Legends of the American Desert: Sojourns in the Greater Southwest

Alex Shoumatoff, Author
Alex Shoumatoff, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (544p) ISBN 978-0-394-56915-4
Paperback - 544 pages - 978-0-06-097769-6
Open Ebook - 395 pages - 978-0-307-83181-1
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Shoumatoff (The World Is Burning) set himself to write a ""sweeping hydrohistory"" of the Southwest--""the least American part of the United States""--but as the project expanded so did his focus, and it then became his intention to write of his own relationship with the region in a book that would be ""the next Ulysses."" Though falling short of that, he has nonetheless produced a rich biography of the area. The book is the extended monologue of a scholar, adventurer and seeker enamored of and intimately knowledgeable about the indigenous cultures of the Southwest; the overlay of Latino culture; a study of the flora and fauna; the dominating need for water that has influenced custom and politics; the pollution of that water and the land by mining interests--all of which are played against the author's own encounters with the Southwest at different periods of his life. His explorations take him from Mexico, along the route of the conquistadors to California, Arizona and New Mexico to the settlements of the ancient Anasazi, Hopi, Navajo and Apaches, and builds friendships with their descendants--the ""billboard culture"" of Anglo-Albuquerque--whose culture is idealized by alternative lifestylers. Though it falls short of Shoumatoff's stated ambitions, the book is an enchanting melange of portraits of the extraordinary region and people of the Southwest. (Aug.)
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