A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Winner of the Mountains and Plains Book Seller's Association Award
"Sprawling in scope. . . . Mr. Egan uses the past powerfully to explain and give dimension to the present." --The New York Times
"Fine reportage . . . honed and polished until it reads more like literature than journalism." --Los Angeles Times
"They have tried to tame it, shave it, fence it, cut it, dam it, drain it, nuke it, poison it, pave it, and subdivide it," writes Timothy Egan of the West; still, "this region's hold on the American character has never seemed stronger." In this colorful and revealing journey through the eleven states west of the 100th meridian, Egan, a third-generation westerner, evokes a lovely and troubled country where land is religion and the holy war between preservers and possessors never ends.
Egan leads us on an unconventional, freewheeling tour: from America's oldest continuously inhabited community, the Ancoma Pueblo in New Mexico, to the high kitsch of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where London Bridge has been painstakingly rebuilt stone by stone; from the fragile beauty of Idaho's Bitterroot Range to the gross excess of Las Vegas, a city built as though in defiance of its arid environment. In a unique blend of travel writing, historical reflection, and passionate polemic, Egan has produced a moving study of the West: how it became what it is, and where it is going.
"The writing is simply wonderful. From the opening paragraph, Egan seduces the reader. . . . Entertaining, thought provoking."
--The Arizona Daily Star Weekly
"A western breeziness and love of open spaces shines through Lasso the Wind. . . . The writing is simple and evocative."
In a freewheeling, deeply meditative journey across "the big empty" (the 11 contiguous states west of the 100th Meridian), Egan, the Pacific Northwest correspondent for the New York Times, attempts to understand the American West, a place caught between myth and modernity. Beginning in Jackson Hole, Wyo., at a gathering of writers, ranchers and Native Americans debating "the next hundred years in the American West," Egan sets out across the vast landscape, using a different city as a jumping-off point in each chapter. What emerges is a portrait of the new West constantly at odds with the old: defiant cattlemen fight to preserve their dying industry, passing protective laws in the name of "custom and culture"; the residents of Butte, Mont., wait for the toxic waste from a huge abandoned copper mine to overflow and destroy the once-prosperous city; and everywhere ambitious communities such as Las Vegas scramble for more of the precious water that would bring life to the desert?life, that is, in the form of residential complexes with lush grass lawns. Egan's travelogue occasionally ties itself in knots, shifting continuously from past to present in an effort to evoke the multilayered history of the area. But his love for the land is tangible and his erudition impressive. Alongside tales of Indians ousted from their land and corporate plundering are striking factoids (e.g., Ted Turner now owns 1.5% of the state of New Mexico) and shadowy chapters in history, like the 1857 Mountain Meadow Massacre in St. George, Utah, in which over 120 Arkansas emigrants were murdered by Mormon "rescuers" in an attack ordered by church officials, according to Egan. If any effort to capture the American West on the printed page is as futile as the title of this book suggests, Egan's sobering and honest picture at least succeeds in conveying its vitality and myriad contradictions.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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October 25, 1999
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