In Nevada: The Land, the People, God, and Chance

David Thomson, Author Alfred A. Knopf $27.5 (352p) ISBN 978-0-679-45486-1
It may come as a shock to learn that there's more to Nevada than Reno and Las Vegas. As Thomson's compulsive meanderings through the Sagebrush State make clear, there's a whole other Nevada out there--even if it's mostly just empty space. Not unlike the dense historiography of John McPhee, this impressionistic series of sketches gives readers the feeling of having a well-informed sidekick riding shotgun through sage-strewn stretches of Highway 376. Thomson augments his observations with judicious bits of local history, showing how the desolate region has paradoxically become the most rapidly growing state in the union. Drawing gamblers, real estate barons and UFO enthusiasts by the busload, Nevada boasts a long history of rough-edged prospector types looking to strike it rich. A concurrent tradition of off-handed violence has lingered ever since the newborn Nevada Territory built a prison as one of its first official acts. Thomson (Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles) clearly has an appetite for the gritty stage machinery behind the glossy showmanship. Thumbnail sketches abound of Steve Wynn, Frank Sinatra and lesser-known impresarios, alongside historical riffs on such places as Reno, the self-proclaimed ""Biggest Little City in the World."" To the crowded gaming tables and the stark mountains that surround them, Thomson brings an appealingly philosophical frame of mind, an ability to throw sophisticated musings--about transience, history, place--out into the landscape as if waiting to see if they will take root. Photos. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
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