title. It seemed to me that Thomson places too much importance on the town of Rachel (see my blog post on Rachel), the Burning Man, and Art Bell. I also didn't feel he did justice linking Nevada's past with the present. However, he does seem to understand the ironic contrasts you find in Nevada, which comes across in his writing. Thomson loves to contrast diverse ideas, like Vegas and the Atomic Test Site. I wondered, however, why he didn't talk more about one of Nevada's most famous residents of Rio, Joe Conforte. This pimp, before running into IRS problems and fleeing south, ran the largest legal brothel in American (if not the world). Also, Thomson could have focused more on past politicians and some of their dealings, along with some of the past prompters of mines, all who would have helped him sharpen the irony that makes up Nevada, but for the most part he ignored the. (For a humorous take on fraud in mining promotions see George Graham Rice’s My Adventures with Your Money, written while the author, one of the great promoters of worthless mines, was under indictment.

Thomson focuses much of his attention on Southern Nevada and ignores large parts of the state. At one point he does bemoans the fact that Reno does not have a novel set there during the 1920s and 30s (136). Had he done more research, he might have learned that the Walter Van Tilburg Clark, the author of The Oxbow Incident did publish a novel set in Reno at that time (The City of Trembling Leaves). Also, did he never come across Robert Laxalt's wonderful novels set in Carson City and the hills that surround Nevada's capital? If you’re interested, I highly recommend The Basque Hotel.

Thomson seems intrigued with Steve Wynn, one of the most successful developers in Las Vegas, quoting Wynn saying, "it's what God would have done 'if He'd had the money.'" (164) Luckily, Thomson isn't seduced by Vegas or Wynn's blasphemy, referring to the city's architecture as "your nightmare in concrete." (279)

After my last book review, I have to make this complaint: Mr. Thomson uses an Oxford comma in the title.

I recommend In Nevada only if you are mainly interested in Las Vegas. If you want to learn about the diversity of the state or its history, this book would only be a starting point and probably not a good one. And why did he include God in his subtitle? If you want to learn about God in Nevada, you’ll have to look elsewhere, but I don’t think that book has been written. However, Richard Francaviglia’s, Believing In Place: A Spiritual Geography Of The Great Basin is a good place to start. Francaviglia also captures the role the land plays defining the Great Basin, much of which is within the bounds of the Silver State.


  1. I have not got around putting my books on the shelfari shelves. No time. I am also drastically reducibng my books. I hate it but have to it. Giving out to friends, local libraries, whoever is interested.

    Very difficult to move with books.

    Good to read this review. Thanks!

  2. The problem with people trying to understand Nevada is that for most, it consists of the ride from McClaren to the strip. Frankly, the whole wonderful middle of the state is one of the neatest places I've visited and I want to spend some more time there.


  3. This sounds like an interesting read. Unfortunately my knowledge of Nevada stretches only to Vegas, The Grand Canyon, Reno and the Hoover Dam being a Brit. From reading your post I already knoe so much more!

    Michele sent me over to say hi!

  4. Gautami, where are you moving?

    Sherman, you are right, I love Central Nevada and have travelled over it extensively--especially south of US 50.

    Bob-kat, Vegas is so overrated! If you have a choice, go to Reno and spend your time in the Sierras and take a trip out to the Black Rock Desert. The Grand Canyon is actually in Arizona--3-4 hours drive from Vegas.

  5. I don't care much for Vegas, but I would like to learn more about Nevada's past. I love that line about the city's architecture being a "nightmare in concrete." I can see the truth in that.

  6. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if "God had the money . . ." he'd spend it feeding the poor and eradicating disease . . .

    Of course, I may not be the biblical scholar that Wynn is . . .

  7. Scarlet, the state does have an interesting history.

    Diane, Wyn reminds me of the woman filing for divorce and when asked for a cause says "theology." Questioned about this, she continues, "he thinks he's god and I don't."

  8. Cool review. You're always into interesting books, Sage! :)

  9. I don't know if I would like Vegas. I doubt that I would. Otherwise, I wouldn't mind seeing Nevada.
    I suppose I'm back to posting. Seems you are doing god.